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Backstage with Ron Onesti: Whoa Buddy … what a Guy!

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(Provided photo)
Buddy Guy

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, six-time Grammy Award winner, 23-time W.C. Handy Award recipient … I could go on for a while. 

As accomplished as blues legend Buddy Guy is, that is how grounded he is as person and as a family man.

I have been a longtime fan of the “Chicago Blues” sound, and Buddy is the grandaddy of it all. Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Stevie Ray Vaughn, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, the list goes on and on, of Buddy Guy followers. As a member of Muddy Waters’ band and the house guitarist at the legendary Chess Records, Buddy was a true pioneer in the field, and whose desire to foster the music is truly astounding.

My first interaction with the family came last year, when I had the opportunity to bring in Blues guitar superstar Robert Cray to the Arcada Theatre. I called a good friend of mine who is very close to the family to see if he could introduce me to Buddy’s daughter, Carlise, who is also a blues performer. I thought it would be a good fit for her band to open that show.

She opened, and was fabulous!

Then recently, I was watching the Kennedy Center honors, and along with Led Zeppelin, Buddy was a recipient. I was so inspired by this presentation that I decided to really pursue working with this music icon.  After contacting his son-in-law Mark, I was invited to hang out with Buddy at his club, “Buddy Guy’s Legends,” with seats right at the stage. He spends the month of January performing live at his club, something huge crowds cannot get enough of.  This was the last night of this year’s run.

His daughter Carlise and her NuBlue Band opened the show and really primed the crowd for the main event. She proceeded to bring me up on stage, sat me on a bar stool and serenaded me with her amazing R&B style. Quite an experience!

Then Buddy exploded onto the stage with “Damn Right, I’ve Got The Blues” and didn’t stop (or slow down) for two solid hours! 

But what really impressed me about this living legend is the way his family spoke about him. I have been around celebs for a long time, and more often than not, there is not a fabulous relationship between the siblings. 

The club is completely run by his kids, and the respect level for “Daddy” is at an incredible high.  His support of his daughter Carlise’s career is obvious.  Another daughter, Shawnna, is a nationally renowned rapper whose success was much due to the work ethic and guidance instilled in her by her father. 

Buddy brought his son Greg on stage to feature him on guitar. His other daughter, son and son-in-law operate the Legends Club. I was sitting next to Carlise’s 91 year-old grandmother and several other members of the Guy family.

The family helped create a powerful vibe at the performance.

When I asked Buddy about the importance of family as it pertained to his career, he gave me his signature broad-faced smile and said, “Man, the blues is all about family!  It’s about struggling to make a living for your kids. It’s about struggles with love. The Blues is all about making the best out of a situation. My folks couldn’t afford to send me to school. We were happy, but it wasn’t easy. Surviving through the tough times, that’s what it’s all about. And look at me! If I ain’t an example of survival, I don’t know what is!”

“How could the ‘King of the Blues’ be so happy,” I asked. “Keep your family close, and feeeeeeel the music. That, a little lovin’ and a little whiskey is really all ya need!”

• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of Onesti Entertainment Corp. and the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. He provides these personal recollections of events and people that he has encountered over the years. Send comments or celebrity questions to spark@kcchronicle.com.

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