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Peoria lost a longtime blues guitarist recently with the death of Emmett “Maestro” Sanders, who died April 28, 2013 at age 67.
Though he had given up live performance the last decade or so of his life, he was remembered as a master guitarist by local musicians.
“Whatever he walked into, the show was over. He hit three notes and had the audience in the palm of his hand,” said Benny King of Canton, who was mentored by the musician. “There was no showboating, no gimmicks and tricks, just playing out all his aggressions he had to deal with for that week.”
Sanders, who was born in Tchula, Miss., moved to Peoria as a child. He picked up blues music from his father and began performing in his youth, soon playing gigs all around town and beyond.
He mastered the Delta blues style, plucking on a “big, fat Gibson guitar” and using finger picks, said John Longmire, a Peoria blues pianist.
Sanders would sometimes take a van down to Mississippi and Arkansas to play the chitlun’ circuit, Longmire said, but he was unheralded in his hometown.
“I think it’s just a shame that he didn’t get any recognition, but I think it’s pretty typical of these blues guys,” he said. “They are, by nature, kind of reclusive, not big self-promoters.”
Sanders — like the late Peoria bluesman Eddie King — played guitar for Koko Taylor. He also worked with Little Milton, Muddy Waters, Lonnie Brooks, and appeared with B.B. King, Bob Marley and Stevie Ray Vaughan, among others.
He created his own band, Maestro Sanders and the Soul Hoosiers, and the group released the 1990s recording “Home Grown Remedy.” A critic of Living Blues magazine called it a “tough and uptempo” album.
Danielle Hatch can be reached at 686-3262 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @danielle_hatch.