Saturday, March 24, 2012

BB, Mick and Barack: Blues at The White House

It had to have been the smallest crowd that Mick Jagger had played to in decades when he headlined the recent “Red Hot and Blues” concert from the East Room at the White House. But it may have been the best all-star blues band he has ever fronted.

Of course, the First I-Pod stole the show when he sang the chorus of “Sweet Home Chicago” with B.B. King as a finale. And he showed his professorial roots with an introduction that began with a nod to Alan Lomax paying Muddy Waters $20 for two recordings in 1941. He also noted that the blues represented “music with humble beginnings, with roots in slavery and segregation in a society that rarely treated black Americans with the dignity and respect they deserved.”

The concert, broadcast on PBS and with clips still streaming at their website (, was a chance to pay respect to the troubadors of pain and poverty who have made this musical art form into a hallmark of American culture.

It began with the grand master, B.B. King doing “The Thrill is Gone,” and then the other senior statesman, Jagger, got the spotlight for several songs including, “Commit A Crime” by Howlin Wolf, with Jeff Beck on guitar.

Jagger paid his respects to the pioneers when he talked about the Rolling Stones’ first visit to Chess Records in Chicago in 1964 and meeting Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon, among others. And he had a corny joke about Sonny Boy Williamson (“These English boys want to play the blues real bad. And they do…play it real bad.”) But Mick, under the watchful eyes of George Washington and Teddy Roosevelt, could still make the ladies swoon and the men try to figure out how he does it.

Looking like a Harvard professor himself, was another veteran, Booker T. Jones, who presided with aplomb over his band from behind the Hammond B-3 organ.

For me, the excitement was generated by the younger folks on the card. People like Trombone Shorty doing “St. James Infirmary,” Gary Clark, Jr. doing “A Beat Up Guitar,” Keb Mo doing “Henry,” and Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes in a very credible tribute to Etta James on “I’d Rather Go Blind.”

But when the heavyweights joined forces, the guitar riffs were jaw dropping. Jeff Beck, Gary Clark, Jr., and Buddy Guy (with Mick) brought the house down with Eddie Boyd’s,
“Five Long Years.”

It was night when the price of admission seemed to be a bottle neck on your ring finger, and made you think there had not been this much musical talent under the White House roof since Thomas Jefferson dined alone.