Festival stars know more than singing the blues Music: There's room for blues and country and rock inside this tent.

May 09, 1998|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

It may be billed as the Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival, but the two-day concert at Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis is hardly a musically exclusive affair.

Sure, it boasts plenty of well-known bluesmen and women, including Buddy Guy, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Koko Taylor and Saffire the Uppity Blues Women.

But it will also feature performances by acts that are anything but pure blues. For instance, there's Delbert McClinton, whose current album, "One of the Fortunate Few," has done well on both the Billboard country and blues charts. Or Little Feat, a group of rock-and-roll legends whose music runs the gamut from Cajun to swamp rock to jazz fusion to basic boogie. The bill even boasts an actual MTV idol, thanks to youthful blues rocker Jonny Lang.

If that sort of musical range offends some purists, it doesn't bother Buddy Guy in the slightest. If anything, such diversity reminds him of the old days, before concert promoters and radio programmers started trying to pigeonhole everything.

Back then, he says over the phone from his home in Chicago, musicians all played the same thing: "What we called m-u-s-i-c. And all of it is still m-u-s-i-c."

That tradition continued well into the '80s overseas. "When we went to Europe, we never been separated like that," he says, referring to the American music industry's focus on musical segmentation. "Every time we went on tour there, the show would seem to have had myself, Albert King, George Benson, Miles Davis, Count Basie, B.B. King or whatever. Those European people do not look at [musical style] the way we did."

In America, however, the music industry seems to go out of its way to divide and categorize. He recalls an attempt in the '60s to define the Chicago blues style geographically. "They was calling it Chicago South Side and West Side blues," he says, a distinction that greatly amused the musicians.

"We used to laugh at that, man," he says. "What the hell are they talking about? We've been playing South Side and West Side ever since we got to Chicago. We wasn't doing it other than in small blues clubs, and they was all over the South and West Side."

McClinton's career is almost a lesson in how not to fall into a specific musical category. He started out in Texas, singing blues and R&B, and wound up in Nashville writing songs for the country market and making occasional cameos with rock stars, as with his performance of "Good Man, Good Woman" on Bonnie Raitt's "Luck of the Draw" album.

"I've never felt any point in limiting myself to anything," he says from his home in Nashville. "In the first place, I've got so many different musical influences, and I developed them at such a unique period in musical history, that I've never felt restricted.

"In fact, I've felt right at home -- and still do -- in anything that I like. And I like a lot of things."

Still, McClinton might feel a bit more inclined to sing the blues dTC these days. Not because he's playing this festival, but because of the way his record company done him wrong.

McClinton was signed to Rising Tide, a boutique label that was part of the Universal Records combine. Things were looking very good when McClinton's album was released; not only was it Top-Five on the blues chart, but it made it as high as No. 15 on the country chart. It was shaping up as the biggest success of McClinton's career -- until Universal pulled the plug on Rising Tide, shutting the label down.

"The [explanation] I got was that Universal was losing money in some of their other, more established labels, so they started cutting corners," he says. "So the first thing to go was the last thing in, which was Rising Tide.

"Which breaks my heart, because now I've got a record that was selling good and was doing very well, and nobody's working it. There's going to be no more videos, no more singles. We're talking a black hole. And it was the best thing I ever had going in my life."

Making it all the more painful is that the album has continued to sell. "It's selling about 2,000 to 4,500 units a week. And that's with nobody even working it anymore. So it's a strange thing."

McClinton admits the situation stinks. "It stinks big-time," he says. "But what are you going to do?"

Sing the blues, perhaps?

Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival

When: Today, noon until 8: 30 p.m., and Sunday, May 10, 12 noon until 7 p.m. (Gates open at 11 a.m.)

Where: Sandy Point State Park, Annapolis

Tickets: $25 each day, or $40 for both days

Call: 410-481-7328

Pub Date: 5/09/98

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