By Linda Cain
Photos: Dianne Bruce Dunklau
photo: Dianne Bruce Dunklau
Blues on the Fox
June 17-18 2022
RiverEdge Park, Aurora, IL
Friday: Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Shemekia Copeland
Saturday: Buddy Guy, Mindi Abair & the Boneshakers, Billy Branch & Sons of the Blues, Melody Angel
By Linda Cain
Photos: Dianne Bruce Dunklau
After a two-year absence due to the pandemic, Blues on the Fox returned to RiverEdge Park in Aurora with an impressive lineup.
CLICK HERE to see photos of Shemekia Copeland and Kenny Wayne Shepherd on Friday
CLICK HERE to see photos of Buddy Guy, Billy Branch, Mindi Abair & Melody Angel on Saturday
Here are some highlights:
Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Scroll down to read Buddy Guy live review!
Buddy Guy will turn 86 years young on July 30. Born in 1936 to an impoverished sharecropping family in Lettsworth, LA, George “Buddy” Guy has lived the classic rags to riches story. He has been honored with more awards than his display case at his world famous club Buddy Guy’s Legends can hold: Grammys, Blues Music Awards, Austin City Limits Lifetime Achievement Award, awards from the states of Illinois and Louisiana, the Kennedy medal of honor for artistic achievement and the list goes on. He’s even performed at the White House and coaxed Pres. Barack Obama to sing “Sweet Home Chicago.”
Always a blues iconoclast and innovator, Guy has influenced generations of guitar players including superstars like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck, Led Zeppelin and countless others.
At this point in his career, the living blues legend has nothing left to prove, yet he doesn’t slow down nor does he rest on his laurels. He continues to tour the world to sell out shows and to put out excellent blues albums, in conjunction with producer/drummer/songwriter Tom Hambridge, that earn him even more awards. And every January he performs at his four-nights-a-week residency in his club for sell-out shows that bring fans to town from all over the world. When he’s not doing all of that, you can find Buddy hanging out in his club, often taking to the stage to sing a couple numbers with the featured act.
Buddy’s commitment to keeping the blues alive is unwavering. He continues to champion and mentor young artists such as Kingfish, Quinn Sullivan and (back in the day), John Mayer who all made the pilgrimage to Chicago to see Buddy play and learn from his blues guitar wisdom. And with every show, Buddy never fails to honor his own mentors like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon and play a tribute to them.
That being said, Buddy Guy’s set list has remained nearly the same over the years. Compare the set list from a show he played in 2013 at the spectacular Red Rocks outdoor amphitheater to his show from tonight -- nearly identical. Yet for all the sameness, Buddy and the Damn Right Band are top-notch improvisers. You never know when Buddy may rewrite a lyric, throw in some humor, show us a guitar trick, mess with individuals in the audience, stop the band to speak his mind on a topic, bring out a special guest, or signal to keyboardist Marty Sammon or guitarist Ric Hall to regale us with a scorching solo.
So it was with this anticipation that Buddy’s long awaited show, originally scheduled for 2020, commenced. Both the fans who had never seen him before, as well as his longtime followers, were treated to the kind of entertaining show that only Buddy Guy and his mighty Damn Right Blues Band can serve up.
Buddy’s longtime band --Sammon, Hall, bassist Orlando Wright and drummer/producer Tom Hambridge (who has replaced the late Tim Austin) – kicked off with “Damn Right I Got The Blues” as Buddy rushed on stage to sing a medley of “Damn Right” into “Hoochie Coochie Man” and “Nineteen Years Old.” Hall played an exciting solo, and spun his guitar like it was a Wheel of Fortune. Buddy then called for some funky music and they launched into “Real Mutha For Ya,” as he ripped it up on guitar and Sammon soared on a sonic keyboard journey.
After that breathtaking intro, Buddy stopped the band to ask for some help from the audience. The guitar hero explained that he doesn’t ever have fun by himself, and he wanted to have fun with us. “Who has fun by themselves?” he inquired. Some guy in the crowd answered “I do!” to which Buddy replied in disbelief: “What the bleep you doin’ by yourself that’s fun?” This, of course, elicited laughs from the audience. It was just one example of the type of (sometimes foul-mouthed) banter that Buddy enjoys sharing with his fans. Then he launched into “Mojo Workin’” and the crowd eagerly sang along to the done-to-death- standard; Sammon, however breathed new life into it with his keyboard prowess that showcased an impressive array of styles squeezed into one dazzling solo!
The dynamic, supremely tight Damn Right Band always brings it, no matter what tunes or medleys the boss may jump in and out of. From the upbeat “Mojo” the master quickly switched gears to slow blues to play B.B. King’s “How Blue Can You Get”; Buddy paid homage to his late friend with his powerful, emotional singing and playing.
Then it was back to “so funky you can smell it” as Buddy sent the next song out to the married men in the audience, because he’d been through it himself: “Cheaper To Keep Her.” He meandered into the naughty lyrics of “Love Her With a Feeling” then “I Want You To Love Me” to which he added “if you don’t/ I know your sister will”. Buddy stopped the band to play a super funky version of “Grits Ain’t Groceries,” by Little Milton on which Buddy let loose with a rip-roaring solo. He walked over to a tall amp and set his guitar on top, carefully laid a black towel over the neck, picked up a drumstick and tapped out the riff to Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.” He strapped the guitar back on and slapped at the strings with the towel, still hitting the right notes, as the band chugged along. He finished with bravado and tossed the towel into the crowd, that cheered its approval.
Buddy strutted back and forth across the large stage and started into Al Green’s “Take Me To the River”; he only played a snipped of the Memphis soul favorite when he stopped to have a chat with the audience about such topics as peace and love, elephants(!), respect for fellow humans, his childhood in Louisiana where, he recalled, they had no running water, electricity, air conditioning or locked doors. “And we didn’t die (for lack of it)” Buddy remarked.
His random thoughts led up to the next song, co-written with drummer Hambridge, “Skin Deep,” a beautiful song about equality that displays a reverent side of the blues legend. He sang with sincere emotion, his voice quavering at times, as the band contributed glorious harmony. Buddy asked for the house lights to come up so he could see the fans singing along on the chorus: “Skin deep, skin deep/underneath we’re all the same.”
That brief reverence ended as Mr. Guy cussed his way into the soul blues chestnut “Slippin’ Out, Slippin’ In” (a.k.a. “Steppin’ Out, Steppin’ In”). During one of his solos, Buddy left the stage to keep playing while he walked through the edge of the crowd that was standing by the Fox River. He moved so quickly that the Andy Frain ushers with the flashlights could barely keep up with the nimble-fingered guitarist.
Once back on stage, Buddy and the band moved into a taste of James Brown’s funk with “I’ll Go Crazy.” He then stopped to talk about the British Invasion bands who revered Chicago blues artists and made a point to seek them out when in town.
He switched topics to guns and the drinking age and then back to the Brits: “I’m gonna play you some Clapton now,” he announced as he sang and played Cream’s “Strange Brew” and then brought his son Greg Guy on stage to play his polka dot Fender Strat, as the band dropped the tempo for slow blues; Greg delivered a powerful string-bending, note-soaring solo that did his papa proud. When he finished Greg declared “Happy Father’s Day!”
Buddy launched into the blues classic “Five Long Years,” in his inimitable, animated style. He ended the song emphatically: “The next woman I marry/ she gotta work two f***ing jobs and bring home the dough!” And with that he ended the show saying, “Thank you very much. I love you” and exited the stage at 10:24 as the band vamped and the crowd cheered. Buddy soon returned to pass out guitar picks to lucky fans by the stage.
Buddy Guy will appear with Bobby Rush and "Big Head" Todd Park Mohr on August 7 at Out of Space Concerts at Canal Shores in Evanston.