When Buddy Guy returns to his eponymous Chicago blues club for his annual January residency (kicking off Jan. 4), the iconic music maker will be a man on a mission.
That’s because this year’s opening night is a benefit for PCaBlue, a charitable organization founded to raise awareness about prostate cancer through blues concerts/special music events. The disease is among “the most commonly diagnosed non-cutaneous cancer in American men,” the organization’s website states, and in its earliest stages, it can be curable. But because the disease often has no symptoms in those early stages, it goes undetected unless men undergo screenings and/or annual checkups with their doctors. The risk for the disease is nearly 75 percent higher in black men than non-Hispanic white men for unknown reasons, though some would point to lack of resources and screenings as possible links.
PCaBlue presents: Buddy Guy with Bobby Rush
When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 4
Where: Buddy Guy’s Legends, 700 S. Wabash
Tickets: $55 (21+over)
Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 6
Where: SPACE, 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston
Guy is the official spokesman for PCaBlue, and he is no stranger to the terrible toll of the disease; his brother Phil died from prostate cancer in 2008 at age 68. “My brother was like most black people who don’t go to the doctor until it hurts because they think if you’re feeling good, you don’t need to go. But you gotta go every year. Men, you have to get checked for prostate cancer,” Guy said.
“Hopefully we can save lives by raising awareness,” Guy continued. “We need to give men the information and resources they need, to get them to talk to their doctors and get checked out.”
Joining Guy for the event is his longtime friend and blues legend Bobby Rush, whose family has been affected by prostate and breast cancer.
“I lost two sisters to breast cancer. I lost a son 12 years ago and brother two years ago on Christmas day to prostate cancer,” Rush said. “We as a black community are afraid of going to the doctor because we’re afraid of what they might find. But I always tell people if you can find something early you can maybe do something about it. Medical care is so advanced nowadays that we have to get out the word to our community, especially, to go to the doctor and get screened. Do it for someone you love, if not for yourself.”
Guy and Rush have been traversing the country with a series of these special gigs. Rush says it’s been a most powerful experience.
“We went to Atlanta [recently] and it was a packed house and I could see maybe 40 or so black men there who came out for the music, and that’s 40 men we potentially reached with our message. And we reached the women who were there, too, because they are affected by the illness because it’s their husband or brother or father. Now I want to go around the country and do shows for breast cancer awareness. … Buddy is my heart and soul. He’s involved with getting this message out and that’s all I need to know. This is our chance to hopefully save some lives.”
Guy and Rush are among the last of the great blues pioneers, along with Chicago’s Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater (who opens for Guy at Legends on Jan. 5). Clearwater also headlines his annual birthday gig at Evanston SPACE on Jan. 6.
“I see a few guys coming up these days [in the blues ranks],” said Rush, who won his first album Grammy Award last year for “Porcupine Meat,” his 23rd album to date. “But we lost so many of us in the past few years. Most people talk about the blues being less than something else. But you look at where it all came from: From guys like me and Buddy, and Muddy [Waters] and Howlin’ Wolf, Freddie King, Willie Dixon, Eddy Clearwater, Sonny Thompson. Radio stations don’t play the blues anymore; it’s all rap and hip-hop. But if it wasn’t for blues, there’d be no hip-hop. I was the first rapper — back in the 1950s [laughs].”
“It’s one thing to receive, and I’ve received so many blessings over the years, it’s another to give back, and you gotta give back,” said Clearwater, who will be 83 on Saturday. “I am contributing [a portion of] my recording royalties to [PCaBlue] because I lost very close friends to prostate cancer. Blues comes from the heart and soul. And what we are doing with these shows comes from the heart and soul. Blues speaks to all colors, ages, races. It’s about life and living. It’s very spiritual. Hopefully we can save lives through this music.”
No strangers to some of the biggest music festivals in the world, Guy said it all comes back to the clubs when it comes to blues.
“When you want to hear blues bouncing off the walls you gotta go to the small clubs,” Guy said with a chuckle. “I’ve been in Chicago 60 years and you had to go to the small clubs to hear Muddy or Howlin’ or B.B. King. That’s where the real music was. That’s why I love these January shows so much. This is how you’re supposed to hear the blues.”
NOTE: To help raise funds, Buddy Guy’s polka dot strat will be auctioned on the PCa Blue website and a Fender Stratocaster autographed by Buddy Guy and Bobby Rush will be raffled on Jan. 4th at the club. For details, visit www.pcablue.org.