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Blues royalty Buddy Guy and John Mayall playing Florida Jazz and Blues Jam in Boca Raton

Correspondent
Blues greats @TheRealBuddyGuy and John Mayall headlining Florida Jazz and Blues Jam.

On Saturday, May 14, two towering figures of the blues, Buddy Guy and John Mayall, will headline the inaugural Florida Jazz and Blues Jam in Boca Raton. At ages 79 and 82, respectively, both men perform and record with enviable vigor and virtuosity.

Lettsworth, La., native Guy stepped off a train in Chicago in 1957 with little more than the guitar on his back. He's since become one of the most revered ax slingers in the world, his praises sung by Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Multi-instrumentalist Mayall, who was born outside Manchester, England, is known as the "Godfather of British blues." Various incarnations of his Bluesbreakers featured Clapton, Mick Taylor (Rolling Stones) and Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac).

No one I think is in my tree

In the mid 1950s, Mayall was considered something of a kook. An art-school student, he lived in a treehouse in Cheadle Hulme, where he woodshedded on guitar and listened to blues records. Blues had not yet caught on with young Londoners, but when it did, he made a beeline for the city. Mayall's knowledge of the music and skills on keyboards and harmonica stood out on the burgeoning scene, as did his impassioned tenor vocals.

Guy, too, was misunderstood at first. His fiery singing and flamboyant playing captivated Chicago clubgoers and fellow musicians, but the industry didn't know what to do with him. Championed by Muddy Waters, Guy recorded for the Chess label in 1960, although Leonard Chess reined in the guitarist's ferocity. Guy's playing on Junior Wells' 1965 Delmark classic "Hoodoo Man Blues" and Koko Taylor's smash single "Wang Dang Doodle" ushered in the era of modern Chicago blues. After witnessing the success of guitar-heavy bands such as the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream, Chess invited Guy to kick him in the pants.

The Clapton connection

By 1965, Clapton was done with the Yardbirds. Too commercial. He craved a purer blues sound, and Mayall's Bluesbreakers were the ticket. Mayall was delighted to have him. Clapton moved into a tiny attic in Mayall's house and feasted on his host's LPs. "When I had any spare time, I would sit in this room listening to records and playing along with them, honing my craft," the guitarist wrote in his 2007 autobiography. "Modern Chicago blues became my new Mecca."

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of Mayall's so-called "Beano" album, titled for the comic book Clapton reads on its cover. A British-blues classic, it established Clapton as the premier white blues guitarist of his generation, although he'd soon leave Mayall for the boundary-shattering trio Cream. He attributes that move to Guy, having seen him perform in London. "Even though [Guy] was accompanied by only a bass player and a drummer, he created a huge, powerful sound, and it blew me away," Clapton writes. "He made it look so easy, and I was thinking, 'I can do that.'" Clapton later repaid the debt, proclaiming Guy the "greatest guitar player ever."

That endorsement coincided with the release in 1991 of Guy's "Damn Right, I've Got the Blues," a blues-rock masterpiece that introduced the guitarist to a new generation. Sure, Guy and Wells had toured with the Rolling Stones. But now, Guy was the headliner, appearing on late-night TV shows and staring from stages in wonder as fans sang along with his songs.

Fast forward

The 2016 Blues Music Awards ceremony in Memphis has just concluded, and Guy receives his 34th and 35th BMA — for Album of the Year and Contemporary Blues Album of the Year. "Born To Play Guitar," the latest entry in his discography, had also earned him his seventh Grammy. The week before the BMAs (May 5), Guy was back at the White House as part of an International Jazz Day concert. In 2012, President Obama draped a medal around his neck during the Kennedy Center Honors.

On May 4, Mayall was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, a long-overdue recognition. (Guy was inducted in 1985.) However, the California resident did receive the Order of the British Empire in 2005, the same year Guy was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Mayall is overdue for that honor, as well.

As evidenced on a pair of recent archival releases, "John Mayall's Bluesbreakers: Live in 1967 (volumes one and two)," the bandleader paid homage to heroes while setting the template for modern blues-rock. And as he has since the beginning, Mayall continues to honor his inspirations. On his 2015 release, "Find a Way To Care," he interprets tunes by Lightnin' Hopkins, Muddy Waters and Charles Brown, singing in that helium-charged voice, expertly playing organ and piano and leading a typically superb band.

The Florida Jazz and Blues Jam will take place 3-11 p.m. Saturday, May 14, at Sunset Cove Amphitheater, 20405 Amphitheater Circle (west Glades Road), in Boca Raton. Victor Wooten and Lee Ritenour will also perform. Tickets cost $77.87-$88.12. Call 561-846-2899 or go to MusicJamProductions.com.

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