Tag Archives: blues guitar
August 10, 2012
Into the blues or not, it was impossible not to look forward to the crossroads on the road summit of Buddy Guy and Jonny Lang – two giant slingers for the ages. Myself, I’ll get me some 8/12-bars all night long from just about anybody, let alone these guys. Seriously, I was raised as far from the blues as a Westwood kid could get, yet the in your bones familiarity and launchpad of guitar heroes past, present and future intoxicated me early on. Blame Clapton. Blame Hendrix. Blame Duane Allman. The roots of my personal soundtrack lie in the blues and blues driven rock. Few musical idioms are as simple, fundamental and elemental. And in this day of economic hardship and digital overload, the blues have never been more important.
The setup of Lang, the original teenage blues phenom (now 31-year old father of three) with Buddy Guy, the elder Chicago blues king, could not be passed up. The Fargo born Lang was signed to A&M at 15 and “Lie to Me”, the first of his four studio albums was released in 1997 (his most recent effort is 2009’s “Live at the Ryman”). These two actually crossed paths earlier in Lang’s career with his appearance on Guy’s 1998 “Heavy Love” release. No surprise Lang has toured with the likes of the Stones, Aerosmith, B.B. King, Jeff Beck and Sting, and that Clapton tapped him for the first Crossroads Guitar Festival (2004). Buddy Guy, 45 years Lang’s senior, started performing in early 50s Baton Rouge and he’s never stopped. His discography on Chess, Vanguard, Alligator, Reprise, Atlantic, MCA and many others, spans a lifetime, and he is a six-time Grammy winner. To put it simply, Clapton once described Guy as “the best guitarist alive”. The list of worshipful guitar legends Guy has influenced is pure hall of fame. I was only hoping that this performance would be a master class in 6-string heartache and rags-to-riches showmanship that come with the territory.
While I am less familiar with Jonny Lang’s material, he connected with the OC crowd early. Beginning with more brooding tunes including “Turnaround” from the 2006 album of the same name, Lang took to either side of the stage as he dug into solos with a fleshy, perfectly baked tone delivered from a gorgeous Les Paul and especially his Tele Thinline Deluxe (Tab Benoit is another notable blues artists favoring the Thinline). By the time he hit “Red Light” from 2003’s “Long Time Coming”, the audience swooned a bit as he reached for quieter falsettos between a Marley-esque sing along of “everything’s gonna be alright”. Not exactly steeped in the delta, but a solid showcase for Lang’s musical and vocal range. A too short cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City” was a terrific match for Lang’s strengths and the crowd really responded to the gospelly “That Great Day” from “Turnaround”. A thomping intro to “Angel of Mercy” from 1998’s “Wander this World” found Lang facing off with guitarist Akil Thompson’s hollow-body Gibson for some of Lang’s nastiest soloing of the set. Lang closed things out with a solo acoustic intro to “Lie to Me’” from his 1997 debut album of the same name, that grew to full band drama on a tune that had an “everyone’s been there” feel to it. A blues that anybody knows well.
As Buddy Guy strode to the stage with a huge smile and a signature polka dot Strat (blue with white dots, to be exact), he took a healthy moment to pause and respect the crowd. While it would be easy to trade on his legend, the man takes nothing for granted. He then jumped into the Leon Russell penned/Freddie King associated “Going Down”, a propulsive early 70s tune made a little more famous by Jeff Beck. Guy advised us that we were going to get “so funky, we could smell it” before taking “Hoochie Coochie Man” from a quiet rumble to a roar. He roamed the stage, even going off-mike to create living room intimacy, then fired away with guitarist Ric Hall in a sizzling exchange of solos. Between songs, Guy jokingly (or not) confessed he “don’t rehearse, or I’ll fuck it up”. Believe me, he didn’t. The key no longer fit the lock with the cheatin’ blues of “Someone Else Is Slippin’ In”, from his 1994 release “Slippin’ In, after which Guy noted “you don’t hear blues on the radio anymore”. A sharecropper’s son who didn’t have running water until he was 17 would know.
“If you don’t try and please the fans, go home”, Buddy Guy remembers telling some fellow musicians. It’s so obviously true. “76 Years Young” (updated from “74 Years Young” from 2010’s, “Living Proof”) was a highlight, and not just for the humor of the autobiographical intro. With lines like “I’ve been a dog and I’ve been a tomcat, I chased some tails and I left some tracks”, this is a man who’s lived every word. Guy’s vocals showed off a warm spot-on vibrato on the 1956 Little Willie John classic “Fever”. Then it was time to plunge into the crowd with an Albert King tribute (and this ain’t no mosh pit). Guy took his time entering from one side, leaving from another, moving from the front of the room to the back. Allowing fans to take a picture with him, laughing and smiling the whole way, all the while shredding up a storm and seamlessly staying connected with the band. Yeah, I think the fans were pretty happy.
When Buddy Guy steps aside for another slinger, you know the player’s special. When the guitarist is 13-year old (barely) Quinn Sullivan, it’s jaw dropping. Guy first played with Sullivan when he was 7 (“I thought it was me playing”). Try and process that. Sullivan confidently took his spot and sparked up a gorgeous Strat for his own “Blues Child” from his 2011 debut “Cyclone”. That Guy compared his playing and sound to Clapton is not to off the mark (and I can’t believe I just wrote that). Sullivan stuck around for “Buddy’s Blues”, also from “Cyclone”. “The whole world turned upside down, when I first heard the master Buddy Guy”, Sullivan growled as deep as his teenage pipes could reach. Well put, Quinn. Jonny Lang had to be smiling off stage. Perhaps what’s most powerful about this collaboration is the legacy of the blues that transcends generations. Where a 13-year old with the world ahead of him can meet up with a 76-year old master on equal footing. Wow.
Guy’s set concluded with his popular take on John Hiatt’s “Feels Like Rain” from his 2007 album of the same name, and a loose cover of Cream/Clapton’s vintage blues “Strange Brew”. “Feels Like Rain” was a crowd pleaser that resonated well with the Grove audience. Lang and Sullivan joined Guy for “Strange Brew”, which could have had more spark given the lineup, but was hardly a disappointment.
Buddy Guy’s generous spirit was on display to the very end. High 5-ing and signing autographs as he left the stage. A shout out to Guy’s band is also called for. The rhythm section of bassist Orlando Wright and drummer Tim Austin, Marty Sammon’s keys and Ric Hall on guitar were far more than predictable accompanists, they were a soulful unit that played as a very tight band.
I came to the show to bask in the notes of a blues legend. Check. That Buddy Guy spun stories like I was on the bar stool next to him was just as meaningful. This was a night of blues as uplift, warmth and connection. Not the dark stuff. Damn right, they got the blues and ain’t we the lucky ones. Don’t ever forget that.
From the Revivalists passionate opening Gentilly set to the final moments of Springsteen’s plaintive reading of Saints, the first weekend of Jazzfest 2012 was an abundance of special moments. Yes, the draws were the Acura headliners. Petty and Bruce delivered deep satisfying sets (from what I was able to catch), and Springsteen’s presence was a rallying cry of celebration and reflection. A reminder of how New Orleans has healed since his epic 2006 post-Katrina Seeger Sessions appearance, and how far there is still to go. Even the Beach Boys brought their game, judging by the smiles and sing alongs from a nice size Acura crowd. But, hey, did you check out Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 at Congo Square? The four generations of players from 9 to 90+ that filled the Fais Do Do on Saturday for the Savoy Music Center Cajun Jam? How about Bon Iver’s stirring (and unexpected) connection with the Jazzfest crowd? Gary Clark, Jr. absolutely tearing down the Blues Tent opposite the Boss with Texas blues that left teeth marks? Not to mention the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars and Jon Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentlemen showing Tom Petty how it’s done in New Orleans. Sure until self-cloning is an app, we all pang for what we missed. Weekend 1 proved, yet again, no matter where you are at the Fest, it’s exactly where you should be.
The days between were not too shabby. Instruments A’ Comin’ on Monday night at Tip’s and New Orleans Musicians for Obama at Generations Hall on Tuesday had my head spinning (in a good way). IAC was loaded this year, as always. The sight/sounds of the best young brass in town marching along a closed Napoleon Ave. is breathtaking, and Shorty, Galactic, HISB and a cast of thousands made for a very satisfying 4:30 AM bedtime. Tuesday night’s “ObamaFest” had some unfortunate ticketing glitches, but once inside Generations Hall, there was a little bit of everything with two stages, multiple bars and a great relaxed vibe. The mostly Meters mini-set with Dr. John was locked in and tight, the highlight of the night by far.
The second weekend of the Fest boasted one of the richest lineups in year. While the Foos and the Eagles were not in the cards for me (my closest encounter was fighting the 65,000 Eagles fans for the exit), the Gentilly Stage and the Blues Tent pulled me like magnets. Thursday can never be a bad day. The crowds are lighter and headliners undemanding. It’s easy to roam, chill and eat. Like a bonus day. Flow Tribe completely entertained, Glen Hansaard sang/played his heart out with a 6-string that makes Willie Nelson’s “Trigger” look new. Honey Island Swamp Band’s “Bayou Americana” keeps getting better. George Porter, Jr. and his Runnin’ Pardners were totally in the groove. Regina Carter’s Reverse Thread was magical and Florence Welch had me completely under her spell. Only at Jazzfest could Florence + the Machine be counterpointed with the earthy grit of James Cotton’s blowing in the Blues Tent. If that’s a down day at the Fest, give me more.
Friday was a highlight. Grace Potter’s scorching stage presence was topped by the Nocturnals go for broke delivery. Hornsby’s long overdue Fest debut was juicy and this Bruce was loving every minute of it, especially when joined by dem ‘bones. Rodrigo y Gabriela’s metal rooted world nylon string mash up was mesmerizing. Zac Brown showed why he is a festival circuit favorite, and so much more than a solid country rock comer.
Saturday brought a rollicking (and rocking tight) Allen Toussaint set. Anders Osborne, fresh from the release of “Black Eye Galaxy” dug deep and raw, then vulnerable. Dropping the guitar and backed by strings, “Higher Ground” was simply beautiful. John Boutte brought the house down with a triumphant Jazz Tent performance and running between My Morning Jacket, Herbie Hancock and the Warren Haynes Band (with Dr. John) sums up why there is nothing like Jazzfest. The Haynes Band especially shined in the slot originally scheduled for Levon Helm. Levon’s spirit was all over the Fest, whether it was Hornsby covering “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” or Mavis Staples bringing the crowd to tears in the Gospel Tent with “The Weight”.
By the time Sunday rolls around, you tell yourself the tank is more than half full, not running down fast. You believe the flight home is just a scheduling mistake, rather than a cruel joke. Then Galactic overpowers the Acura crowd. Glen David Andrews brings out that red horn and everyone rises a few inches off the ground. You go to church with the entire Boutte clan. David Sanborn and Joey DeFrancesco seize the Jazz Tent crowd before the final coming together to honor 50 years of Preservation Hall, with guests that celebrate all that is New Orleans music. Go shake it with Sharon Jones and her Dap Kings before the reality sets in that there are only 355 more sleeps to Jazzfest 2013. Now that’s a life. Thank you Quint and every human who make Jazzfest possible.