PHOTO/BRAD COOK Marty Sammon and Buddy Guy interact during their performance in Oxford, Calif.
We left off last week with Chronicle photographer Bradley Cook charging his Tesla in Southern California after several days on the road, his three-week journey following Buddy Guy across the U.S. was only just beginning. It was Friday night, March 11.
He was off the next day to see Guy’s concert in Oxnard, Calif.
One of his bigger takeaways from the trip was the consistent conditions in rural and small-town America. From Oregon and California, Arizona to Texas, Louisiana to Tennessee, it was, Cook says, “the eye-opener … rural America. Out of the whole trip … man, the difference between what’s happening here in town and what’s happening outside of town … The last time I did anything cross country like this was when I moved out here 35 years ago. It’s a parallel universe.
“Rural America seems on edge. They’re scared of the boogeyman that’s under their bed. And of course we all know from childhood experiences the boogeyman doesn’t exist.
“It’s noticeable when I go down the California coast. I see beautiful, shiny communities. I see happy people. I see people that take pride in the outside of their businesses, the outsides of their homes, the sidewalks in front of their business. You drive down the coast in Oregon, you see a bunch of old worn buildings and not too friendly people.”
“The night before I go to McWay Falls at Big Sur about two hours before sunset. And the parking lot looks pretty crowded. And I’m just like, Ah, man. I knew I should have gotten here hours ago. I didn’t realize that there were little hiking trails around it. And I went walking out there and there was only a half dozen people out there; only one person with the tripod. And I went all the way out to the furthest point to get that advantage and set up and started talking shop with this one guy and he was a tourist just like me and heard about this and decided to come check it out. And we’ll just watch it go down, occasionally taking a shot, trying to adjust all our stuff. Once that moment comes, it really goes fast. Then you want to be really dialed in. And we had to dive in the best we could and took a bunch of pictures.
BRAD COOK/ PHOTO The popular McWay Falls at Big Sur was a must-stop for the author on his travels.
So, today is show number one with Buddy Guy. It’s my first tour with Buddy since the pandemic. I’ve only done a handful of them since the Born to Play Guitar tour because I’d started up a new business. I could do about 15 Buddy Guy shows a year; but I elected to mix it up a little bit. I didn’t want to do that National Parks. I wanted to do some Buddy, and I wanted to do the Blues scene in The Delta. This whole vacation trip started from me looking at his tour schedule, and seeing that he was doing Austin City Limits. I always wanted to do that show. And then I just happened to see six days later he’s playing the Ryman Auditorium over at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. And so the whole thing was built around that.
“And so this is show number one. I got into Oxnard and pulled into the parking lot about 2:30 and saw the tour bus, and parked about 50 feet away. I reached out to (keyboardist) Marty (Sammon) and at the time Marty wasn’t getting back to me. So I tried to go through a few other people with the band, but no luck. I’m finally told I’m supposed to go through a PR person. Anyway, after some confusion and finally reaching the right people, I got my photo credential for the concert. So I’m just kind of hanging out, taking a kind of half catnap and then I hear that old familiar squeak in the front door of the tour bus. Even though he gets a new bus every year still, those doors make that little sweet sound. And out came Orlando, Buddy’s guitar player and he happens to look right over at my car and see me and, you know, big smile. I wasn’t going to bother them then because I knew they were going into soundcheck. And it’s like, ah, you know, I can’t blow them off. And so I got out of the car. You know, we haven’t seen each other while we’re like family right? We spend a lot of time together. You know, we embrace and everything ...
“Then Marty comes out and everybody’s piling up to go to soundcheck and we’re all you know … it’s great. I knew then this is gonna be good times. Just like old days and everything. After soundcheck, though, everyone’s gone to bed. It’s one thing you learned about being on the road with bands. You sleep every chance you get. So you (sleep) because you’re always in foreign beds. Later, Marty and I wanted to get some fried chicken and we ended up sitting in the diner. After eating, we headed back to the gig and it was like a family reunion. It really moves me deep inside. The band was still practicing Covid restrictions so I already knew there was going to be no hanging out on the bus, no going to soundcheck. You know, I was not going to be meeting Buddy, right? Everything’s just very restrictive.
So at that show, when Buddy came out. It was just like riding a bike. Just picking up right where we left off, but he doesn’t come out to the edge of the stage. He was about halfway out. That’s how it was just set up there, and they’ve got a big spotlight on him. I was limited to shooting only the first few songs, but Buddy’s second song was really a medley of three songs. It ends up being like a half hour. I got some nice shots of Buddy. Nice shots of Marty. But Buddy totally ignores me, okay, no eye contact. I’m only 15 feet away; is he going out of his way not to make eye contact with me? Is something weird happening?
So that was pretty much the end of that night. We didn’t party really much afterward. We kind of all turned in early. That’s one of the things you just have to learn when people in the band say, you know, after the show, I’m just gonna turn in, they’re not gonna go out and party. That’s just kind of code talk for ‘I need sleep right.’
It was exciting. To have that kind of access with a legend like Buddy Guy. And be in with the band like family. Right? It’s pretty special.
So I did sleep in that morning, and I needed it. The next gig was at Beverly Hills, about two hours away. I met Marty for lunch. And I wanted to get a parking space because it’s very well known at the Saban Theater that decent parking spaces are about a half a mile away. There’s just no parking around it. And so I get there pretty early, about noon, and I parked one block away. Right on the corner. I mean, I’m literally two minutes away from my car. It happened to be a Sunday, so it’s free parking.
After the show the band and I decided to meet for dinner and we’re kind of kicking around what to eat, and end up at this little place that kind of connected to the same building as the the Saban Theater; we’re like, ‘Let’s just eat here you know, it’s right here.’ And so we sit down and get the menu and there’s just one thing on the menu. It’s a burger and fries. For $30. We kind of look at each other and we like, well you know, I could see $15 to maybe $20. It is Beverly Hills. It felt like they were going for a home run. They’re going to double the price for the Buddy Guy crowd. And so the waiter comes over and we asked what exactly comes on the burger. He says it’s already written down on the menu, but I like to double check because I have an allergy to mayonnaise. It’s got mayo on it, but I said to myself, ‘Here I am. Beverly Hills. What’s $10 more?’
I order the burger, without mayo. ‘We can’t do any alterations,’ the waiter says. I’ve explain my allergy. Marty wanted edone item taken off too and they’re like no, you know we can’t do that.
Then another one of our guys comes into the place, and tells us they will let him special order earlier. The waiter kind of tried to backpedal a little bit, but our friend called him out.”