MICHAEL PACKER - RIKERS ISLAND BLUES
By- DON WILCOCK EDITOR BLUESWAX MAGAZINE Reprinted with Permission
You might as well throw a lighted match into a pool of a gasoline. That's how explosive Johnny Cash was when he played Folsom Prison. The difference between Cash's performance there and Michael Packer's performances at Rikers Island is that Cash was on the outside looking in and Packer was on the inside looking out. "it's amazing what music can do", says Packer who did three or four concerts with his "in-house" band while serving a year for armed robbery.People were dancing in the aisles.It was the best time and when i walked around Rikers,it gave me enough juice and respect from people that i really got along well with both inmates and correction officers." The music gave me power, " and considering he was one of a mere handful of white prisoners, that was no small accomplishment. If you buy into the cliche that blues is all heartache and trouble, then Michael Packer is the archetype.'That's really part of it," says this Big Apple blues baron. "The booze, the drugs, the women, the whole thing --- you can get deeper into it with alcoholism and drugs being a disease, but it all seems that the blues and all that just go hand and hand".
Packer's been all the way up the charts with his progressive country band in the 70's "Free Beer", who recorded for RCA records and he's been all the way down in the gutter with Butter, squinting at the sun coming up. "I knew Paul Butterfield at the end when he was drinking alot and doing drugs." I was worse off then he was and i think that's what he liked." says Packer, who today is 15 years sober. He recalls a time when his band opened for Butter at a sold out show at the Lone Star in Greenwich Village. ' All i remember is the next day waking up on the street at six in the morning. The sun is coming up, and we're both on the sidewalk looking at each other. Butterfield gets up and starts blaming me for what happened.' Why didn't you see that i got home last night .".What Packer learned was " You can be a star one night and a bum the next ".
Packer was there with George Thorogood before George made it big, playing for change in San Francisco's Chinatown and passing the hat at the Coffee Gallery in North Beach in 1971.That was his introduction to the blues.Packer recorded for Atlantic records when he was 19 years old with his band " Papa Nebo ' which featured sax great Bob Mintzer who now plays for the Yellowjackets.With his Band "Free Beer", Packer got to open for the King of Zydeco, Clifton Chanier in New Orleans.Now he is back with a band that could have been taken directly from the stage of " Saturday Night Live ".