Blues and boogie pianist Erwin Helfer doesn’t like to draw attention to himself. He’s a genuinely nice man who at the age of 82 still has the look of a slightly shy and amused schoolboy. But don’t dismiss him he learned from some of the piano masters: Baby Dodds, Grover Compton, Little Broth- er Montgomery, Cripple Clarence Lofton. And he recorded with some of the greats: Big Joe Williams, Estella “Mama” Yancey, Floyd McDaniel, and others. His personal 1950s field recordings of Doug Suggs, Speckled Red, Billie Pierce and others are rare documents of early blues artists.
Helfer has given lessons to countless piano players, including former “Blues Brothers” keyboard player, Murphy Dunne, who organized the first Chicago Blues Fest in 1969. Barrelhouse Chuck Goering was his frequent piano partner for many years until his sad passing in 2016. Helfer was instrumental in prolonging the careers of many elderly and overlooked artists, as well as for providing regular employment and critical exposure for many ne female blues singers.
His recorded legacy includes two sessions with Big Joe Williams (one for Eli Toscano’s Cobra label), a Testament LP with Jimmy Walker, two releases on his own Red Beans label, one of them accompanying Jimmy Yancey’s widow, “Mama” Yancey, and seven albums on Sirens, the label of his good friend Steve Dolins, including his latest recording, Last Call.