Aug. 11, 2005
by BOB DORAN
IT WASN'T THE NAME HE WAS BORN WITH -- THAT WOULD BE Ivan Elmo Reed -- but as the man himself puts it, "Buddy Reed [photo below] just happens to be a great blues name. I guess it means I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing."
The blues guitar player currently residing in Orick grew up in Rialto in southern California, "between Fontana and San Bernardino, near Riverside."
His big sister gave him his nickname, as in "Oh, my little buddy," and it stuck. And his sister was also responsible for his early musical education. "Jerry [was] six years older than me. She was a teenager in the height of the greatest era of rock `n' roll. She was into the black groups: Little Willie John, Jimmy Reed, The Chantels, The Dell Vikings, The Coasters, that kind of stuff."
When he was in high school in the mid-'60s, and the other kids were getting into surf music and The Beatles, Buddy discovered the Rolling Stones, who "came on the scene playing Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Jimmy Reed -- their first albums were all blues covers. Me and my friends were such outcasts in school, we latched right onto that, and some real good things came from it.
"We started a band called The Exits. We figured the name would be in every theater in the world. We did that for a while, learned about six or seven songs and that was enough to play all night."
While he says his "heart was in the blues," Buddy admits he didn't know much about the music's roots until he met John Ravenscroft, a British deejay from the local AM station who would eventually return to England and take the name John Peel.
"John was the late night deejay on KOMA radio in San Bernardino. He was from England, and it was the height of the British Invasion. Needless to say he was a big star in San Bernardino. He became my really good friend and took our band under his wing. I moved him and his stuff a few times; he had the shit as far as a record collection. He had all sorts of blues, music from Library of Congress and I don't know where else.
"I was sitting in his living room when I first heard Muddy Waters. When I heard that, that was it. Little Walter's screamin' and cryin' on that harmonica -- it was awesome. John Peel opened that up for me and I never really looked back after that and that was something like 40 years ago."
Around 1967, KOMA teamed with the local FM station to put on local band showcases in Riverside. "By that time we had renamed ourselves The Original Southside Blues Band. How's that for arrogance?" Buddy recalled. "We were from the south side of Rialto. I grew up on South Street on the south end of town, but jeez, talk about ignorance." Among the other bands playing was an outfit called House of Dirty Blue Sound led by a young harmonica player Rod Piazza.
"We hooked up and started playing together; we got Richard Innes, he couldn't play that well, but he had a set of drums. Now he's the drummer for Kim Wilson."
Things took a major turn when Piazza met George "Harmonica" Smith. In addition to a regular gig backing Smith at a Watts club, Reed, Piazza and company landed a record deal sans Smith as Bacon Fat, recording a few albums for a British label, and they went on the road playing R&B package shows with Smith and his good friend, Big Mama Thornton, the woman who wrote "Hound Dog."
"We were lucky. Big Mama had the name and she had a good manager. We opened shows, backed the other artists. We backed T-Bone Walker, Albert Collins, played with Johnny Otis. I met 'em all.
"But when those tours weren't happening, we were hurting sometimes. Disco was coming in heavy. It was a real struggle in the '70s. If you wanted a gig, you'd better not tell 'em you play blues; we'd say we play rock, rock `n' roll, whatever."
Fate stepped in again on one of the package tours. "We were [out] with Big Mama, a '50s retro rock kind of thing. For part of the tour we hooked up with Little Richard. Now I grew up listening to Little Richard; I idolized Little Richard. And Little Richard was way, way above where we were at."
When offered a job in Richard's band Reed jumped at the chance. "I figured my sister in heaven would be very disappointed in her little brother if I didn't take the opportunity. My sister, she got killed in 1959, but she was with me so strong. I got the gig, but I [only] lasted for about a year. Little Richard was crazy and the show got hokier as we went along When they called me to go out again, I didn't go. I couldn't take it."
And he couldn't exactly slip back into his old gig. "I became an outcast in the blues scene because I quit the band on the road, left Rod and them," Reed recalled. "That's when I had to invent who Buddy Reed was going to be. I'm sitting there going, `Who am I gonna be? What am I gonna be?' That's when I started developing my own sound, basing it on everything I'd listened to in my life, trying to play with integrity, with no bullshit. I've been doing that ever since then. That's where I'm at now; trying to learn it, learn how to do it. People seem to like it. I'm grateful for that."
Buddy Reed teams with drummer Nathan Kaplan and bassist Tim Claasen to play rhythm and blues this weekend: Friday, August 12, at 9 p.m. at Six Rivers Brewing, and Saturday, August 13, at the Buddy Brown Blues Festival in Blue Lake where Reed will close the all day show with a set beginning at 5 p.m. For more on Reed go to www.buddyreed.com.
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