www.myspace.com/chicagobluesguide Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
Buddy Guy, Lonnie Brooks, Indigenous
Rialto Square Theatre
March 20, 2009
By Linda Cain
Photos: Jennifer Wheeler
Chicago may be the home of the blues, but Joliet is a blues town, too. After all, the city was immortalized in film with the opening shot of The Blues Brothers in which Elwood picks up brother Jake from his stint in Joliet’s charm school. Thanks to this bodacious blues bash, hosted by the historic and elegant Rialto Square Theater, Joliet’s reputation in the blues world is secure.
Buddy Guy alone would have made for a grand evening. But NiteLite Promotions put together a mini blues festival that was a real treat for the avid blues fans from all over who packed the beautifully restored 1920s theater. It may have seemed incongruous to see blues bands play in a palace-like setting, with gorgeous crystal chandeliers, gilded columns, cherubs and gargoyles. But these weren’t just any old blues bands. Buddy Guy and Lonnie Brooks are blues royalty!
Like the vaudeville and burlesque performers who preceded them in history on the Rialto’s stage, the two blues legends “worked the room” masterfully. Veritable snake charmers, Buddy and Lonnie compelled several women to rise from their seats, writhing and wriggling their way to the front of the stage. During Lonnie’s walk through the crowd, one wild woman boldly slapped him on the behind as he turned around. (We should all be so lucky when we are in our seventies.)
It’s hard to believe that the robust Lonnie Brooks is age 75. Backed by a high energy band, led by son Wayne on guitar, the elder statesman opened with “Meet Me At the Trading Post,” his powerful voice and guitar riffs rising to the rafters. Lonnie took us back to his native Louisiana to get his mojo hand “renewed” while leading his bandmates in a little dancin’ and swaying in unison while the keyboardist soloed and the crowd cheered.
The Brooks band is a dynamic, stop-on- a dime quartet that can follow Lonnie’s every musical whim. His guitar stylings are unlike most other Chicago bluesmen. He’s not from Mississippi, but hails from Louisiana and Texas. He shares much in common with players like Gatemouth Brown or even Chet Atkins. Brooks incorporates a variety of styles --Cajun, country, rock’n’roll, R&B -- weaving in and out of them as he picks, plucks, bends and pulls notes from the strings with his powerful fingers. For his train song, Brooks rapidly rubs his palm across the strings to mimic a speeding train, to great effect, eliciting hoots of delight from the crowd.
He and the young band have a blast on stage, hamming it up while dishing out endless grooves, making it hard to tell where one song ends and the next begins. By the time he’s finished, you feel like you’ve been on an exciting trip around the country. Brooks ended his set with a lengthy, “You’re Using Me,” that included a walk through the crowd. The cowboy-hatted guitarist exited the stage to a standing ovation.
What can you say about Buddy Guy that hasn’t been said already? That his wildly manic guitar playing has influenced every rock star from Clapton, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray and Hendrix to young Derek Trucks and John Mayer? That he’s a fabulous showman who gives unpredictable performances and likes to toss out a few profanities? That he likes to play “blues so funky you can smell it.” That he loves audience participation and he always pays homage to his forbearers and followers while encouraging very young players to keep the blues alive? That he’s won nearly every music award in existence? Well, he’s all that and more.
At 72-years-old, Buddy Guy, like his beloved cognac, just keeps getting better with age. At 10 p.m., Guy hit the stage with the rockin’ “Best Damn Fool” from his excellent 2008 release Skin Deep. Surprisingly, the blues star was dressed down and hatless. He wore a casual grey outfit rather than one of his brightly hued suits. No matter, because Buddy is one of the most animated, colorful performers in history.
He turned his guitar down to a whisper for the next song’s intro, but not for long. Soon he had the crowd shouting the lyrics to “Hoochie Coochie Man.” He sang, “I’m gonna make all you girls, lead me by my hand,” causing ladies in the audience to squeal “Buuh-ddeee!!!” This inspired a rip-roaring solo, featuring Buddy’s trademark string stabbing. The second guitarist got his turn to solo, and was greeted with cheers.
“Love Her With A Feeling,” with its naughty lyrics, featured a powerful keyboard solo by mighty Marty Sammon. For “She’s 19 Years Old” Buddy displayed his frustration by letting his arms flap at his side, moaning and wailing about this young girl who can’t be satisfied. He abruptly switched gears and mellowed the crowd out with his fervent, soulful version of John Hiatt’s “Feels Like Rain.” The show became a Buddy Love Fest with the audience crooning the chorus and the ladies swooning over the romantic side displayed by Mr. Guy. Which, of course, prompted another knock-‘em-dead guitar solo, as the object of their affection grinned from ear to ear.
He abruptly switched from mellow into the rousing “Mustang Sally” on which the audience sang “ride Sally ride” with no prompting at all. The band’s second guitarist got to solo again, to cheers. “One of these early mornings…” Buddy sang, and then stopped. He called his adult daughter onstage to harmonize with him for his new CD’s title track “Skin Deep” a touching, gospel flavored song about racial prejudice and equality, that features Buddy on his “sitar guitar” (an electric resonator guitar). The audience was quiet and reverent for Buddy’s sincere message to “treat everyone how you want them to treat you."
Announcing “here’s the shit I was playing back in 1962,” Buddy descended the stairs and played an extended solo as he strode through the entire theater, from main floor to lobby and balcony, posing and mugging as fans madly snapped photos.
Once back on stage, he switched to his iconic polka-dot Fender. Then it was homage time. Buddy teased the fans by playing snippets of songs by his famous friends, living and dead -- John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom Boom,” Eric Clapton and Cream’s “Strange Brew,” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” on which he played guitar with his teeth. Just as the audience was getting into the psychedelic groove, Buddy halted and shifted into a sexy laid back Isaac Hayes number. Just when the crowd was getting into that, the guitar hero launched into an incredible psychedelic solo full of feedback and special effects.
He put down his guitar, introduced the band and passed out picks to fans at the edge of the stage while the band played James Brown’s “I’ll Go Crazy.” Buddy ran to the mic one last time to sing one last verse as he left the stage. By now it’s nearly 11:30 p.m. and the septuagenarian has performed nonstop for almost 90 minutes. Buddy Guy is truly the energizer bunny of the blues.
Opening act, Indigenous, led by talented guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Mato Nanji, did a splendid job of warming up the crowd with its classic-rock style originals. Fans may have been expecting to see a Native American family band churning out Stevie Ray Vaughan style blues-rock, but those days are behind Nanji. It’s been nearly a decade since Indigenous’ debut CD, Circle (which was produced by the Vaughan brothers’ partner Doyle Bramhall).
These days the Nakota (Sioux) guitar hero leads a powerful quintet that takes him where he wants to go, which is no longer in the direction of the blues. Rather, Indigenous 2009 sounds more like a cross between Big Head Todd and the Monsters and Bad Company. Nanji’s melodious tales of romantic melancholy are delivered in a husky, soulful voice that’s easy on the ears. But it’s Nanji’s guitar solos that really distinguish him. He’s not an animated, flashy player; he’d rather not let the guitar get in the way of the song and his rich vocals. But when it’s time to play, he does so with such passionate, soul-baring intensity that you can’t help but be mesmerized and drawn into the music. It’s just what the blues doctor ordered.
Indigenous features a firecracker second guitarist who traded scorching licks with the leader for some intense jamming. The versatile keyboardist, whose style ranged from Greg Allman to Edgar Winter, took the band into progressive rock/jam band territory with his soaring solos. Indigenous made the most of its half-hour opening slot, which seemed all too short for a band long on talent. Still it would’ve been nice if they could have squeezed in their debut hit song “The Rest Of My Days.”
Copyright: 2009, Chicago Blues Guide
Copyright: 2009, Chicago Blues Guide