A young friend--who refers to Bob Dylan as "that old guy with the harmonica"--has a zeal for rock 'n' roll that outstrips even his devotion to sleeping past noon on weekends. History, though, is less appealing; he has very little appreciation for anything pre-Axl Rose.
So when I asked him about going to the Long Beach Blues Festival next weekend, he said, "Blues? You mean those old guys singing about their problems?" He would rather be crunching heavy metal.
"But what about Bobby Blue Bland?" I asked. Blank stare. "B.B. King?" Blank stare. "The Five Blind Boys From Alabama? John Lee Hooker? Jimmy Witherspoon? Robert Cray? Koko Taylor? Jay McShann? Big Jay McNeely? The Blues Brothers Band?" I ran through this year's festival roster; although my friend had never heard of any of them, blues fans agree that this lineup is one of the best in the festival's 12-year run.
There is no better place to experience the roots of rock 'n' roll than on the grass at Cal State Long Beach, with cool sea breezes offering relief from the hot September sun. Thousands who know from whence rock sprang will be there with coolers and picnic baskets filled with everything from watermelon to chopped chicken livers. Plop on a blanket, unfold a lawn chair and get down to the best sounding history you have ever heard.
As for my friend, well, he grudgingly agreed to at least try the blues--but only if I listened to the latest Metallica album.
Performers on Sept. 7:
The lineup begins at 11 a.m. Saturday with Dave Specter & Barkin' Bill Smith, winners of the festival's national talent search contest.
Noon to 12:30 p.m., Jay McShann--The first bandleader to usher Charlie Parker into a studio for a commercial recording session, pianist McShann is well known for the tune "Going to Kansas City." His arrangements have the same rough-and-tumble quality of the Count Basie Band, according to critics.
12:30 to 1:15 p.m., Jimmy Witherspoon--One of the best storytellers in a genre of yarn spinners, Spoon is known for such tunes as "Big Fine Girl," "Don't Get Flakey With Me," "Drinking Beer," "Time's Gettin' Tougher Than Tough" and "You Can't Do a Thing When You're Drunk."
1:45 to 2:45 p.m., Koko Taylor--Living Blues magazine called her "Chicago's premier blues growler," famous for "Be What You Want to Be," "Honkey Tonkey," "Nitty Gritty," "Voodoo Woman" and "What Kind of Man Is This?"
3:15 to 4:15 p.m., John Lee Hooker--The Rolling Stones have played with Hooker--as his warm-up act. The Stones, the Animals, Eric Clapton all borrowed liberally from Hooker, one of the original Mississippi Delta bluesmen.
4:45 to 5:45 p.m., Robert Cray--One critic described his work as "the most uncommon and heartening blues songs imaginable . . . . The singer's deepest anguish doesn't stem from the mistreatment of unfaithful lovers, but from the suffering he feels at having abused those who loved and trusted him."
Lineup on Sept. 8:
11 a.m. to 12 p.m., The Five Blind Boys of Alabama--They started as schoolboys, singing together in the early '40s at Alabama's Talladega Institute for the Deaf and Blind. In 1987, the Five Blind Boys starred in the Obie award-winning musical "Gospel at Colonus," an adaptation of the Greek tragedy "Oedipus at Colonus."
12:30 to 1:30 p.m., Big Jay McNeely--One of the pioneer rhythm and blues tenor sax players, McNeely created what is known as the honking R & B tenor sax style. He rose to prominence in Los Angeles in the '40s and was a major figure on the Central Avenue scene.
2 to 3 p.m., Bobby Blue Bland--Bland delivers an amalgam of gospel, blues and ballads. "For Bobby, the blues are individual pieces of music, many shapes and hues, whether savage, swinging, pensive, plaintive, shouted or soft-spoken or an undercurrent which can swell to swamp a ballad," says Downbeat magazine.
3:30 to 4:30 p.m., Blues Brothers Band--From the movie, "The Blues Brothers," minus, of course, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd.
5 to 6 p.m., B.B. King--The list of artists B.B. King has influenced is longer than a cat's tail, including Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. He is known as "King of the Blues," has a reputation as one of the world's greatest guitar soloists and has won just about every award available to him, including an honorary doctor of music from Yale University.
Where: CSULB north athletic field.
How much: $22.50 in advance; $25 at the gate.
Buying tickets: Call 985-5566 or 597-9911 evenings or weekends. Also available through Ticketmaster.