Two pairs of talented West Side blues brothers play at Antioch, IL high school in 2009: Eddie Taylor Jr., guitar, Vernon Harrington guitar; Joe Harrington bass, Larry Taylor drums.

West Side blues guitarist Vernon Harrington, 61, died Jan. 18, 2015 after a serious illness. He appeared several times in the Chicago Blues Festival and was known around the neighborhood as a dedicated follower of the 1960s Cobra Records artist Magic Sam.

Born in 1953, Vernon, and his brother Joe, a bass player, come from an outstanding musical family. Their father Houston Harrington founded the Atomic H label which recorded several blues and gospel acts including their cousin Eddy Clearwater. 

Vernon’s uncle Ernest introduced him to  Magic Sam when he was only 11 years old, and he used to hang out in Sam’s back yard and play hookie from school to pick up guitar tips. Vernon played in the upbeat strumming style of his mentor.

Vernon sings and plays Sam’s classic “All Your Love,” with brother Joe Harrington on bass and Johnny B. Moore on guitar in the 1977 New Legends of Blues tour of Berlin in this video:

Among other young Chicago bluesmen on the tour, organized by the late Chess Records bass player/arranger/producer Willie Dixon and Living Blues Magazine founding editor Jim O’Neal, were harmonica player Billy Branch, guitarist Lurrie Bell, and singer/drummer Larry Taylor. Joe, Vernon and Larry Taylor were in a band called the Atomic Souls in the late 1970s-early 1980s, and they reunited for a tour of West Virginia in 2008.

A video shows his Front Porch Stage act, featuring his brother Joe on bass and West Side Wes on drums, in the 2009 Chicago Blues Fest:

Asked about his music style by Harry Oman for Big City Blues Magazine in August 2006, Vernon named B.B. King as another influence.  “I always did like the modern blues more than the dated blues. I like a little rock, classic rock.” 

He also recalled a time when the West Side was a booming place for live blues music:  “It’s not the same, they tore down the clubs. Like the Majestic. It used to be the L&M, Magic Sam and Eddie C. Campbell used to play up in there. Now it’s a tire shop. Silvio’s is just a vacant lot (Lake & Kedzie.)  Eddy Clearwater used to play at the Flash Club at 1422 Pulaski, that’s gone. Then the 1815 Club, Eddie Shaw used to run that. Then you had the Alex Club at Roosevelt and Loomis.”   

Delmark Records lists some of the clubs Vernon was talking about:

Vernon sings and plays guitar on a 2009 CD album, including some original tunes:

FROM the Family Obituary at Vernon’s Funeral Jan. 24:  

Vernon Harrington was born May 21, 1953, the youngest of four children born to the union of Hilda and Alfred Ray in Chicago, IL.  His mother, father two siblings (Gloria and Richard) as well as a daughter (Shaniece) preceded him in death.

Vernon graduated from John Marshall High School in 1971. He was baptized and attended Stone Temple Baptist Church from a young age.

Vernon’s love of music began very early on. At age 13, Vernon’s parents bought him his first guitar, and under the tutelage of bluesman “Magic” Sam, his skills continued to grow.

Vernon and his brother Joe created the Atomic Blues Band in 1970. He was also a part of the Eddie Clearwater Band since 1979.  He traveled the world playing professionally including the Berlin Jazz Festival 1977, London, 2010, and Argentina, 2011, as well as several places throughout the U.S. and Chicago (Chicago Blues Festival 2005-07.)

Vernon leaves to cherish three sons, Vernon (wife Tameka) of Chicago, IL, and Victor and Vincent of Memphis, TN; two aunts, Marion Powell and Irene Johnson; and two uncles, Bill and Edward Spiller; his brother, Joe Harrington, and wife Carol Garmon, as well as a host of nieces, nephews, cousins and grandchildren. 

Services  were held Jan. 24, 2015, at W.W. Jackson Funeral Home, 2701 63rd St., Chicago IL with Elder Samuel B. Rawls officiating.  Burial was in Oakridge-Glen Oaks cemetery in Hillside, IL.  

Additional Vernon Harrington info on his Facebook:

Bonni McKeown

"Barrelhouse Bonni" McKeown, the author of "West Side Blues Blog," has played piano and written about blues music for over 15 years.  She has led classes for young and old on...