You might not agree with his politics, but the man sure knew how to throw a party. For his '89 inauguration gala, G.W. Bush the first hosted a musical shindig worthy of a superstar arena tour.
The backing band was almost as impressive as the front line. Led by Billy Preston's B-3, Booker T and the MG'S' Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn along with CBS Orchestra's Anton Figg on drums, that core band mingled with members of Delbert McClinton's Band and Stevie Ray Vaughan's Double Trouble, utilizing Albert Collins as a sideman before his solo turn on his signature tune “Frosty.” Stones' guitarist Ron Wood shows up for a couple of guest shots, backing KoKo Taylor on “Wang Dang Doodle” and with Bo Diddley on “Hey Bo Diddley.”
A mix of r&b, soul and blues from the 60's through the '80s, the show captured here on DVD by Shout Factory featured a stunning array of performers at the top of their game. Every performance here would be hard to follow, but star after star stepped up and blasted away as hard as their predecessors.
Chuck Jackson kicked it off with his big hits “I Don't Want To Cry” and “Any Day Now,” sounding as strong and fresh as he did when he debuted them nearly thirty years earlier.
Although Joe Louis Walker had only one solo turn for his hit “747,” he stayed on to back Willie Dixon for “I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man,” with the help of Delbert and Albert Collins, then helped out KoKo Taylor's powerful performance on “Wang Dang Doodle.”
Dixon's turns are magnificent. Looking every inch the imperial impresario of blues, Dixon's vocals are pronouncements punctuated with electrocuted panther screams, Walker's stinging solos pumping him up, buoyed by Collins' frosty licks and McClinton's perfectly timed wails on harp.
Bo Diddley got three slots to show off his trademark shave-and-a-haircut paradiddle on his trademark square guitar, the piledriver beat punctuated by Diddley pogo-ing like an '80s punker.
The soul kicked off with Eddie Floyd doing his '66 hit “Knock On Wood” with co-author Steve Cropper backing him with Duck Dunn and a horn section that sounds like the Stax original recording. Sam Moore of Sam and Dave pulled off a sweat-slinging, electrifying version of “Soul Man” that had Dunn stomping in the spirit and Cropper unable to wipe a grin off his face for the entire session.
Delbert McClinton kicked off the blues portion of the show, but his raspy delivery transcends that genre, incorporating soul and Texas-flavored twangy rock as well. Reeking with fonky soul, “Standing On Shaky Ground” just flat out rocks. Resplendent in tux jacket and ruffled shirt on top with jeans and boots on the bottom half, McClinton just pours it on. Between the stinging duets between Cropper and Collins, saxman Don Wise's funky honkamania and Delbert's laid back, in-the-pocket soulman vocals, the camera doesn't know where to look, flitting around and missing a lot of the action. But the audio catches it all beautifully as the best road band in the biz carves out a groove behind McClinton a hippo could lay down and wallow in comfortably. He puts more funk in a shuffle than the law allows with “Maybe Someday.” Harp wailing mournfully, he kicks “B-Movie Boxcar Blues” down the tracks with a honky tonk-stomp that makes you forget the Blues Brothers' version on their debut album.
As good as it's been up until now, the fireworks really kick into the stratosphere with Albert Collins' “Frosty.” Collins' trademark chilly sound is freezer worthy here, his Strat capoed up nearly to the body to get that strangled, frozen trademark sound. Collins' talent is matched by his generosity as he gives both Stevie Ray and Jimmie Ray Vaughan room to step up and solo on his signature tune. Replacing Preston on B-3, Double Trouble organist Reese Wynans does serious burbling on the tune as well. But Collins won't be outdone, taking his Strat out in the audience for some in-your-face time with the young white Republican audience.
The Vaughan Brothers close out the show with four scorchers. Stevie Ray just eats up the fretboard on “Texas Flood,” bending strings so hard on his battered “number one” Strat he finally pops one loose just as he goes for some behind the back action. Brother Jimmie steps in smoothy, keeping the solo rolling, as Stevie is quickly strapped into a back up Strat, continuing with the behind-the-back solo without a break in the action. “Lovestruck Baby” barrels along at warp speed. “Get it, Reese,” Vaughan tells his keyboard player and Wynans rattles out a piano boogie that'd make a dead man dance. Brother Jimmie tears off a twangy chunk of Texas-flavored honky-tonk before Stevie Ray takes over again with a blistering behind the head solo.
After wondering aloud aloud where big brother Jimmie had gone, (“but I guarantee you he was here,” he tells the audience,) Stevie Ray roars out a version of Stevie Wonder's “Superstition,” replacing Wonder funk with gritty, grinding, hard-core rock. He starts “Scuttle Buttin',” getting old number one back after ripping off another string off his replacement. “Let's not forget we're all alive by the Grace of God,” he says just before leaving the stage, a chilling remark due to the fact that Vaughan would be dead in a year and a half, tragically killed in a helicopter crash in August, 1990 after a Wisconsin show.
This show is a fitting epitaph for Vaughan as well as Collins, who died a few years later from cancer. Its also a time capsule, a keepsake to be treasured, not on a shelf, but in your viewing devices for your foreseeable future and generations to come.