Boogie-woogie pianist Erwin Helfer has seen a lot of Chicago years

Steve Knopper, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

A: $12,250. My payments were $100 a month, and that included everything — insurance, interest.

Q: It would sell for a lot more than that today!

Yes, it would. I’ve been offered $1 million, and the first thing they would do is mow down the house and build something else in place of it.

Q: You can’t move — the street is Erwin Helfer Way.

A: I think they put that up because I used to ride my bike — that’s how I used to get to my job on the North Side — and after a few drinks, I didn’t know where I lived. So they put that street sign up for me so I could find out where I was going. (Laughs)

Q: Going to the beginning of your career, you were a young white guy from the suburbs, working with mostly older Black musicians in Chicago — did they immediately accept you as a like-minded artist?


A: It was beautiful. And considering all the (expletive) they had to go through, it was amazing they were like this. Brother Montgomery would come down to Andy’s Jazz Club and listen to me. I’d always say, “Brother Montgomery’s in the house, let’s hear a round of applause for him.” And I’d say, “And let’s hear an applause for Jan Montgomery” — she was a white Baptist lady who married him — “for putting up with him all those years.” And we became friendly. Sometimes he’d have too much to drink and she used to just leave him wherever he was and let him find his way home. ... Am I making sense?

Q: Of course.

A: That’s what five shots of whiskey do for me in the morning. I don’t take pills for my arthritis. I take aspirin once in a while when it’s really bad. But the whiskey helps.

Q: You really take five shots of whiskey every morning?


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