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BLUES FESTIVAL : They'll Be Smoking--Even Without Benson & Hedges

August 13, 1992|FRANK MESSINA

Benson & Hedges is gone, but the blues remain at the Pacific Amphitheatre.

Those blues fans who felt queasy about attending a festival sponsored by a cigarette manufacturer (they even passed out samples during the first show in 1990) will be glad to hear that Benson & Hedges is no longer involved, but the festival has endured.

And this year's lineup features a powerful mix of performers.

Sunday's Blues Festival '92 features B.B. King, the undisputed king of the blues, and Buddy Guy, whose stature as the genre's major guitar hero is well-documented. But why do Carlos Santana, Dr. John and the Fabulous Thunderbirds belong in a blues festival?

All three performers started out playing traditional blues and still profess a great love for the music.

One of Santana's first groups was known as the Santana Blues Band, which performed numbers from the three-King (B.B., Albert and Freddie) playbook before Santana switched to Latin-influenced rock and jazz guitar.

"My first love was John Lee Hooker and Lightnin' Hopkins and guys like that," Santana said from his San Rafael home in Northern California last week. "I also grew up listening to B.B. King and T-Bone Walker. All my life, I've been surrounded by a certain sound, and the blues has been a part of that.

"You know, the blues is not just about losing your woman and not having money. You can play the blues and still be happy," Santana said. "And I tell you, I'm going to be happy Sunday just being able to . . . play with guys like B.B. King and Buddy Guy."

Long before he became known as Dr. John, Mac Rebennack learned to play guitar from a man influenced by T-Bone Walker, the blues pioneer credited with being the first to electrify the blues guitar. At first, Walker was all that Rebennack knew how to play, and soon friends and fellow musicians began calling him Little T-Bone.

Blues "was the first music I did," Rebennack said by telephone on Monday from his tour bus outside Park City, Utah. "Since then, I've had the pleasure of working with cats from Willie Dixon to Howlin' Wolf. I dig the blues because its music everybody can relate to. It's all about raw feelings, and it's got a real power than comes from way down inside you."

The Fabulous Thunderbirds, a rollicking R&B band, is also strongly influenced by the blues. The group has headlined the Long Beach Blues Festival and was fronted by guitarist Jimmy Vaughan, brother of blues great Stevie Ray Vaughan. Jimmy Vaughan left the group about two years ago and was replaced by Duke Robillard.

What: Blues Festival '92.

When: Sunday, Aug. 16, at 3 p.m.

Where: Pacific Amphitheatre, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa.

Whereabouts: San Diego (405) Freeway to Fairview exit, then go south.

Wherewithal: $19.25 to $27.50.

Where to Call: (714) 740-2000.

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