Sunday, May 13, 2007

Fountain Blues Festival

Buddy Guy

Mother's Day weekend marked the beginning of Blues Festival season in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Fountain Blues Festival at the San Jose State University campus has been running for around 27 years.

I've been to this festival many times. The first year that I went was 1991 when the legendary Johnny Shines appeared. Johnny was in town for several shows that weekend. I think I hit all of them. He was a fantastic talent and a great bluesman. His story is sad and somewhat stereotypic. He was instrumental in shaping the post war electric Blues sound in 1950's Chicago. He made some fabulous recordings for Chess and JOB records. He worked for years and never really achieved commercial success.

I skipped a few years and returned to the festival grounds in 1995 to see Mark Hummel, Johnnie Johnson and Jimmy Rogers. The weather that day was sort of cold and foggy. I think it was drizzling a little bit, but it didn't stop a fabulous show by Johnnie Johnson and Jimmy Rogers. Come to think of it, I've seen Jimmy Rogers several times and he never put on a bad show. Never. Ever.

Jimmy Rogers is one of the guys that I miss the most. His style was really laid back, while remaining incredibly deep. He was one of the first guys that I ever saw in Chicago. He had Nick Moss and Scott Bradbury working with him back them.

I skipped a few more years. In 1998, I saw Deborah Coleman, Eddie King, Tommy Castro and R. L. Burnside. I really enjoyed the RL Burnside set, but the group that really sounded great that year was Eddie King and the Swamptones. He spent time in Chicago working with Little Mac Simmons and Koko Taylor. I had never seen him before and I've never seen him since, but he put on a great show.

In 1999, I went to see Son Seals, Sugar Pie DeSanto and Howard & The White Boys. Also on the bill was Rusty Zinn and Chris Cain. This was the last time that I ever saw Son Seals before his health problems began. The man was a fantastic singer and a unique guitar stylist.

In 2000, I went to photograph Bo Diddley and Jimmy D Lane. Unfortunately, I missed Jimmy D Lane's set, but I did get to see Sista Monica for the first time. Looking back on it, that is odd, because she always seems to be performing at this festival. I sat through a set of Tommy Castro. Some of his fans were rather obnoxious, but sometimes you have to put up with some shit to see a fabulous performer like Bo Diddley. Seeing Bo Diddley was well worth the wait.

I skipped 2001. My twin daughters were due any day and killing time at a Blues Festival didn't seem like a great idea even if Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown was performing.

I did attend in 2002. I arrived late so I wouldn't have to sit through another Corby Yates performance. My main objective was to see Magic Slim & the Teardrops for the zillionth time in my life. I try to never miss Slim. He's great. There is no one else like him. Seeing EC Scott and Smoke was a very nice side benefit. I left early, so I wouldn't subject myself to another Tommy Castro performance.

I skipped several years before attending this year.

I arrived during Jason Ricci's set. The guy is talented. There is huge buzz about him among harmonica players as being "the next big thing." I just don't get it. After seeing him play, my first thought was that he isn't doing anything that Sugar Blue wasn't doing 20 years earlier and better. In fact, it sort of ticks me off that Sugar Blue receives very little recognition for his contributions. Maybe that's why he moved to Europe.

Jimmy Thackery's set was a real guitar fest. Sista Monica put on an excellent show. The real reason I was there is was to see Buddy Guy.

Buddy Guy absolutely tore it up for over an hour with his four peive band. He was the highlight of this year's festival. He gave the people of San Jose a much needed blues lesson. He played with more energy and emotion than anyone I saw before him. He's rare in this day and age. He's a true innovator.

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