I’m Not Hungry But I Like to Eat: Chicago Musical Treasure Erwin Helfer

In his early twenties, Erwin Helfer broke racial barrers by moving from Chicago to New Orleans to live in a Bl_erwinhelfer black neighborhood. This was in the nineteen-fifties, when crossing racial lines could land you in jail, or worse.

While in New Orleans, Erwin studied with Professor Longhair and Tuts Washington, worked with trumpeter Punch Miller, and recorded with Peg Leg Willie and Big Joe Williams.

When he moved back to Chicago, he became an integral part of the city’s blues culture throughout the nineteen-sixties and seventies. He was the accompanist for Mama Yancey—the wife of Chicago blues piano patriarch Jimmy “Papa” Yancey—and released piano duet albums with Jimmy Walker.

Erwin performs regularly at Chicago clubs and annually at the Chicago Blues Festival. His local gigs and frequent European tours have created a strong and loyal following in Chicago and overseas.

He has also performed multiple times in Asia, and the list of all the musicians he’s performed and recorded with is a Who’s Who of blues.

Now seventy, Erwin is a veteran Chicago pianist, who can pound out a down-to-earth boogie and low-down twelve-bar grind or take his audience to the swinging urban elegance of a concert hall. His albums include St. James Infirmary, 8 Hands On 88 Keys, 2003’s I’m Not Hungry But I Like to Eat, (which was nominated for a W.C. Handy Award), and Careless Love.

To hear an NPR story on Erwin Helfer’s music and listen to samples of Erwin’s piano playing, follow this link. 

Erwin Helfer will be in residence at the 2007 Port Townsend Country Blues Festival, teaching, jamming, and passing on the stories and the traditions of the blues. On Saturday, August 4, at 1:30 pm, he gives a mainstage performance at McCurdy Pavilion, along with such other blues legends as Robert “Wolfman” Belfour, Paul Rishell and Annie Raines, and the griot stylings of Cheick Hamala Diabaté.

Erwin also plays sets in the intimate clubs of Port Townsend both August 3 and 4, at Lanza’s. Tickets are available by calling Centrum at 360.385.3102, x117 and online at our secure Acteva site