I won’t be reminiscing this time. This story won’t wait…I just returned from Washington from a most strange event. It was an Inaugural R&B Celebration, staged by the Republican National Committee (!!) at the urging of its new chairman, Lee Atwater. Lee was George Bush’s campaign manager, but in his youth played guitar at a club in North Carolina and absolutely loves blues and southern soul. He raised private and corporate money (no taxpayer dollars) and, although there was a lot of Party opposition, put together an amazing show for over 8000 people. It was a review featuring: Percy Sledge, Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, Willie Dixon, Koko Taylor, Carla Thomas, Joe Cocker, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmy Vaughan, Bo Diddley, Ron Wood, Billy Preston, Eddie Floyd, William Bell, Sam Moore, Albert Collins, Delbert McClinton, Dr. John, Chuck Jackson and Joe Louis Walker. The concert came off as a success, even though at least half the audience (undoubtedly the Republican contributors) looked confused and bored and left right after George Bush’s brief appearance.
George was given an autographed guitar and mimed playing while Lee Atwater jammed on “High Heel Sneakers.” Of course that was the photo the press ran, so the media attention to the real musicians was minimal (surprise!). It ultimately seemed kind of like a giant and very expensive party so people could see what a funky and loose guy Atwater is. The musicians were paid very well indeed, the limos and hotels excellent (though the backstage and rehearsal facilities were miserable) and the music was terrific. Mostly it was because the musicians really wanted to do it right, and they were having a great time renewing old friendships and being back in the spotlight (I mean, how often does William Bell or Eddie Floyd play to 8000 people?). But the ironies were overwhelming. Atwater, who I believe really loves this music, was the one who milked the Willie Horton case for all its racial and racist implications. It was probably that one distortion that ultimately elected Bush. So, in Atwater we have a man who loves black music and exploits our racist undercurrents to elect his man. And I thought music changed people!
I went as Koko’s manager, but even before we accepted (after saying “no” three times) Atwater called me to personally ask me to come as his guest. Same thing happened to Clifford Antone of Antone’s to Jim O’Neal. It was terribly important to Lee to get the approval of the blues community. Why? He just won an election for what we have to believe will be another racist administration. Why does he care about what you and I think of him? Very strange man indeed. My compliments to Willie Dixon who wore a Jesse Jackson ’88 button!
We have two very fine new albums, by Lucky Peterson and Charles Brown, which are advertised elsewhere in this issue. Please buy them on faith as I don’t have enough space to tout them here. Thanks.