In a city filled with hard-working musicians, Mike Maimone is right up there.
The blues musician has released six albums, six EPs, and averaged 100 live shows per year over the past 12 years.
Maimone plays the blues, but with a swampy New Orleans-influenced sound reminiscent of Dr. John or Leon Russell. He said he brings “a little queerness to traditionally straight blues-based genres.”
We asked Maimone six questions on everything from his favorite Chicago pizza to playing basketball against LeBron James.
After a long tour, what do you want to eat first when you get back to Chicago?
Mike Maimone: The Art of Pizza. It’s a pizza joint on Ashland, just south of Belmont. It’s my favorite deep dish. I have to have it. Spinach, mushrooms, and onions — and sometimes I add sausage.
What song do you most closely associate with your childhood?
Maimone: The Stevie Wonder version of the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out.” My mom listened to a lot of Motown, and I remember that being on when she drove me to school. But, also, there’s a little bit of conflict in every family — (including) my family. And this life of contradictions that I’ve led, I feel like “We Can Work It Out” is a good, positive spin on having to deal with a lot of issues that went on.
What’s your worst ever gig?
Maimone: We were in the middle of a monthlong tour, and we rolled into Dayton, Ohio on a Monday or Tuesday for a gig at a coffee shop. I just assumed when I booked it that it would be like an open mic night, with lots of people playing. But we get there, and the place is closed. I try to call the guy I booked the show with, and he’s not answering. Finally, someone comes and opens the door.
Instead of being an open mic, we were told it was a “special event.” We were the only ones playing. They didn’t put up a single flyer, or poster, or even let people know they’d be open that night. So literally zero people were there.
But we set up, and only the barista was there.
I asked, “We’re all set up, but nobody’s here. Should we play?”
The barista kinda sighed and said, “I guess … ”
So we played one tune for the barista, tore down, and drove away. (I think we slept in the van that night.)
What’s in your streaming queue right now?
Maimone: My partner and I love Grace and Frankie. Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are amazing. If I’m that spry when I’m their age, I’ll count myself lucky. And they’re super sharp. And Sheen and Waterston … they’re straight men playing gay — they’re not homophobic at all — they don’t mind kissing on camera. I think it’s great, and it just shows the world is moving forward and its (portrayals of homosexuality) aren’t that big an issue anymore.
Who’s your musical crush?
Maimone: Doctor John. I try to find as many YouTube videos as I can to just watch him play piano and see how he plays … he’s just a monster player.
Is it true you played against LeBron James in high school?
Maimone: I can’t say I guarded him. I was a bench player that year. But I was on the court for a few minutes during that game. He was a freshman, and I was a senior. And even as a 14-year-old … he looked like a grown man already. I didn’t really think about it at the time, but now I look back and say, “I can’t believe I played against LeBron James.”
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Press play above to hear Jenn White’s interview with Maimone from WBEZ’s The Morning Shift.