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Killer Blues Headstone Project

Eric Guitar Davis playing at the 2011 Chicago Blues Festival
Joe Skotnicki

Skimming through the July issue of the Illinois Entertainer magazine, this writer missed the article about the Killer Blues Headstone Project the first time through. The second time, the article was only noticeable because there was a picture of Luther Tucker playing guitar. Upon looking closer, the picture accompanied an article about a guy named Steve Salter who is leading a project to put headstones on unmarked graves of blues musicians.

The project got its start when Steve was on his way to New Orleans for the Jazz and Heritage Festival in 1997. Wanting to pay his respects to some blues greats that he had heard were buried in the Chicago area, he discovered that some had no grave markers at all. That is when he decided to do something about it.

Imagining that Muddy Waters would have this grand resting place, he was surprised to find just a flat stone. He couldn’t believe it. Then he found Otis Spann’s grave with no marker. That really bothered him. Steve contacted Blues Access magazine, told them that Otis Spann was in an unmarked grave and asked them to help him raise money and they did. Steve then found more unmarked graves.

Steve was selling t-shirts and CDs at blues festivals. He sold only authentic blues, all killer and no filler. That is where the name comes from. CD sales were starting to lag because of the internet, so he decided to devote his time to raising money for headstones. He started a blues festival in his hometown of Whitehall, Michigan in 2008 to raise money. In 2009, The Killer Blues Headstone Project became a non-profit with five board members. They have placed 35 headstones and will have done 40 by the end of the year.

Some of the artists’ graves that they have laid markers upon include recently murdered Eric “Guitar” Davis, Phillip Walker and Luther Tucker. A lot of the musicians they have placed markers for were side men. They are not household names.

If one wants to help Steve and his group, contact them at http://www.killerblues.net/index.html There is a donate button on their home page. There is a full list of those they have helped and those they are trying to raise funds for. Steve states that his list is long and keeps growing. “I keep adding more to my list as I become aware of them through research or notification from other blues fans.”