A couple years back we played a Grammy party at Buddy Guy Legends in Chicago. Personally, I was pretty excited about this. I grew up loving blues music and to play a club like Buddy Guys was an honor. I didn’t feel we were totally worthy of the honor but I didn’t vocally object. I was excited to see how we would go over. There were approximately 6 bands playing that evening with music starting at 5pm. When I arrived at the venue the room was packed, wall to wall. The energy was fantastic and my belly was like butterflies. The idea of being a spectator was perfect, but the idea of playing made me a bit shifty.. Why are we here? How well will we go over in this place?! Then I discovered we were playing after blues legend Pinetop Perkins.
Pinetop Perkins was a blues pianist who accompanied such greats as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson and Hubert Sumlin. He was a Grammy recipient, Blues Hall of Fame inductee and at the time….97 years old. The man was friends with Robert Johnson for crying out loud.. He was royalty.. and I was playing after him. This was both the coolest and worst thing you could of told me. How did this happen and how was it going to happen!?! How does one sing with the feeling of drunk butterflies slapping each other in their gut? Why do I both love and fear the idea of this at the same time?!? My head was a bit scattered by internal war so I did my best to ignore the thought and tried to enjoy the night.
About 35 minutes before our scheduled stage time I went off to the green room. Pinetop was on stage and it was best I didn’t stay out in the house to watch. I split the time by walking back and forth between stage left and the green room. There is something about seeing the stage from the performers perspective that helps me mentally prepare. Getting the proper visual vantage helps my head adjust for what is about to happen. Its like adjusting the temperature of a fish before he enters the tank. It takes the visual surprise of walking on stage out of the equation. Surprises can always throw a game off and stages are full of them, one less is an advantage. So I would watch, adjust, get mental and walk away…repeat..over and over again. Finally I got to the point where I was at a comfortable level within my head, maybe even getting excited a little. The band was now all in the green room and we were cracking jokes to keep ourselves loose. Pinetop was finishing his last song and we began walking down the stairs towards the stage. The people clapped, Pinetop walked off and we moved forward. “What are you doing?” the security guard asked me. “Im getting on the stage, we are playing next, Im Mike Mangione” I said in a kind of “what the hell is this, why would we not be allowed to go onstage, are we not really next, are we even supposed to be here, is mike mangione really playing next, am i really mike mangione, why would mike mangione be playing this show” type of way mixed with 25% nervousness and a 5% pinch of anger. The security man replied “You are not playing next, Buddy Guy wants to play, you guys are after Buddy”.
That is right… Buddy Guy wanted to play a few songs. We were not only playing after Pinetop Perkins but Buddy Guy, the legend himself… in Buddy Guy Legends of all places. My stomach flipped so fast that it actually went full circle and felt fine again. Buddy walked up to me, I took a step back and he stepped onto the stage in a pair of dress slacks and a silky polk-a-dot shirt. It was really too much to even feel anything, so I didn’t. I just watched. And for the next 20 minutes I watched buddy guy control a room and give them a show. I can’t describe in great detail what that was like because it was just something that had to be experienced. He finished and the crowed loved it. He walked off and we walked on. The room was buzzing which my pre show stage adjusting didn’t prepare me for. We played and it happened.. Not too much to report beyond that expect. I think they liked it, I think it went over well. It definitely went somewhere and thats better than nowhere. Now, as I travel the country, no matter where I am or how uncomfortable a room is I can always say “hey, you want to hear about the time Buddy Guy and Pinetop Perkins opened for me?” and thats worth something…
Songs To Inspire
Muddy Waters- Mannish Boy