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Pop Music Review

British Brand of Blues Is Celebrated at Long Beach Fest

September 08, 1998|NATALIE NICHOLS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"We've got the limey brigade on stage tonight," John Mayall quipped at the 19th annual Long Beach Blues Festival on Sunday, as the show-closing "British Blues Reunion" jam session took shape at the Cal State Long Beach Athletic Field.

If the legendary father of British blues wasn't exactly surrounded by the many proteges he's nurtured since the '60s in his band the Bluesbreakers, his presence helped coalesce a bill that focused on seminal U.K. artists.

The most anticipated appearance was that of singer-guitarist Peter Green, the Fleetwood Mac co-founder who recently returned to performing after decades of mental illness. In the '60s, he succeeded Eric Clapton in the Bluesbreakers, with a slow-blues style that was both powerful and particularly lovely. On Saturday with his Splinter Group, the 51-year-old musician played traditional numbers and his own early tunes, such as "Black Magic Woman."

Green appeared distant at times, and his singing voice, never more than serviceable, sounded froggy. But his musical voice rang true, especially on the spooky, moody instrumentals "Albatross" and "Supernatural," in which his signature style emerged intact. Filling the air with sweet, sad, beautiful sounds, Green not only reminded us of what he had been, but showed us what he could yet be again.

Original members Jim McCarty (drums) and Chris Dreja (guitar) formed the core of the refurbished Yardbirds, but the quintet's raucous, crowd-pleasing set of such hits as "For Your Love" was less a return to the blues it began with in 1963 than an emphasis of its legacy as a psychedelic-rock innovator and heavy-metal harbinger.

Backed by his current Bluesbreakers, the 64-year-old Mayall offered the most dynamic and varied set, a blend of standard blues, newer material and early classics such as "Room to Move."

He proved an adept ringleader for the jam session, casually assembling some incredible firepower, including Green, Dreja, McCarty, organist Keith Emerson and American guitarist Ronnie Earl, as well as former Bluesbreaker and Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor and Savoy Brown leader Kim Simmonds.

Rather than concentrating on some of the assembled players' most memorable moments, however, the musicians pursued classic blues, celebrating their own roots rather than their contributions to the form.

It would have been interesting to hear their take on one of Green's compositions, but this was more about having a bit of good, dirty fun with old mates. And in that regard, it was one fine party.

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