By SCOTT CUNNINGHAM
Those who braved the continued, relentless heat to venture down to the waterfront on Sunday got to hear some tremendous music. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Quinn Sullivan, Wee Willie Walker, and some good old-fashioned gospel were all to be found.
There, now that I’ve got the lead out of the way I can talk about some of the other highlights from the final day of the 2015 Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival.
Those who braved the continued, relentless heat to venture down to the waterfront on Sunday got to hear some tremendous music. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Quinn Sullivan, Wee Willie Walker, and some good old-fashioned gospel were all to be found. Even Curtis Salgado popped up.
On Friday, the crowd was blown away by Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram, a 16 year-old Delta guitar cat. Surely, I thought, no other youngster at the festival could come close to Ingram’s performance.
I was wrong.
Quinn Sullivan, another 16 year-young shredder hailing from Massachusetts. He may be from the Northeast, but his guitar playing is straight-up Chicago blues, which makes sense considering Buddy Guy is his mentor and friend.
Sullivan is to the Chicago blues style what ingram is to the Delta. His guitar playing is way, way beyond his years and he can downright shred his Strat. And he can, though his vocals are still developing.
It will be interesting to see his development over the next decade. I’m especially curious to see if Sullivan backs off any on the shred factor. This isn’t a criticism by any means, and I caught some flak yesterday for saying this, but there’s much more to blues playing than just speed.
Don’t get me wrong, the kid has an incredible sound already. But a major part of the blues, at least in the traditional sense, is the ability to create phrasing that speaks with a more limited set of notes and runs on the fretboard. At this stage in his development, I’d compare him more to a young Clapton than Guy.
Quibbles, I know.
One of the nicest things about Sunday was that I didn’t have to stray from the main stage too often, which helped on the heat front.
When I did, though, I was in for a treat. Wee Willie Walker was sensational on the Blues Stage with an all-star lineup backing him up. Salgado even joined him for a brief time, looking and sounding good.
Walker first made a name for himself in Memphis and Nashville, emerging as a powerful soul singer after starting out in gospel. His vocals are sensational, smooth and powerful, and it was a treat to see him on a rare west coast appearance.
And, speaking of gospel, the local faithful got a heaping dose courtesy of an amped up gospel and soul revue in honor of Janice Scroggins and Linda Hornbuckle. The two beloved Portland artists each passed away last year.
The two were remembered in style as Hornbuckle’s band gave it all they had as LaRhonda Steele, Rev. Matthew Jointer, Arrietta Ward, and Mary Minniewather-Tucker all contributed their sweet vocal sounds to the mix.
Earlier in the afternoon, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy was, well, big and bad and awesome. I suspect this was the first time most of the crowd had been exposed to them and I also suspect most of those that saw them are now fans.
I do wish they had performed in the evening, though, as their style is more conducive to swinging and dancing the night away. I bet they wished they had a later set time as well: It was entertaining to watch the horns and frontman Scott Morris keep moving upstage to do what they could to keep out of the sun blaring down on them.
Morris led the band and crowd through time and geography, putting their new spin on old-time swing jazz. We were whisked away to both New Orleans and the Cotton Club of New York City, the two most influential locations for American jazz.
In addition to some of their original material such as Go Daddy-O, they served up some Cab Calloway (Reefer Man) and Duke Ellington (Diga, Diga, Do). Let’s hope Morris and company can venture back this way sometime soon.
Now, back to Buddy Guy.
At 78, and with the recent passing of B.B. King, Guy is quickly becoming one of the last surviving blues artists that made the genre what it is today. His imprint is all over American blues and he seems to only get more entertaining as he gets older.
If his set was a movie, it would be PG-13 for profanity, sexual innuendo, and just flat-out telling it like it is. His authenticity is a major part of what makes him so great and he made several references on Sunday to not following the book.
Hell, I think he actually burned the book at some point and went his own way.
What struck me most was the simple fact that Guy absolutely freaking loves what he is doing. He’s at a point where he could rest on his laurels, cash in, and just cruise through a performance on rote. And we’d still eat it up.
Instead, he is, as the saying goes, the real deal. During what turned into a 90-minute set, I don’t think a genuine smile ever left his face.
His playing is as strong as ever. In fact, he can play one-handed with his left hand and outplay virtually any guitarist alive.
The set was a mixture of old and newer material, including Damn Right I Got the Blues, Five Long Years, Hoochie Coochie Man, 74 Years Young, Slippin’ In, and Feels Like Rain. All were punctuated with his humor, stories, and beloved banter with the crowd.
There were two huge highlights from the set. The first was bringing out the aforementioned Sullivan and Ingram boys and the juxtaposition of old and new had me wondering what the blues will look like in another 30 years. Guy, maybe more so than any other artist, has made a habit of nurturing new talent and Sullivan has appeared on Guy’s recordings and often tours with him. Sullivan even gets to use Guy’s band to back him up.
For those lucky enough to be close enough to see this, the biggest highlight was Guy leaving the stage and actually coming out into the crowd for Slippin’ In. He ventured out stage left and went half-way up the hill to perform the bulk of the song.
We can only hope Buddy Guy will be slippin’ back into Portland sometime soon.