Another January has come and gone in Chicago and another 16 virtually sold out nights of “Buddy Shows” at Legends is now part of blues history. In the past I’ve been to as many as ten of these shows but this year I tried to be a little less obsessive. I went to four complete shows and stopped in after work at midnight on three other nights.On those four nights I had the honor and pleasure of bringing Buddy on stage, which is always a blast!
Buddy has been playing with an emotion and sense of purpose heightened possibly by all of the accolades and honors he’s received over the last year. Last February he was part of an all-star cast that performed blues at the White House in recognition of Black History Month. At the end of the show Buddy tried to convince President Obama to sing on “Sweet Home Chicago.” The president obliged, singing a line along with Buddy, B.B. King, Mick Jagger and Shemekia Copeland, among others. In December, Buddy was one of those receiving the Kennedy Center Honors in DC, the highest honor our nation bestows on performing artists. There was Buddy, sitting in the front row of the balcony with Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, David Letterman, Dustin Hoffman, and Natalia Makarova as well as President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. In January, in between shows at Legends, Buddy and the entire band appeared on Letterman with Buddy having time to sit with Dave and talk some blues as well as perform. Later in the month, Buddy was back in DC again performing at a ball on inauguration day with Lonnie Brooks and Ronnie Baker Brooks.
The Buddy shows have remained remarkably consistent over the years. New songs are added to the set list when there is a new album, sometimes an older song seems to make a comeback for awhile, some nights there are surprises, but mostly there’s a consistency over the years. This is a good thing, especially when you consider the band. Marty Sammon on keyboards is a star in his own right, now with an opportunity to book some solo shows around town. Rick Hall is the perfect rhythm guitarist for Buddy, he makes the boss look good with his fills and his rhythm, and really shines on his own solos playing with an intensity worthy of the man he’s playing for. On bass, Orlando Wright always puts the bass in exactly the right place. And drummer Tim Austin plays with a gravitas and an understanding of where the boss wants the song to go that he seems, as much as anybody, to be the leader of the sidemen. Really a top notch band that can predict Buddy’s moves before he makes them.
Often when I go to Buddy shows I have the opportunity to go upstairs to the “Red Room.” This is a sort of lounge where Buddy can relax before a show or entertain guests. There is a wall in that room that displays so many pictures of Buddy at important points in his career. And there I am with my camera phone.
One photo shows Buddy with his daughters Charlotte and Carlise in DC with the president and the first lady.
One photo shows Buddy being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by B.B. King (The King) and Eric Clapton (“God”).
Over on the side of the wall, up in the corner, was an copy of the old XRT logo signed by the DJs and framed.
As Buddy was relaxing in his large, leather chair I pointed out to him that on that wall he had photos of The President, God, The King and XRT. His response, “Well Tom, I never thought of it that way before.”
It was a great month at Legends. I can’t wait for next January!