Another Elder Statesman of the BLUES.
It Ain’t Nothing But A Party.
Story and photo’s by Mark Fredell
August 1st 2006, It was hot and steamy in the mid west the air was thick like you were walking thru a damp sponge. I had made the trip from my place in Saint Paul Minnesota down to Chicago the day before and man was it ever sweltering, this nation wide heat wave was showing no signs of loosening it’s grip anytime soon. Chicago was very near 100 degrees with lots of humidity and the night ahead promised to be even hotter, I was in town for this night and this night only as it was the celebration of Buddy Guys 70th birthday. I knew it would be busy but had hopes (un answered hopes as it turned out) that the AC in Legends would be up to the task; NOPE… I arrived with my brother-in-law Marquel Jordan at about 10 minutes before 8 and the place was already filling up and hot. Quel (Marquel) is the tenor sax player and sometimes singer for Brother John (Kattke) Band. And as one of the two host bands for the Legends Monday night blues jam they were invited to be the house band for the party this night. I found myself a spot near a column with a small ledge enough for the plate of food I eventually ordered and stood there and sweated. As Marquel and the band got set up the crowd grew thicker and the room got warmer, then at 9 o’clock it was show time and they began, brother John is a solid guitar player, though he toured with Buddy as the keyboard player on the Damn Right I Got the Blues Tour back in the early 90’s he’s also a pretty good singer, they stuck to mostly straight bar room blues for the first few numbers then in the middle of a song, The man of the hour took to the stage strapped on his black and white poke-a-dot strat and they cut deep into Muddy Waters ‘She’s Nineteen Years Old’. then there were two more slow blues and Buddy thanked everyone for coming out to help celebrate his birthday. He seemed genuinely moved saying that for a while he never thought he’d make it this long. He closed by stating “Ah man, I don’t want to play right now I just wanna go down stairs and get high.” He left the stage and disappeared to the dressing rooms; only to emerge a short time later and greet some of his well wishers. The band continued to play, John pulled Marquel to the vocal mic and he cut loose on some classic soul tunes, some Al Green, King Floyd and others, then it was time for the first break. Brother John asked for Buddy to return to the stage and they brought out a huge cake, the whole room sang the birthday song, he blew out the candles and a lovely waitress in the house brought him his present (from the staff) a custom painted Fender Strat with his image, the Chicago skyline, some classic club signs and more painted on it, as well as his name in flaming lettering in the frets of the neck. Buddy seemed to tear up a bit as he thanked every once again. By this time Koko Taylor was in the house sitting in the VIP area, also in attendance were Wayne Baker Brooks, Nick Moss, Mathew Skoller and other Chicago blues veterans. As the staff was serving up cake there was mixing and mingling, Buddy took up a seat at the front of the bar and signed autographs, then after a while the Brother John Band retook the stage and it wasn’t long before the birthday boy was back up, guitar in hand, singin’ and playing with passion and intensity that only he Buddy Guy can conjure. After another three songs he was off again, and the band tore through another fine set of blues and soul keeping the room grinning from ear to ear. At the midway point of this second set both Skoller and Moss were invited up and they played some very satisfying straight (no chaser) Chicago blues. Skoller blew some tasty harmonica while Moss’ guitar was in the pocket. As the second set wrapped up, the crowd began to thin a bit and before to long Buddy himself departed for the night, leaving perhaps a hundred or so diehards in the room to soak up one more stellar set from Brother John and company, the highlight of which had to be Marquel’s awe inspiring version of Sam Cooks ’A Change Is Going To Come’ the band wound down just past 1:00am and as I hung out for them to pack up, the temperature in the room was finally approaching bearable though the heat generated from the stage is what has left the biggest imprint in my mind. To be able to share in the reaching of such a milestone for some one that is arguably one of the most important members of the blues world is a memory that will stay with me forever. Happy 70th Buddy Guy and here’s a wish for many more years ahead for you.