PHOTOS OF WILD BOAR MOORE BY KURT SWANSON
Sometimes the surest thing the blues brings is a regular gig at a place like Macabi's Cigar Bar in South Miami, playing to a couple of dozen fans and passersby on a Saturday night. It's here bluesman Rob "Wild Boar" Moore elevates the room with the rise and fall and rise of his talking guitar, and Clifford Hawkins can bring everyone in the place to their feet with his B.B. King-inflected voice.
The music of Moore and his band is pure blues. Not blues-rock or jazzy blues but the biting full-on blues of the Mississippi Delta, with a heavy dose of electricity and edge added from its time in Chicago. Macabi's on a Saturday night is no place for navel-gazing art rockers, or a quiet night with your favorite cigar. Moore and his band play music that makes all the right parts move. And if Hawkins's soulful tenor doesn't get you off your butt, if the fervor and showmanship of the band don't set you howling, if Moore's stirring solos don't make you move, then you may get a personal visit from Moore's stinging guitar and an E-string bent from here to Memphis. This may be the best live show in town, but it doesn't matter. This is the blues.
Robert Moore understands the blues, how one day you can be riding high in the toughest blues city in the world (Chicago), sharing a stage with the greatest of bluesmen (John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, James Cotton), and the next you're so low you can barely spare the few bucks to buy strings for your Gibson 335, the one friend who can bring a little comfort, help ease your mind.
And that's the way it's been for Moore, picking up the guitar at age twelve in the mid-Sixties in his hometown of Chicago Heights. He later caught the blues bug as a rebellious high school kid, along with the stage name he's used ever since: Wild Boar. He took in the blues on underground radio and haunted local blues clubs waiting for the man to say, "Ladies and gentleman, Mr. Otis Rush!"
Moore began listening to Rush, one of the greatest blues guitarists ever, to absorb all he could from the master. After a late-night show, Moore would run home and try to play the fingerings he'd seen on Rush's fretboard, copying the sounds he'd heard coming through the amplifier. "Otis is probably my biggest influence," says Moore of those seminal days. "I think about him when I play."
As a kid just out of high school in 1971, he found himself in Muddy Waters's living room one afternoon. Waters was signing a contract to play a local show Moore's friend was producing while the young guitarist's band rehearsed in the basement. It was the first time Moore met the legend, and Waters invited him to jam with the group. It was a memorable day for a kid still cutting his chops.
Soon Moore met them all -- Buddy Guy, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon. He would hang out backstage during shows at Alice's Revisited, the North Side blues club, sometimes sitting in. He'd fetch vodka for Otis at the liquor store across the street while the legends carried on in the basement. "I'd sit backstage and talk to those guys," Moore recalls. "I'd wanted to be a band leader, and I'd ask them about it. I was trying to figure out, What's a bandleader do? How do you run a band? I learned a lot that way."
Moore dropped out of college after one semester to become a musician, a blues musician. He worked with Johnny Young before Young's death in 1974. He moved to the North Side and met up with harp-player and guitarist Wild Child Butler. They put together a band, played around the city, and toured the Midwest, gigging with Luther Allison and Sam Lay. In 1975 they recorded Butler's album Lickin' Gravy, Moore's most tangible accomplishment. He drove a cab a couple of nights a week to support his ambition.
Then Moore joined up with saxman Little Bobby, a session player for Chess, and singer "Big Voice" Odom. They played in blues clubs on the West Side and the South Side, like Buddy Guy's Checkerboard Lounge, where Moore was sometimes the only white face in the crowd. They played clubs on the North Side, like Kingston Mines, where white owners wanted to see black musicians onstage. In deference to Chicago's burgeoning tourist industry, some found the look more important than the sound.
Toward the end of the Seventies, Moore was auditioning for Lonnie Brooks when he got a call from John Lee Hooker. "I heard he needed a guitarist for a tour he was doing, so Eddy Clearwater put a good word in for me," says Moore. "John Lee Hooker was in town shooting The Blues Brothers movie. He called me and said, “I hear you're quite a guitarist. Would you like to do a tour with me?' I said, “Sure.' After the tour, when I got back, I said I wasn't gonna drive a cab anymore; I was just gonna be a musician."
But with a chronic back problem, an ulcer from his drinking habit, gigs that paid only $25 per night, and the racial preferences of the Chicago club owners, Moore was ready to throw in the towel. He truly had the blues. "I was under 30 and had already played with the biggest names in the field," remembers Moore. "And we'd have to go out in the car during breaks to drink, because we couldn't afford to drink at the bar."
Discouraged, Moore got his degree and started teaching high school. He visited clubs in his free time, sitting in with the likes of Jimmy Rogers or James Cotton. In 1987 he moved to Miami. "I wanted to find out if I could build a following somewhere new, if I could put something together down here," explains Moore. "And as a teacher, I thought it might be interesting to teach an ethnically diverse population."
But in a place where local musicians start packing their bags at the faintest whiff of success, Miami has been no friend to Moore or his current band -- Rob "Wild Boar" Moore featuring Clifford Hawkins. In the beginning his teaching jobs were part-time or came only in spurts, and his efforts to keep a band together were troubling. "I had a great band for a while with Sheba and Piano Bob, and a great rhythm section. But we could not get any gigs," complains Moore, who more than once thought of giving up. "There were times when I wanted to leave, but I was so poor I couldn't."
It wasn't until 1993, when he began working with Hawkins, that a band started to take shape. Even so, gigs have never been easy to find. Life, however, has evened out for Moore with a tenured position teaching English at Miami-Dade Community College since 1998 and a long-time partnership with Hawkins. The band has even enjoyed some success. It was one of only two local bands (Iko-Iko was the other) featured on the mainstage of the Fort Lauderdale Blues Fest for the past two years. And it was selected as the best of 56 bands at the local Summertime Blues Jam in 1999, picked to represent South Florida in the Sixteenth Annual International Blues Challenge on Beale Street, Memphis.
If Moore has learned anything from his years in the business, it's that famine always follows feast, and vice versa. But he can live with that. "I guess I have a blues attitude about it," he quips. ~John Anderson