Blues performers and fans alike came to Buddy Guy’s Legends to wish a happy 80th birthday to the man himself.
At 5:00 p.m. on Monday August 01, the queue of people stretched right around the corner of Buddy Guy‘s Legends club in Chicago. Some people without tickets sat in camper chairs whilst others walked up and down the line offering to buy any spare tickets. Some had traveled from elsewhere in the US whilst at least one had made the journey all the way from Sheffield, England. Unfortunately for those without tickets, spares were hard to come by and most were disappointed.
Whilst a queue of this size was an unusual sight so early on a Monday evening, this was no ordinary show. This was the celebration of 80 years of a true blues legend, a hero to many in Chicago and around the world. A man who went from picking cotton in Louisiana as a boy to playing for the President of the United States at the White House. A man who changed the face of the blues with his high energy, aggressive approach that was way ahead of its time. A man who, throughout his time in music has consistently put out new material and maintained a touring schedule at a pace that would exhaust musician’s half his age. This was Buddy Guy’s birthday party at his “house” in Chicago.
The last time National Blues Review were in attendance at Buddy Guy’s Legends was back in January to see him play during his residency. At the time, we commented on the how much the club feels like a family affair. During the celebration of Buddy’s 80th Birthday, this feeling was, as you would expect, even more prevalent with all of Buddy’s family in attendance along with the “extended family” that work with him at his club and on the road.
With the audience settling in and the smell of southern cooking heavy in the air, the night clicked into gear as the Brother John Band took the stage at 6:15 p.m. This set the scene for the night. Whilst some blues and rock n’ roll royalty in the form of Jeff Beck, the Misfits, Tom Morello and Zakk Wylde were in attendance to pay their respects and socialize upstairs, the real party was downstairs.
In typical Legends style, the line-up for the celebrations was primarily made up of Chicago blues scene regulars, and up and coming artists such as Mike Wheeler, Toronzo Cannon and Buddy’s protege, Quinn Sullivan, amongst others. This gave the night a feeling of real authenticity and judging by audience reaction, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Anyone who has been to the open mic night at Legends on a Monday will know Brother John Kattke well. Brother John is a triple threat, a guy who is equally at home playing keys, guitar or using his voice to get his message across.
The band played an energetic set and were joined for a couple of songs by Legends’ regulars Kate Moss, of The Smiley Tillmon Band, and Harmonica Hinds, both of whom got a chance to demonstrate their formidable chops with solos during the set. Marqueal Jordan also stepped away from his sax and up to the mic for the last couple of songs showcasing his soulful voice.
Next up, was Buddy’s daughter Carlise, with The NuBlu band. The band tore through their set, with some great vocals from Carlise and Kenyatta Gaines and fantastic guitar work from Mark Maddox. Towards the end of their set, they performed a Motown Medley which got the crowd dancing and shouting out the names of the tracks in the hope of being awarded a free Legends T-shirt.
Finally, it was time for Buddy Guy joined by at least three generations of the Guy family on stage to welcome him. A number of members of the family got their chance to speak about what Buddy meant to them but it was his older sister Annie Mae who stole the show, serenading Buddy with a solo rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
Also on the stage were representatives from Remy Martin who presented Buddy with a bottle of his favorite Remy Martin XO, along with a cake shaped like the bottle.
The mayor of Orland Park (where Buddy lives), Dan McLaughlin, presented a giant card, which had been signed by many of the residents. Buddy joked that if he could get all those who’d signed the card to buy a record, he’d be set! The mayor also announced that Buddy would be receiving the key to the City, an honor rarely bestowed upon anyone.
Finally, a spokesperson from PCa Blue, a prostate cancer charity announced that, Buddy would be an official spokesperson for PCa Blue and would be headlining a national concert series in 2016 where he will be performing with local blues musicians and fans across the country to build awareness and understanding of prostate cancer.
Buddy took the time to speak movingly of his brother Phil (who died of Prostate Cancer in 2008) and of his intention to raise the awareness of this disease along with his concern about the rise of GMO foods and the role they have to play in people’s health. He then left the stage so he could concentrate on “drinking” for the rest of the night. He did, as usual, first take the time to sign autographs at the merch stand.
There were then some video messages of birthday wishes from the likes of Anna Popovic and Beth Hart prior to the final act of the evening, the always excellent Mike Wheeler Band.
They opened up with Guy’s classic “Damn Right I Got The Blues” with Wheeler’s voice sounding like the birthday boy’s vocal on that track. After a few more numbers, including more Guy tracks, a Prince track, and tracks from the band’s new album, Turn Up!, the stage became a revolving door with various musicians stepping up to play and sing.
Quinn Sullivan was first up with Carmen Vandenberg from Jeff Beck‘s band and Tom Hambridge, Buddy’s longtime collaborator on drums. It was a pleasure to watch Sullivan and Vandenberg trading licks, and it left no doubt that there are some younger players who are well placed to take the blues into the future.
Jimmy Hall and Marty Sammon joined the fun with Vandenberg and Sullivan remaining on stage and contributing searing solos during Albert King’s “As The Years Go Passing By.” Buddy also made his only appearance of the night adding some vocals towards the end.
Ronnie Brooks and Jonny Lang then took to the stage opening with a cover of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Let Me Love You Baby” followed by a superb cover of BB King’s “Gambler’s Blues” that was played with such passion, it brought the entire club to its feet.
Guy King was next up for two tracks, showcasing some amazing technique during his cover of another Albert King track “Born Under A Bad Sign.”
Mike Wheeler then re-appeared with Toronzo Cannon to perform “Walk It Off” – a great track from his new album The Chicago Way before Big James came up and added a healthy dose of horns to the night’s proceedings.
A special word goes out to Legend’s MC Johnny who kept the night moving and the crowd entertained through numerous stage changes and the rest of the Legends’ staff who managed to keep all the customers watered and fed whilst still looking like they were having a great time themselves.
As noted in our previous review in January, Buddy Guy is the real thing. He is one of the most influential musicians of his generation. Not only that, he has always been, and remains, an active and key supporter and promoter of many established and emerging blues acts in Chicago. The love and affection shown for him during his 80th birthday show (as well as during all of his live shows) is a testament to the high regard in which he is held by both musicians and music fans in Chicago and around the world.