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42. THE BUDDY WHITTINGTON BAND at THE BEAVERWOOD CLUB, Chislehurst. Tuesday, 31st March, 2015

 

BUDDY WHITTINGTON - The 'Six-String Svengali' (Photo: PTMQ)

BUDDY WHITTINGTON – The ‘Six-String Svengali’ himself, with his ‘Deadwood And Wire’ Gibson Les Paul (Photo: PTMQ)

I’ve seen the big Texan Bluesman, Buddy Whittington a number of  times in the past few years; and he’s never failed to impress me; so I’ll always try to see him play live if I can. My son James came with me too as he’s a big fan, and has seen the big man more times than me. This time, Buddy and his band had just returned from a tour of Europe where they’d all unfortunately picked up a cold bug. This gig at the Beaverwood Club, Chislehurst (another of promoter Pete Feenstra’s excellent venues), was booked at fairly short notice upon their return; but no cold virus was going to stop them playing!

We arrived quite early. Buddy was alone on stage tuning up; and then went off to get changed. At about 9pm, he returned with his band and climbed on stage. They consist of fretless bass maestro Peter Stroud (ex Peter Green’s Splinter Group); and well respected skin-beater Darby Todd – both excellent musicians; and always present as Buddy’s UK and European backing band. Tooled up with a Strat, it was a very relaxed Buddy who casually approached the mic  and asked ‘What would you like to hear first – something kinda easy?’  That set the tone for what was to be a very low-key and friendly show throughout. I think that’s Buddy’s style. His gigs are like having a few mates round for an informal jam – and in a place like the Beaverwood, that is entirely feasible. That’s a vibe that I like.

The band began their two-part set with the mellow instrumental: ‘A-Flat Tyre’ (otherwise known as ‘For Crystal Beach’)  – it certainly was ‘kinda easy’; and it was a kinda superb opener too! We were then treated to a fine show of both Buddy’s own compositions; and old classics – but with a unique Whittington twist. Highlights of this first half were:  ‘I Had To Go See Alice’ (the amusing song about Viagra); ‘Pay The Band’ (during which Buddy’s sore throat failed to stop the high notes); ‘Greenwood’ (another fine instrumental, dedicated to one of Buddy’s heroes – Peter Green); and ‘Deadwood And Wire’ (about an experience whilst buying a guitar). The finale of the first part was a phenomenal cover of the classic Freddie King instrumental ‘Hideaway’. This is often covered, of course, but I was quite amazed by this version. It show-cased Buddy’s incredible skills. He took elements of other Blues classics as well as incorporating amusing licks that imitated everything from a clucking hen to a police siren! And at all times, Pete on bass and Darby on drums were tight and reliable. Brilliant!

Part-Two was, if anything, better than Part-One. We were treated to a mixed-bag of covers; Blues classics; and Buddy’s own compositions. These included a blindin’ cover of  ZZ Top’s ‘Just Got Back From Baby’s’; a high-calibre take on  Savoy Brown’s ‘Tell mama’ (haven’t heard this one for yonks); and a rousing version of the Bluesbreakers’ ‘All Your Love’. Some Blues classics sublimely covered were: ‘Maydell’; and ‘Help Me Through The Day’ (both featured on the band’s covers album, A Bag Full Of Blues, 2010). Several of these tunes hark back to Buddy’s days with John Mayall. We were treated to more of his own work too; including ‘Texas Trios’ (in which he name-checks every three-piece Blues band from his home state); the splendid ‘Pay The Band’; and finishing (after shouted requests from the crowd) with the amusing ‘Second Banana’.

THE BUDDY WHITTINGTON BAND - 'Second Banana' to none! (Photo:PTMQ)

THE BUDDY WHITTINGTON BAND – ‘Second Banana’ to none! (Photo:PTMQ)

There are a number of things I like about Buddy Whitt. (1) Firstly, his obvious and phenomenal skills at playing the geetar: He plays with a consummate, confident, and relaxed style that makes guitar-playing look effortless; playing some very complex parts with apparent ease. As a bit of a guitarist myself (albeit not a very good one) I sometimes watch famous axe-men and think to myself ‘Yeah, I know what he’s doing, and I know how he’s doing it’ (but I just can’t do it myself!) In Buddy’s case there were a number of times when I didn’t even know how he did what he did – I suppose that’s why he was on the stage and I’m just sitting here writing about it! (2) Song construction: We all know that Blues has its rules; and that those rules can be stretched by someone who knows exactly what they’re doing. But Buddy often pushes the Blues boundaries to new limits; taking in some very inventive fresh ground – yet never becomes wild or weird; and still remains firmly within the realms of the Blues. (3) Lyric writing: In subject his songs are often very deep and highly insightful. His skill with the English language produces tongue-twisting lyrics that are clever, meaningful, and at times amusing. And he never seems to sing these complex lines wrong – whilst simultaneously playing some tasty riffs too! And finally (4) Having met the man on a couple of occasions (including half-time at this gig), I know him to be a thoroughly genuine, approachable bloke who always makes a point of meeting and chatting to his fans, before, during and after his show. Top banana!

Thanks to the ‘Chislehurst Trio’ of Buddy, Peter and Darby for another great show; and to Pete Feenstra for making it happen! PTMQ

Here is a video from the gig by Steve Dulieu of Buddy and his boys playing their instrumental tribute to Peter Green, ‘Greenwood’ ….

 

17. JOHNNY WINTER 1944 – 2014: A personal remembrance and tribute.

I was saddened to hear this morning that the albino blues guitar legend JOHNNY WINTER had passed away yesterday (16th July), at the age of 70. He had been dogged by health problems for years (the details of which I am not qualified to discuss; and are outside the scope of this article). I first became aware of him back in the ’70s when a mate of mine called Mark (wonder what ever happened to him?) lent me the ‘Johnny Winter And’ (1970) album. It was blues the likes of which I’d never heard before – it was wild, aggressive, progressive, and loud! At the time I wasn’t a massive blues fan, although I always acknowledged it as the progenitor of the heavy rock / prog rock genres – my sole musical interests in those narrow-minded days!

Years later I moved home, and found myself living next door to the well-known blues expert RAY TOPPING (now also sadly deceased) of ACE RECORDS. Ray was a personal friend of Johnny’s and had been to his home in Texas on numerous occasions. (Ray counted many famous people including BB KING; ZZ TOP; and JOHN MAYALL among his friends). He lent me Johnny’s first album ‘The Progressive Blues Experiment’ (1968), and I got really into it. At the time, blues and blues-orientated rock was experiencing a great resurgence with the likes of JEFF HEALEY and WALTER TROUT making headlines; and GARY MOORE famously going back to the blues. So I went out and bought Johnny’s latest album ‘Let Me In’ (1991), and I was hooked!

Then soon after that, Ray told me that Johnny had been in touch with him and had invited him to a gig he was due to play in London at the TOWN AND COUNTRY CLUB in August ’92; and did I want to tag along? (Mmmm, let me think about it for a while – OK then!). We arrived at the stage door of the T & C nice and early, but found our names missing from the guest list (even though Ray + one had been invited). Johnny’s manager was called down by the doorman, but he wasn’t the most helpful or accommodating of people, and he didn’t know Ray. Ray persuaded him that we had indeed been invited by Johnny, but the manager said we would only be allowed into the gig, gratis; but not back-stage. Ray (never the calmest of men) was incensed by this; but no power on Earth (including Ray’s shouting and swearing) could persuade the manager and doorman to let us in. Personally I was content just to get into the gig for nothing! So there we were in the mosh-pit with the rest of the punters, when Ray saw a bouncer come out through a door to the right of the stage. ‘Come on!’ he said as the door slowly closed. We went through and found ourselves back-stage, unchallenged!

Ray was determined to find Johnny and sort it out. But the first person we bumped into was the support act OTIS GRAND another friend of Ray’s! He invited us into the ‘Green Room’ where Ray was warmly received by all present due to his reputation as a blues expert. Otis told us that Johnny wasn’t feeling too good and wasn’t receiving visitors at that time. But soon Otis was due onstage, and he invited us to watch his band from behind the mixing desk, stage-right. Otis played a grand set. Seeing a larger sized gig from the side of the stage was an eye-opener for me – especially as the soundman let us play with the desk controls a little.

At the interval we spoke to various music industry bods, some of whom Ray knew. Then it was time for Johnny himself to go on. Still placed by the mixing desk, we saw the great man come down the stairs from his changing room clutching his headless ERLEWINE LAZER guitar that seemed to be no more than a fret-board with pick-ups! He certainly didn’t look well – frail, and not quite with it. Ray was shocked by his appearance. At the bottom of the stairs He took a wrong turn away from the stage and had to be ushered back on course; and this reminded us of the famous scene from SPINAL TAP where the dozy band can’t find their way to the stage!

Well Johnny may not have been feeling too well, but he was a professional; and as soon as they plugged him in, his demeanour changed completely – he became the blues axe-hero that was expected of him. He played a fantastic set of old favourites, covers, and material from his latest album ‘Hey, Where’s Your Brother?’ (1992). I seem to remember two well deserved encores. Then he was led back off stage. On the way he spied Ray and they greeted each other warmly. I was introduced, and we were both (+ some others) invited to join him in his room.

In spite of being ill, Johnny was a very warm and friendly; quietly spoken and knowledgeable; although obviously out of sorts. He was underweight and covered in tattoos (including a map of Texas on his right shoulder that he referred to often). We spoke for ages about guitars and the Texas blues scene. He let me play the Erlewine which he had tuned to Open-E for slide-work of which he was of course, a recognised maestro. But my attempts were embarrassingly pathetic – and no better now, I must say! He joked that he’d teach me if he had the time!

Well after a while, JW said he was very tired; so he and his entourage suddenly decamped for his hotel. Before we left, Ray and I went to the toilet; but when we came out the place was in darkness. Now it was our turn to be Spinal Tap looking for the exit! Just when we thought we’d never get out, we bumped into the same doorman who’d refused us entry earlier. ‘Well you two are persistent!’ he remarked, before showing us the door.

I never met Johnny again; but I’m very glad I did that once. I was even inspired enough for a while to borrow Ray’s Dobro guitar and practice some slide-work. (I often wonder what happened to that Dobro after Ray died). Unfortunately there were no photos taken that night of our meeting; but I got him to autograph a CD for me.

They say that Johnny Winter was the only white man who ever really understood the blues. That may be so, but he also took it to new places and heights. We lament the passing of one of the greatest bluesmen – there must be one humdinger of a blues jam going on up there right now! RIP Johnny.

Here’s a taste of Johnny’s ‘Medicine Man’ from the ‘Let Me In’ album (1991):-

Phil The Music Quill.