Lucky Peterson, a Bluesman Since He Was a Boy, Dies at 55


In his recent concerts the bluesman Lucky Peterson, who died on Sunday in Dallas, had been celebrating his 50th anniversary in show business. That was striking considering that Mr. Peterson, at his death, was only 55.

Known as both a guitarist and an organist as well as an evocative vocalist, Mr. Peterson cut his first record at 5. By the age of 8 he had been on “The David Frost Show,” “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson” and more.

But he was more than a childhood novelty act. He blossomed into a reliable blues player, backing stars like Etta James and Otis Rush and fronting his own groups on albums and in propulsive live shows. His latest album, “50: Just Warming Up!,” was released last year.

Brett J. Bonner, editor of Living Blues magazine, had Mr. Peterson on the cover just last year. He called him “an incredibly talented multi-instrumentalist,” one who, he noted, was popular in France as well as in American blues clubs.

Mr. Peterson’s family announced his death on his Facebook page, saying that he had become ill suddenly, though the specific cause was not given. Mr. Peterson had lived in Dallas for years.

Judge Kenneth Peterson was born on Dec. 13, 1964, in Buffalo, where his parents ran the Governor’s Inn, a juke joint that was a popular stop for blues musicians, Howlin’ Wolf among them.

“He’d come in,” Mr. Peterson told The Buffalo News in 2001, “holler up the stairs for my mother and say, ‘This is the Wolf, and I’m hungry!’”

His father, James, a blues guitarist, encouraged his interest in music when he was still a toddler. He started banging drums at 3, then, dazzled by the equipment the organist Bill Doggett showed up with during a stopover, became interested in the organ. His father, he told The Chicago Tribune in 1993, raided the bar’s ashtrays to teach him chords, putting the butts on the keys.

“He put the white cigarette butts for one chord, and he put the brown cigarette butts for another chord,” Mr. Peterson recalled.

John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells and many others came through. Sometimes they’d let him perform with them.

“It was a great privilege to play with these people, because they’re legends,” Mr. Peterson told NPR in 1998. “Plus they taught me a lot of things, because everything that I’m doing now, I’m just going off of what they taught me.”

In 1969, having already picked up his nickname, he recorded an album, “Our Future: 5-Year-Old Lucky Peterson,” perhaps hoping to catch the wave being ridden by young Michael Jackson, who was then fronting the Jackson Five.

The bassist and songwriter Willie Dixon produced some of its songs, including the single “1, 2, 3, 4,” and young Lucky began appearing on “The Tonight Show,” “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the arts and public affairs show “Soul!” and others. Sometimes he was the featured performer, sometimes he was in the backing band of an established star.

In the NPR interview, he recalled being on “The Tonight Show” with Buddy Rich, the flashy drummer.

“I wanted to play drums,” Mr. Peterson said. “And I remember him telling my father, ‘You keep him away from the drums, ’cause if I catch him by the drums I’m gonna put him in this little bag right here and throw him over in the river.’”

Mr. Peterson and his father released an album, “The Father. The Son. The Blues,” in 1972. For a time Lucky attended the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts, although he acknowledged that the lessons, focused on classical music, didn’t much interest him.

“If I knew what I know now, I would have been more serious,” he told The Buffalo News. “I would have really learned it. I can read a little music, but not like I’m supposed to know.”

A better education was going on the road at 17 with the blues singer and guitarist Little Milton. The experience, he said, taught him “how to reach your audience, and how to be real soulful, how to do it and mean it.”

In 1989 Mr. Peterson, still in his mid-20s, drew good notices with his album “Lucky Strikes.” “His soul and fire, on both organ and guitar, are enough to carry the album,” The Post-Standard of Syracuse wrote, “and his voice rings with amazing maturity for one so young.”

Mr. Peterson battled substance abuse periodically and went through unproductive periods, but he continued to perform and record until his death. His later albums included “I’m Ready” (1992), “Double Dealin’” (2000) and “The Son of a Bluesman” (2014).

Mr. Peterson’s survivors include his wife, Tamara Stovall Peterson, who often sang with him, and several children.

Though his father was a bluesman, Mr. Peterson told the story of how he once took advantage of having the same last name as a more famous musician. It was when he auditioned to go on the road with the blues singer Bobby Bland, whose music at the time had smatterings of jazz.

“When I auditioned,” he told The Buffalo News, “they said, ‘Yeah, what’s your name?’ I said, ‘Lucky Peterson.’ Then I kind of lied. I said, ‘Well, you might have heard of my father.’ So I had Bobby Bland and everybody else in the band running around saying, ‘Man, we got Oscar Peterson’s son playing with us!’”

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