Top Ten Must See Bluesfest Axe-People

Andrew P Street picks our must-see artists from the gargantuan Bluesfest 2017 line-up.

Bluesfest, as the names suggests, has historically been a freakin’ cornucopia of top flight guitarspersonship and the 2017 event is shaping up to maintain that mighty tradition. With seven stages and over 200 performances over five days in the glorious surrounds of Byron Bay it's easy to be spoiled for choice: and that's why we've gone through the artists announced so far and pulled out a few that you'd be mad to miss – some new faces, some downright legends, and some once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.…

10. Buddy Guy

They don't call him the King of the Blues for nothing: he's influenced everyone from Eric Clapton to Jimmy Page, from Jimi Hendrix to Stevie Ray Vaughan. He kicked back with BB King and Muddy Waters, and changed the way that R&B artists approached their live shows with his flamboyant, chaotic performances – and he's still getting up on stages at the age of 80 and showing those young punks how a real blues player plays.

He's a Bluesfest veteran, not least because he always kills. Pay homage at the altar of the blues by not missing his set.

Get up to speed with: "Damn Right I've Got The Blues", "She Suits Me To a T", "What Kind Of Woman Is This?"

 

9. Experience Hendrix

The man himself will not be appearing – presumably because he’s got something else on, or maybe because he died in 1970 – but a selection of great Australian guitarists are using Bluesfest as a welcome excuse to get together and play the hell out of some of his classic songs. You’ll get five – count ‘em! – masters of the six-stringed arts in Jak Housden (the Badloves, the Whitlams), Dai Pritchard (late of Rose Tattoo and former axeman of choice for Billy Thorpe), Steve Edmonds (sideman for the likes of Jimmy Barnes and Richard Clapton), Grant Walmsley (Screaming Jets), and the guitarist of choice for generations of rock-folk, Mr Peter Northcote.

Get up to speed with: "Purple Haze", "Hey Joe", "Foxy Lady"

 

8. Tony Joe White

He’ll be forever known as the man behind "Polk Salad Annie", but TJW is more than one global classic. The man has never stopped working – his new album, Rain Crow, appeared this year – and his swampy, Louisiana-infused style of blues gave him the moniker “The Swamp Fox”. And not to bring mortality into the equation, but at 73 years old, how many opportunities do you think you’re going to get?

Get up to speed with: "Polk Salad Annie", "Rainy Night In Georgia", "Hoochie Woman"

 

7. Melody Angel

First up, you have to love an artist that chose a stage name based on an obscure television series (Melody Angel was a character in Gerry Anderson's supermarionette series Captain Scarlet, the precursor to Thunderbirds). But the Chicago-born Angel became quite the YouTube star before gaining the approval of no less an authority than Buddy Guy himself, and her elegantly savage 2012 take of All Along the Watchtower turned plenty of heads.

She rocks pretty goddamn hard too, and given the political slant of her material to date it's fair to say that she's going to have a lot to say about the Trump administration. But here's your chance to say “I saw her back when no-one knew who the hell she was,” to your jealous friends.

Get up to speed with: "In This America", "Cease Fire", "All Along the Watchtower"

 

6. Jeff Lang

This Australian slide master is a frequent favourite of Australian Guitar to it would be downright churlish not to draw your attention to his performance – not least because he makes acoustic guitars do things that would make a solid body blush.

He's been doing some touring behind his recent Rarities collection, which digs deep into the catalogue of live recordings, outtakes and one-offs that Lang has accumulated over the last couple of decades, so expect a set that goes to some unexpected places.

Get up to speed with: "Southern Highlands Daughter", "Ravenswood", "Dislocation Blues"

 

5. Devon Allman

The name should be something of a giveaway, and if it doesn’t that very recognisable shade of blond hair should be: this is the son of legendary American artist Gregg Allman, one of the titular Allman Brothers, and while he didn’t get to know his dad until he was a teenager it’s clear that certain apples don’t fall too far from the tree.

And while he’s worked hard to escape the long shadow of his legendary father via his work in Honeytribe and Royal Southern Brotherhood, there’s some unmistakable genetics going on in the way that Allman Jr weaves blues, roots, country and rock in his music. That easy, no-fuss way he reels out the licks? That’s pure Allman.

Get up to speed with: "One Way Out", "I’ll Be Around", "Pleasure & Pain"

 

4. The Zac Brown Band

Mr Brown and company are bona-fide country stars in the US, of that oddly nation-specific stripe that makes them cult stars everywhere else - what Australians would know as Powderfinger Syndrome. However, for lovers of the axe-wielding arts they’re a masterclass in what’s happening in modern American country music. They’re a stadium act, but it’s not all grand gestures and emotional choruses: they’re not afraid to bust out some frantic fingerpicking (check out the video to Chicken Fried to see them in live, acoustic action) and John Driskell Hopkins knows his way around a searing slide solo. Heck, Chris Cornell and Dave Grohl have worked with them - and you can trust them, right? 

Get up to speed with: "Chicken Fried", "Toes", "Heavy is the Head"

 

3. Bonnie Raitt

It might seem rude to point out that Bonnie Raitt is now 67 years old, but it’s a point worth making: she’s past retirement age, still pumps out records (most recently 2016’s Dig In Deep) and is still regularly included on lists of the greatest guitarists of all time.

She’s always been a pioneer and was the first female artist to have her own signature Fender line, based on the well-loved Strat she bought “for $120 at 3 o' clock in the morning in 1969” and has played ever since.

She first came to prominence for her fiery bottleneck blues playing, but since then she’s branched out into rock, country and even (bizarrely) a brief early 80s foray into new wave. But she is first and foremost a blues player, and her Bluesfest return is likely to be a showcase of the style she made her own.

Get up to speed with: "Something’ To Talk About", "Love Sneakin’ Up On You", "I Will Not Be Broken"

 

2. Patti Smith

There are precious view honest-to-god rock legends still alive these days – especially since the endless rock star purge of 2016 – so when someone like Patti Smith comes to Australia you sit up, you take notice, and you goddamn see her play.

This is no ordinary performance either: she’ll be playing her groundbreaking 1975 debut album Horses in its entirety. Either you’re one of the thousands of people who bought that album and had their life changed (a disproportionate number of whom immediately decided that they were going to be musicians – isn’t that right Morrissey, Siouxsie, most of REM?), or you’re about to become one. It’s one of those albums.

As always, she’ll be accompanied by her longtime axeman Lenny Kaye, whose chunky guitar was key to Horses’ sound. This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime sort of tours, really.

Get up to speed with: "Redondo Beach", "Gloria", "Free Money"

 

1. Santana

The man that pretty much invented fusion is one of the greatest musical enigmas. He’s sold over 100 million albums worldwide, and has the peculiar honour of having the Guinness Book of Records declare him the longest gap between consecutive US number one albums (28 years, between 1971’s Santana III and 1999’s Supernatural). And admit it, you’ve got "Smooth" playing in your head right now.

It might seem obvious to say, but Carlos is also a unique and exceptional guitarist. His liquid lead lines blending Latin elegance with blues fire and paved the way for generations of Latin artists. How many musicians can honestly say they fundamentally changed the course of American music?

Get up to speed with: "Black Magic Woman", "Smooth"