Roosevelt: A Night at Buddy Guy's Legends

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Roosevelt IconBy Jeff Kirk and Derek Franke
The Red Line Project

Posted: Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012

The South Side of Chicago may invoke thoughts of violence and economic struggles that are highly publicized on a national scale. But in the South Loop neighborhood, there is a corner establishment that continues the legacy of a musical genre for young and old with international notoriety.

Buddy Guy’s Legends, 700 S. Wabash Ave., stimulates every sense with dimly-lit blue lights, the taste and smell of barbeque chicken and Cajun spices, a hint of bass guitar tickling the bones and music so good there is no reason to carry-on a conversation.

“You may not be able to hear the blues much on the radio anymore,” said blues legend and namesake of Legends, Buddy Guy. “But you came to the right place.”

Legends has about 40 dining tables surrounding the stage, sandwiched between two long bars. As soon as dinnertime starts, Legends becomes – and remains on this night – packed full of standing-room only patrons.

A collection of autographed guitars adorn the walls from the likes of Muddy Waters, Tom Petty, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn.

An assortment of the eclectic – corporate businessmen, 20-somethings, elderly and tourists – eat, drink $6 pitchers of Goose Island microbrews and give away their origins as they converse in Italian, Spanish and Polish.

“I fell in love with this Green Line Pale Ale,” said Darren Sturdy, 35, visiting from Amsterdam. “I love the blues. I came to Chicago just for this.”

Photo: Buddy Guy. (Photo by Jeff Kirk)

As soon as the music began with house band Brother John, the night becomes about the music. This was blues the Chicago way – taking the acoustic guitar and harmonica, making the harmonica louder with microphone and amplifier and adding electrically amplified guitar, bass, drums, piano, saxophone and trumpet.

On this particular Monday night was an open-mic “Jam Session.” With vocals by current Chicago blues sensation Linsey Alexander, anyone who brought an instrument and signed up were invited to jam on stage with him. Alhough no one had played together before as a band, there was no difference between the enthusiasm and instrumental talent of the house band and the three hastily put together jam sessions.

“I didn’t wanna go to work today…so I called the boss and took the day off,” Alexander sang.

Regardless of the talent level, those who attended this night said it was for the love of the blues.

“I have been playing the harmonica since I was 8 years old and the one thing I have learned is that you can always learn something new,” said blues harpist Paul Havor. “I have been coming and playing here a long time because there always is a high amount of energy.”

Pat Lindel, 22, a student at Roosevelt University’s College of Performing Arts, was the youngest musician at this night’s jam session. The drummer had taken time off from playing only to pick up where he left off without missing a beat to an excited crowd that gave the young man an ovation.

“It was fun,” he said. “I want to get back into it. I miss the excitement.”

The night was highlighted somewhere around midnight when Guy -- who's receiving Kennedy Center honors Dec. 2 for his lifetime contribution to the arts -- showed up on stage. Although Guy only plays about six sell-out shows a year during January, the excitement of the crowd encouraged him to play a few songs.

“Bring me another shot so I don’t forget my lyrics,” Guy asked a bartender over the microphone.

A man danced in a black fedora and sunglasses with an unlit cigar clenched between his teeth. A couple from Zambia were snapping their fingers and waving scarves adorning their country’s colors and name. A young man in the jam session that played the metal washboard and spoons.

Photo: Members of the audience start dancing to the blues. (Photo by Jeff Kirk)

The time between songs was minimal – with usually only an introduction of band members or a call for more drinks. Even between the sets of jam sessions there were no sound-checks or time to prepare. The music flowed like the beer all night – with little chance to converse between sets or over the music without stepping outside or kissing the ear of the person you were talking to.

“Well, I mean you’re good but you need room for improvement. You need to listen to more records and emulate what you hear,” Alexander said to a young jam session member leaving the club. “It’s never too late to practice. Matter of fact, you should go home and practice right now.”

“I’ll try,” the man replied.

“Musicians don’t try – they do.”

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