Friday, June 13, 2008

The Future King of the Blues?

The largest free blues festival in America (the 25th Chicago Blues Fest) took place in Chicago last weekend and as usual, it offered visitors a mighty good time. It has been a tradition for me to take a day off of work and head down to watch some of the greats perform. Deep down, I am a huge rock and roll fan, and I realize that without the blues, it might just be “Roll.”

As a music fan, I have been around the block a few times, but I always discover “new” musicians that catch my attention at the Chicago Blues Festival. This year was no exception. Walking toward the Front Porch Stage, I heard a soulful voice beckoning me. As I got closer, I discovered one of the most expressive and gifted singers that I have heard in a while in Jo Jo Murray. He had the ability to sing an emotional, soulful ballad and follow that up with a down and dirty rockin’ blues tune. Why had I not heard of him? He was simply amazing.

The evening, though, belonged to Eddie “The Chief” Clearwater, one of Chicago’s unspoken blues heroes. Yes, Buddy Guy is “the man” in Chicago – and deservedly so. But Mr. Clearwater showed the crowd that he deserved some attention. With the recent release of his first Alligator CD, “West Side Strut,” Clearwater’s set included a handful of special guests that appeared on the CD. These guests included Lonnie Brooks, Billy Branch, Otis Clay, Jimmy Johnson and Ronnie Baker Brooks. Clearwater started his set playing three songs with his touring band and it was clear he was in good form. Later, Ronnie Baker Brooks took over with his band while Clearwater went backstage for a costume change. Brooks played with fiery abandon as his more distorted tone rocked the crowd. After a costume change, Clearwater re-emerged to the stage with Indian headdress to the explosive version of “They Call Me the Chief.” What grabbed my attention was Ronnie Baker Brooks’ blistering lead licks. The sight and sounds of old school and new school co-existing with such musical harmony was magical. Yes, I admired Eddie Clearwater for the blues wisdom that he brought to the stage. But, suddenly, Ronnie Baker Brooks had captured my attention with his magical playing. I was mesmerized. Later, Ronnie was joined on the stage with his father Lonnie, Billy Branch and Otis Clay. Together, these all-stars put on a musical clinic. It struck me how magical these moments were. I haven’t been blown away by a blues performance for a long time and last Friday's performance was a pleasant surprise. I could not help thinking that I was seeing one of the “early” performances from a future blues legend in Ronnie Baker Brooks. Could we be seeing him headline an evening at the Chicago Blues Fest in the future? Only time will tell.


Anonymous said...

Man, I was at that show and he was pretty good! B.B. put a great show on Sunday night.


Marissa said...

Good words.