Luther Keith, the Blues Playing Professor

By VINNY CRAIG, Staff Writer

Former journalist and current professor Luther Keith has led a double life for the better part of 15 years. Once a prominent Detroit News writer, Keith now teaches the students at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

His double life hasn’t even begun to surface until the sun goes down. After that, he’s known as Luther ‘Bad Man’ Keith, the blues musician from Detroit.

“I come off as a stiff, ordinary guy,” Keith said. “When I’m playing music, I’m a totally different person. You can’t be dull and boring and have a hot band.”

“People are usually like ‘Luther Keith plays in a band?’” he said. “[Then they will say] ‘but he looks like a nerd, I’ve seen him.’”
Every musician has an idol, an inspiration, someone they look up to musically. For Keith, his inspiration was the one who got him interested in blues music first. They also share the same first name.

“I was working for the News up in Lansing and, for some reason, started buying blues albums of a guy called Luther Allison,” Keith said. “I found out he was having a show in Ann Arbor. Now I had never been to a blues show in my life,” he added. “It was like seeing God!”

After that inaugural show, he went to the pawn shop, bought a guitar and learned to play guitar for the next several years.

He built a friendship with Allison over the next many years. Allison would come to Detroit three to four times a year to the now closed soup kitchen in Detroit. One year, Keith’s friend gave him the chance of a lifetime.

“He said ‘my friend Luther really wants to play with you,’” said Keith. “I would never ask that in a million years.”

That night started Keith’s blues career as he played guitar for Luther Allison and his band, sitting in with the famed blues musician.
His music has taken him to Europe, all around the United States, and he was even booked for another six-country tour before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks stopped it.

“I’m a professor by day, and a blues musician by night.”