Blues Musicians & Singers In Recovery Share Their Stories

Lady sings the blues: Janiva Magness transcends the pain of the past through music, sobriety

November 4, 2019
Janiva Magness musician in recovery

Courtesy of Paul Moore The Almighty has a hell of a sense of humor. Blues diva Janiva Magness knows that intimately. If ever she needed proof, she found it in Los Angeles, in the middle of a relapse, when she was 34 years old. She’d gotten clean nearly a decade earlier, but after moving from the Minneapolis area. She’d given the West Coast a six month tryout but found it too big and bold; Phoenix was a good compromise, she told The Ties That Bind Us recently, but it also put her in a precarious position. “My band (the Mojomatics) had just won the Best Blues Band award from the Phoenix New Times paper; we were doing gigs locally there and had risen to a certain point, but what became more important to me was my work, not my recovery,” Magness said. “Some of the 12 Step literature refers to…

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With almost 16 years sober, blues guitar ace Mike Zito’s gratitude knows no bounds

October 14, 2019
Mike Zito musician in recovery

Courtesy of Norma Hinojosa This month, guitarist, singer, producer and bandleader Mike Zito will celebrate 16 years clean and sober, but he’s never lost sight of how broken he was in late October, 2003. By that point, he told The Ties That Bind Us recently, he had long since accepted that he was an addict. He’d even dabbled here and there with sobriety. Living in Texas, he had put together a month clean when an old using buddy called him up and said he’d gotten hold of a batch of meth, and would Mike like to help him smoke it? “I had never really done meth, so I thought, ‘Maybe that’ll be the drug I get to do! That’s the one that’ll work!’ I really thought that,” he said with a chuckle. “I told my girlfriend I was going to go to this guy’s house, play music and be home…

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Bluesman, harmonica ace Jason Ricci reflects on recovery, relapse and the shadowlands between the two

July 15, 2019

Harmonica ace Jason Ricci has been sober for the better part of 20 years, and on days when his struggle with addiction get him down, he tries to keep that in perspective. Continuously, Ricci is approaching eight months clean and sober after his most recent relapse, and while his story includes a few such stumbles, it also features long periods of recovery in which he applied the program that’s still a vital part of his life. He knows full well that it works, if he’s willing to commit, and he knows that his story isn’t unique. But when he gets the side-eye from fellow recovering addicts and alcoholics, those who saddle him with the label of a chronic relapser, it can be disheartening. It is not, he told The Ties That Bind Us recently, the kind of support he needs on this leg of his journey, and he hopes that…

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Bluesman Chris Beard: ‘There are no limits in my process of recovery … because I don’t put limits on myself’

May 6, 2019

When Chris Beard hit bottom and sought help at a Christian-based addiction treatment facility in Syracuse, N.Y., staff members did everything short of an exorcism. “I got dipped in water, I got prayed over, because I was just tired of living my life the way that it was!” he told The Ties That Bind Us recently. As he transitioned to various levels of care in the three-month program, he reached a point where he was allowed to return home to Rochester, an hour and 20 minutes away, for a weekend visit. His counselors, however, cautioned him: “They told me I could never go back to the city I was from or that neighborhood, because that’s where my disease started,” he said. But on the bus ride back home, watching the New York countryside blur by on the other side of those thick bus windows, a calming presence came over him.…

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FORTUNATE SON: The Rev. John Lee Hooker Jr. embraces his role as a proselytizing musical torchbearer

February 11, 2019

FORTUNATE SON: The Rev. John Lee Hooker Jr. embraces his role as a proselytizing musical torchbearer September 2017, Spielberg, Austria: The Rolling Stones gathered to perform before roughly 100,000 people at the Red Bull Ring as part of the No Filter Tour, and their opening act — John Lee Hooker Jr. — asked for those assembled to pause for a moment. They were in the dressing room of guitarist Keith Richards, one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most legendary hedonists, but Hooker was no stranger to debauchery himself. By that point, however, he’d turned his life around, been ordained as a minister of the gospel and was determined to share the story of his salvation in between the driving blues rock that’s a direct descendent of the music made by his famous daddy. “No one has ever asked to open up in a word of prayer in the dressing room of…

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Harp maestro Michael Crawley: ‘I committed myself 100 percent’

August 13, 2018

Harp maestro Michael Crawley: ‘I committed myself 100 percent’ Strolling across the campus of Cornerstone of Recovery, Michael Crawley cuts a unique figure among an already colorful cast of counselors and clinicians who minister to those seeking treatment for addiction and alcoholism. Whether he’s trotting down to the Caldwell Center to give his standing Big Book lecture or swinging through the Polly Bales Building after a fierce round of circuit training in the Fitness Center that leaves patients half his age in awe of the 63-year-old’s stamina, he’s seldom without a grin, a nickname or some wardrobe accoutrements: earbuds if he’s working out, chains and rings if he’s not. He’s a bundle of energy, flitting through the dining hall during the crowded lunch rush, hugging clients and colleagues alike. “Yo!” he shouts, slapping the back of a guy fresh out of detox, perhaps one of the men he picks up…

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Bluesman Charlie Musselwhite: ‘Even with almost 31 years, it still feels new’

July 2, 2018

Bluesman Charlie Musselwhite: ‘Even with almost 31 years, it still feels new’ While a number of celebrities and musicians avoid discussing their sobriety in interviews, bluesman Charlie Musselwhite has a different take. “I was drunk in public for so long, why should I act like it didn’t happen?” he tells The Ties That Bind Us with an easygoing chuckle. “It’s OK to talk about it. You don’t have to hide it.” Sobriety, after all, has given him more than he ever expected when he gave up booze more than three decades ago. So closely identified with the blues that he was the inspiration for Dan Aykroyd’s character Elwood in the classic “Blues Brothers” film (Aykroyd told Musselwhite as much), he continues to enjoy a career resurgence well into his 70s. He recently released “No Mercy In This Land,” his second collaboration with roots-rocker Ben Harper after 2013’s “Get Up!,” which…

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