Next appearances on The Blues Train:No upcoming shows
Dave Riley was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on March 18, 1949. His parents moved to Chicago when he was a small child, leaving Riley and four siblings in the care of his grandparents. Riley’s grandparents owned cotton fields and he worked in them.
Riley started playing the guitar at age nine but didn’t get serious about the guitar until he met up with his parents in Chicago in 1961. Riley’s father was a preacher in the Church of God in Christ. When the rest of the family moved to Chicago, they started a family band called “The Riley Singers,” Riley says, “My father started training us, he and my Uncle Sam, to sing gospel music. And they used to whoop you back then and make you sing,” Riley said.
Shortly after Riley’s arrival in Chicago, his family moved from the North Side to a housing project on the West Side near the Maxwell Street Market, where he first heard live blues. Riley also recalls watching Howlin’ Wolf perform through the open doors of a local club, and although his parents tried to keep him within the sphere of the church, he managed to sneak off and play Motown Songs with other kids in the projects.
After graduating from high school, Riley was drafted for duty in Vietnam. After basic training he was stationed briefly in Washington State, where he attended a show of Seattle-area native Jimi Hendrix, who became a major influence on the young guitarist.
After his release Riley married his wife, Tanja, and after she became pregnant with their son, Riley left soul music to play gospel with Tanya’s group, the Mighty Gospel Wonders. Soon after, he bought a house in the suburbs and began working as a prison guard at Joiliet State Penitentiary, a job he held for about 25 years. Riley freely confesses that most of the time he spent a guard he was an alcoholic and a drug addict, habits he picked up from Vietnam. He spent the latter part of the 80’s trying to shake his addictions and has been sober since 1989.
Dave Riley found himself in the 70’s playing bass, and occasionally sitting in, with Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, and Howlin Wolf. In 1973, he gave up his on the road musical career to help raise his only son, Dave L. Riley, Jr. Now that his son is grown, Riley is continuing with his music career. Riley formed his own band in 1996 and soon enlisted his son, Dave “Yahni” Riley, Jr., to play bass.
In 1998 Riley’s neck was broken in a car crash with a drunken driver, ending his career at the prison and leaving him unable to play the guitar for nine months. He has now regained most of his playing ability. His first CD, Living on Borrowed Time, is the story of his own personal tragedies. His second CD, Blues Across America has been a great success. Right now he is busy touring all over the country with his band. In addition to his son, his band consists of drummer Sam Carr, and Arkansas harp man, John Weston. Riley and his band are soon going to travel to Europe to perform.