The Long Beach New Blues Festival returns to Long Beach this Labor Day Weekend for the fourth time. This event, in conjunction with the Long Beach New Blues Society, will bring top performers such as Janiva Magness, whose critically-acclaimed album Love Wins Again was a 2017 Grammy nominee in the Best Contemporary Blues category; the Queen of Blues Guitar, Anna Popovic; and guitar ace Chris Cain. Front and center will be blues legend Guitar Shorty, who will be presenting a blistering show for everyone on Sunday.
Guitar Shorty has been at the forefront of the blues revolution for more than 60 years now. Starting in his teens, he played behind such legends as Sam Cooke and Ray Charles. He also became known for his strong singing. In Seattle, he met his future wife, Marsha Hendrix. Her step-brother was quite taken with Guitar Shorty also. Guitar Shorty introduced Jimi Hendrix to the wah wah pedal, while young Hendrix attended Guitar Shorty’s shows whenever he could to pick up licks from him to work out on his own guitar. Hendrix claimed he started setting his guitar on fire onstage because he couldn’t do Guitar Shorty’s trademark back flips.
Guitar Shorty spoke with The Los Angeles Beat a few days ago about the upcoming New Blues Festival in Long Beach.
Q: Guitar Shorty, you go back a ways with Long Beach. How does it feel to be one of the headliners at the New Blues Festival?
A: I feel good! I was wondering when they’d invite me back there! I want to do everything I can to make every body happy. I want to give them a show that they’ve never seen before. I’m going to do some of mine and I’m going to do some things by other guitar players too. I’ll mix it up, see which one I want to do.
Q: You’ve played with many of the greats including Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, T-Bone Walker and Guitar Slim. How did they influence you?
A: When I was with T-Bone Walker, I loved the way he entertained people. He adopted me as a son. Guitar Slim, he used to tell me that I’m gonna be a superstar and just told me, ‘Son, if you keep that up, don’t break your neck!’. That was kidding of course!
Q: You’ve got a great recent CD out, Bare Knuckle. How does it reflect your current playing?
A: They’re crazy about that song Bare Knuckle. When I went to Europe—I just got back from Europe, been about a week and a half now—they just loved that song, Bare Knuckle. When I was in Europe, they said ‘you play anything you want’. I said, ‘No, not anything I want. I play the way I feel’.
Q: You had a great connection with Jimi Hendrix, personally as well as musically. So he reallly liked your playing?
A: Oh yeah, I loved Jimi Hendrix. Some of the stuff I do now is from him. People just love it. I do Hey Joe by Jimi Hendrix. I’ll do that on this show out here. They don’t get tired of it! He was my brother-in-law. He was going to take me back to do the second Woodstock. Neither one of us made it. That’s when he lost his life.
Q: Tell me a story from the road….
A: Oh my, I’ve got so many of them! I had a good time when I was out on the road with Ray Charles. Ray Charles said to me, ‘Shorty, I want you to play one song for me that I love, it’s one by BB King’. I said, ‘Which one?’. He said, ‘The Thrill is Gone’. So I played that and he loved it. He’d come out on the stage. He said, ‘How about Giving Guitar Shorty a big round of applause’. I used to dance across the stage on one leg and he liked that too. That’s just one of the stories I’ve got from the road.
A: I got that style from my Uncle Willie. He told me ‘Son, I’m going to teach you as long as I can, but after that you better get a teacher’. I created my style by listening to Uncle Willie and by the way I feel.
Sometimes I would hear something that Guitar Slim would do on guitar and I’d do a little bit of that. I’d kind of teach myself, I’d do a lick that T-Bone Walker would do and then I’d take it and do it in my own style.
There’s a lot of guitar players that I used to listen to—BB King, I’d take it all and I’d mix it up and that became my way and soon, everybody wanted to play like me. He did tell me, ‘Shorty, I don’t want you to be doing no more flip flops, cuz you’ll fall on your head’. I don’t do flipflops any more now like I used to.
Q: You’re still touring at age 82. Does the music make you feel young?
A: I’m still doing it, I’m able to go on and please the people. I feel young. I take care of myself. I don’t do crazy things like a lot of them do. I’ve been lucky on that and I do my exercises. I run until I’m tired, then I turn around and come back home.
Q: Willie Dixon was a big influence on you…..
A: I saw Willie in Chicago. That’s where I saw him at.The last place I saw him was here, at the Long Beach Blues Festival. He said to his manager, ‘I want you to meet a very good friend of mine, Guitar Shorty. Guitar Shorty, I want you to meet my manager’. So I shook his hand and he said, ‘You shake it up. I like the way you play that guitar. And everybody’s talking about you’. I thanked him.
Q: You’ve got a really tight band backing you. Will they be with you at the New Blues Festival?
A: Yes. I’ve had my drummer for a long time, his name is Danny Gerass, he leads the band. I’ve got Malcom Lukens on keyboards, left-hand bass and vocals.
Q: You’ve got a great song you do, Fine Cadillac. What’s the story with that?
A: OH! Fine Cadillac! She’s a Fine Cadillac. I love that song! I’m going to do that on this show.
Q: Thanks, Guitar Shorty, we’ll see you there!
The Long Beach New Blues Festival comes to Long Beach again, featuring Ana Popovic, the New Blues Revolution, Ray Goren, and the Generation Blues Experience, Seville Street, Janiva Magness, Blind Lemon Peel and many more fine blues acts on two separate stages. The Long Beach Blues Awards will also be presented during the Festival. As with previous years, there’s a Vendor Village, Craft Beers on Tap in the Beer Garden, BBQ Vendors, Gourmet Food Trucks, and much more.
Labor Day Weekend, Saturday September 2 and Sunday, September 3
Gates open 10am and music starts at 11am both days. Tickets: $40. (General Admission/Single Day Pass); $70. (Weekend Pass (Saturday/Sunday); Gold Ticket/Single Day Pass, $75; Gold Ticket, Weekend Pass (Saturday/Sunday), $125.; VIP/Weekend Pass (Saturday/Sunday), $200. Children 12 and under free with paid adult. Info: (707) 572-5837. El Dorado Regional Park 7550 E Spring Street Long Beach, CA 90815