|New York guitarist Michael Packer was an activist, a dreamer and a true believer in the power of the blues. He spent his life crusading for peace and political and social change. Packer lost his battle to liver cancer on May 6, 2017, but not until he had completed volume three of his recording project, “I Am The Blues – My Story.” He also had received the Indie Music Channel award for the Best Blues Recording of the Year – “Bullfrog Blues” by The Michael Packer Blues Band – and had been recognized and inducted as a Legendary Ambassador in both the New York & Chicago Blues Hall Of Fame. The 14-track album continues the format of a running narrative of song introductions and accompanying musical tracks that detail the life and times of the well-traveled bluesman. With each narration, you can hear the depth of struggle in his voice as he becomes weaker and weaker from the ravages of disease, but he never falters or succumbs until his mission is complete. Packer delivers real inspiration while staring death square in the eye.
The lovely acoustic ‘Blues For Peace’ featuring Packer and Jack O’ Hara on guitar leads off the album after Packer’s introduction, which details the plight of his ill-fated attempt to produce three “Blues For Peace” events, giving the song even more weight to its downtrodden yet determined tone. Packer then recounts a trip to the Hopson Plantation in the Delta with his band, where he and Ed Jackson wrote ‘Fields of Sorrow,’ a reaction to the experience of visiting the former slave shacks that have been turned into a tourist attraction. The death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD inspired ‘Yo Staten Island,’ a politically charged mash up redux of ‘Born Under A Bad Sign,’ with a fresh hip-hop groove. Packer recants the horrific accident that nearly took the life of his drummer, Guy Powell, in the Funk Rocker ‘Flash Flame’ that features sizzling lead guitar from Adam Valk. The Chicago Blues cathedral, Buddy Guy’s Legends, was the site for a pinnacle live recording simply titled ‘Chicago.’ Packer is joined on the classic twelve-bar blues number by Willie “The Touch” Hayes, Mike Wheeler, Melvin Smith and Roosevelt Purifoy for a one-time blues summit, with Michael laying out his love for the heroes of the Windy City blues. The poignant love song ‘Do It All Over’ finds Packer paying tribute on solo acoustic guitars and vocal to the love of his life, singing “If I could do it all over, I wouldn’t have these blues.” A second track from the Live at Legends session, ‘Mr. Packer,’ closes out the album. He introduces the finale revealing the extent of his diagnosis, with Packer’s staunch determination to fight until the day he dies, heard in his fiery vocals on the smooth R&B boogie howling “They gonna find me dead, these blues is killing me, I am going out on fire before the devil takes me.” Rave on Mr. Packer.
Rick J Bowen
MICHAEL JOHN PACKER was an American singer/songwriter & guitarist, who rose to fame in the late 1960’s as a member of several groundbreaking bands and, who counted among his friends and bandmates at one time or another many of the most well-known music artists in the rock and blues worlds.
Born in Manhattan to Theodore and Pauline (nee Powers) Packer, he was raised in Bedford Hills, NY. Moving back to NYC he did his first professional gig at the Bitter End in Greenwich Village at the age of 15. In 1969, he formed the group Papa Nebo, which included saxophonist Bob Mintzer, who went on to perform with the Grammy award-winning Yellowjackets. Papa Nebo recorded an album for Atlantic Records, now a collector’s item, after they were personally recruited and signed by industry legend, Ahmet Ertegun. Packer relocated to San Francisco, where he met and began playing with many of the famous and soon-to-be-famous in the Haight-Ashbury area. He and George Thorogood would play on the streets and it was then and there that Mr. Packer was turned on to the blues.
Moving back to NYC, Packer and fellow ex-Nebo bandmate Sandy Allen formed Free Beer at Gerdes Folk City in Greenwich Village (1973), where they added singer-songwriter Bob Potter. Free Beer recorded three albums for Buddah and RCA Records and toured extensively with the likes of the Atlanta Rhythm Section, Johnny Rivers, Dr. Hook and Clifton Chenier, to name a few. All the albums made the Billboard top 100. After the demise of Free Beer in the late 70’s Michael opened for John Hammond Jr. and sang with the Matt Murphy Band. In 1984 in Boston he fronted a 10-piece band called Toolstep that opened for Huey Lewis on a New England Tour. After personal troubles caused him to suspend his music career in the late 80’s and early 90’s, a one-year jail stint in the infamous Rikers Island found him appearing as part of the prison band in the HBO special “The Prisoners Of Rikers Island.”
In the last chapter of his life, Packer became a well-known and respected member of the New York City blues scene. The Michael Packer Blues Band’s many album releases have received rave reviews across the world and continue to be available through Alan Lorber’s Iris Music Group. His unique vocal style and easygoing guitar technique made him a popular guest and sideman, a memorable highlight being his time spent with nonagenarian blues legend and Grammy award-winning David “Honeyboy” Edwards. The late Delta blues guitarist, who knew and played alongside Robert Johnson, utilized Packer on occasion for the last years of his life.
In 2013 Michael Packer performed at the Chicago Blues Festival and Buddy Guy’s Legends. Known for his stewardship of both the NY and the Chicago Blues Hall of Fames, as ambassador Mr. Packer sought to highlight legendary as well as ‘in the trenches’ blues artists – his belief that the blues as an art form needs to continue to be promoted so that future generations will be able to appreciate the music from which jazz, rock, soul, funk and rap ultimately emanated.
In 2016, Mr. Packer formed an international event, “Blues For Peace,” where blues bands from multiple cities throughout ten countries performed blues events to benefit the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency. When prompted by so many fans and friends to write his life story, Packer instead took to telling his tale in the medium in which he felt most comfortable – recording. Through music and narration, “I Am the Blues – My Story” Volume 1 (2013), Volume 2 (2014) and the posthumously released Volume 3 (2017) are a unique glimpse into his life and times. Michael Packer was inducted into the New York Blues Hall Of Fame on September 25, 2011.
FUNDRAISERS & DONATION LINK FOR MICHAEL’S HEADSTONE
Sunday, June 11: Brian’s Backyard BBQ, 1665 NY-211, Middletown, NY 10941, 1pm
Saturday, June 24: The Robin’s Nest, 3103 Tremley Point Rd, Linden, NJ 07036, 6pm – midnight