A Musician Can't Have Too Many Keys

Sunday, August 21, 2005

A Musician Can't Have Too Many Keys

Frank "Little Sonny" Scott Jr., 78, is a fixture at Maxwell Street, a flea market and the birthplace of Chicago blues, where he plays a homemade instrument made of hundreds of keys.

Earlier this summer, someone broke into the trailer that serves as Scott's "Maxwell Street Museum on Wheels" and stole the instrument made of about 350 keys, along with other blues artifacts.

Word got out, and now Scott has received about 600 keys from fans as far away as Ontario, Canada. Many of them came from a Chicago Transit Authority worker who cleaned out abandoned keys from the lost and found.

"It felt really great to get all those keys again," said Scott, a native of Texas who came to Maxwell Street in the 1950s and started playing the keys when blues bands he had booked failed to show up. "I had advertised live music, so I had to give them live music."

He collected the keys from friends and other blues musicians, and when the historic buildings on Maxwell Street, just southwest of downtown, were shuttered awaiting demolition over the past few years, he would scoop up old keys off the floors.

Though he has replaced the stolen keys and then some, Scott hopes people keep bringing more.

"I still want more keys," he said. "I'm making more, smaller instruments now, to sell and to put in the Maxwell Street Museum."

-- Kari Lydersen

© 2005 The Washington Post Company