Posted by Oteil Burbridge on December 22, 2012 When I was younger
When I was younger I spent a lot of time feeling like I missed everything. From Hendrix and Duane, to Charlie Christian and Django, I missed it all. 🙁 Poor pitiful me. Then, every once in a while you get a day like last Saturday. I’ve met a few famous people and a few of my real heroes over the years but last Saturday had a magical quality about it for me personally. I was already excited about doing Crossroads Guitar Festival but I didn’t realize just how much fun it was going to be.
From the start the person who I wanted to meet the most was Mr. B.B. King, our Great Grandfather. If you were to ask every single guitar player on that festival who their guitar heroes are, BB would be in the top five. I had already met the legendary Eric Clapton when he joined us for the Allman Brothers Band’s 40th anniversary at the Beacon Theatre in NYC last year. Its always such a surprise to me when people who are that iconic are simultaneously that genuinely gracious and humble. The way people react to Clapton is truly scary sometimes. Its a true test for a man to consistently rise above it and retain the best parts of his soul. And, the man still plays his ass off.
So.. back to Crossroads. Well, we got off to a rough start. Gregg was on a waiting list for a new liver and he got the call a few days before the Festival. It seemed like I might not being going at all. Then Derek called me and said that they had offered him and Susan the slot to do a couple of our songs and jam with all the folks that were going to play with the ABB, if we could get it together in time. Obviously, we got it together! Are you kidding? Now I was going to get to play Crossroads with my brother Kofi??? Talk about making lemonade! Fortunately Gregg is doing well and I’m sure he’s happy about getting a new lease on life itself. Speedy recovery bro’!
The night before there was a party for all of the cast and crew at the House of Blues. Los Lobos played that night and I have to say, I felt some real voodoo hanging like a mist in the air. I knew that we were going to get to jam with them during our set the next day so seeing them do their thing full on got us all fired up. I went to get some food and there were two people with their backs to me that I realized was Susan and Chris Layton. I had seen Chris with Stevie Ray many years ago and was psyched to get to talk to him. Susan introduced us and that’s how it all started. Chris Layton, aside from being legendary is a really gracious and humble person too. From that point on it seemed like I met one hero after another that was so genuinely glad to be there and glad to take the time to talk with you.
The next day I got up early and went straight to the venue. My friend Doug Belote (a drummer from New Orleans) was playing with the first band, Anders Osborne. Doug was also playing with us on our set because one of our two drummers (JJ Johnson) was out with Boz Scaggs. I guess the drummer vibe was in the air because the first person I met that day that blew me away was drummer Steve Gadd. Although many of you may not have ever heard of him, I can guarantee that there is not one of you that hasn’t heard him. He’s recorded with Eric Clapton, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, Michael McDonald, George Benson, The Bee Gees, Carly Simon, Peter Gabriel, Joe Cocker, Natalie Cole, Rickie Lee Jones, and Peter, Paul & Mary among many others. I bet you all remember the drum beat on Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover! There’s an even longer list of jazz guys that I could include, which is how I heard him in the first place. I’ve played drums since I was five. Bass didn’t come along until I was fourteen. This guy was a hero of mine long before I even thought about playing the bass!
Then it was one after another. I ran into bass guitar legend Willie Weeks. He’s another person that you’ve heard whether you knew it or not. He has always been a favorite of mine and one of the nicest men you’ll ever meet. David Hidalgo and Cesar Rojas from Los Lobos came down to rehearse with us for our set. All I can say is, the word “cool” is particularly well defined and embodied by these two men. I ran into Chris Layton again but had a camera this time! I met another of my bass heroes, Pino Palladino who was with John Mayer. At one point I turned around and Bill Murray was standing right in front of me! I’m old enough to have seen the original SNL cast so this was pretty monumental for me. I pretty much spent the day having my turn at being the annoying fan with a camera. I have a lot more sympathy for those people now. Who knows if you’ll ever get the chance again? Right after our set was over I walked offstage and there was Ron Wood standing next to Sheryl Crow. I had met Sheryl before at the ABB 40th anniversary and she was so easy going. I didn’t want to just walk up to Ron Wood but he beat me to the punch! I didn’t realize that he was originally a bass player. He had been watching from me and Kofi’s side the whole time and really got off on it. What a trip. I was really happy when at one point I saw Clapton walking backstage with a group of people and he actually broke away from them to walk over and shake my hand and welcome me to the festival. I thought, “Hey, he remembered me!” He is ever gracious.
After we had cooled down for a while after our set, I finally broke and asked Susan if she could help me out with meeting BB. She had helped me out with meeting Wille Nelson, who I think is the first person I ever met that had so much grace that he is actually a real Saint. We went to BB’s bus and when they opened the door, on the front face of each of the steps has the name of one of BB’s hit songs written in blue neon lights! That’s when you know you’re a star. We got on and waited inside for a while for him to get done with his guests in the back lounge. When they finally came out it was Ron Wood and Jimmy Vaughn. Oh well, if you’re going to be kept waiting, you can’t really get mad if its those guys. Then it was our turn! Finally the day had come. I didn’t miss everything after all. In fact, I got to shake hands, sit with and talk to the man who everyone wanted to pay homage to. Like Willie Nelson, he is the embodiment, the personification of grace and humility. Some of these young stars might take a lesson. BB would have sat there and entertained us for hours if his road manager didn’t come get him to go to work. It couldn’t have been any better. He is truly a living Saint.
There was a sweet spirit that flowed through that whole event. Maybe its because Mr. Clapton brought all these people together to make all this great music, make a ton of money, and then give it all away to reach down and help pull people out of the bottom of the pit. That’s the meaning of grace right there. Thank you Mr. Clapton for inviting us to be a part of it. Thank you for being such a good example as a human. And thanks for making it possible for me to meet St. BB King!
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