“Have you ever been loved by the Hoochie Coochie Man?” The blues legend himself, Lou Pride, asked his audience at BU Central this very question. As his band continued to strum the somber blues patterns of his interrogative song, he stepped off stage and took a stroll through the audience as he continued to pose his question with a whispered falsetto. During his march about the crowd, he stud in front of a female student and reached for her cheek. With a comic grip he held her cheek as he sang of the “Hoochie Coochie Man”. He turned from his giggling fan and returned to the stage with gusto. Seeing Lou Pride’s showmanship in person, I knew that I was in the presents of a rarely skilled performer. Having seen B.B. King and Buddy Guy perform the craft of blues I drew from comparison and experience that Lou Pride was one of the great masters of the American craft of blues.
Lou’s concert started with a roar of electric guitar strums. The lights fell on to the stage showering the multi-piece band with red and purple. The drum roll tapped up the tension as a heavyset senior citizen took the stage in an Armani suit and flamboyant jewelry. Lou Pride stepped onto the stage and set the night ablaze. Mr. Pride, as he likes to be called, is a surviving veteran from the era of great blues showmen. After triumphantly taking the stage he filled the evening with dancing, antics, and amusing crowd interactions. Lou and his multi-piece band, headed by Boston University’s associate provost Victor Coelho, opened theconcert with triumphant and celebratory style blues music. The band’s trumpets, sax, pianos, drums, and guitars provided powerful support to Lou Pride’s performance of his self-composed blues numbers. The festive feel to the opening of the concert helped the audience loosen up. I, along with Dean Elmore and the entire room, was tapping my feet and nodding my head as Lou Pride began his set. Mr. Pride sang about the thrills of the night, humorous tunes about easily forgettable dates, and raucous instrumentals. Once the crowd was feeling the joyous vibes he gave us the bittersweet treat we had all been waiting for: the blues.
Slowing down from the fast pace of his introduction, Lou Pride sang a ballad of lost love. Before beginning the song he begged the crowd to remember their lost loves and to empathizes with him. The crowd was frozen during his song and erupted with applause at its finish. Lou had captured the audience’s attention for the night. The remainder of the concert was filled with emotional highs and lows bellowed out by the genuine blues man. For a performer of his seniority, Lou performed at an unusually informal venue.
Although, I think of BU Central as musty and drab, the staff had curtained off the eye soaring areas and made the venue more appropriate to a performer of Lou’s status. The blues seem to permeate best in a venue that is informal and allows for as much performer audience interaction as possible. Lou Pride took advantage of the low stage by walking among the crowd and dancing. BU Central was converted with help Mr. Pride’s charisma into a blues hall. The drab nature of the BU Central vanished as the crowd concentrated on the blues man in the Armani suit. The choice of BU Central as Lou Pride’s venue was apparently quite intentional.
My current blues guitar teacher, CFA’s Professor Nangle, was present at the concert. He has seen Lou Pride’s annual BU concerts for the last three years. He divulged to me the stratagem behind Lou’s appearance at BU Central. “ The last time I saw him, he was in the TSAI Performance Center. It felt like I was going to see a golden oldie. Now, he is here in the student lounge: BU Central. It’s the place of the students. The same place you would see contemporary bands. It’s like Lou is saying this (blues) is your music too (Int,Nangle).” Professor Nangle clarified that Lou Pride’s appearance at BU Central was a conscious attempt to connect with the students. Assuming this is correct, it rationalizes why a big name like Lou Pride would perform at such an under-established venue. Although Lou Pride did his best to connect with BU students there was one factor that he could not control.
The night of the concert was also the night of the vice-presidential debate. Lou Pride’s audience was unusual sparse that night. Most students, who would have attended the concert, stayed home to watch the debate. After Lou’s first set most of the audience left the concert to watch the debate. The blues performer, who had packed the TSAI center for the last two years, had fewer than twenty spectators by the end of his
show due to the debate’s obtrusive timing. Professor Nangle interviewed Lou Pride after the show and relayed this to me “ I told Lou Pride, it is because of that dang debate tonight that so few people are here” and Lou responded with the charm of a great performer by saying “ I know those young people they want to know what is going on in the world and I respect that (Int,Nangle).” Although it may have disheartened Mr. Pride to have a meager audience, the scarcity of people and his proximity to the audience gave me a chance to enjoy an intimate connection with the performer. It was a chance to truly savor the blues.
Blues was a creation of the American slave. During slavery, when instruments were largely forbidden, hymns and story telling were the only means of expression. Once the slaves were freed and free to apply their culture to music their lamenting chants and stories did not quite fit into the established musical structure. The former slaves, being largely musical illiterate, created a system of blues patterns that was related not by note, but by number in relation to a root note. The blues pattern, as it came to be known, was unlike chord progressions in that it did not mandate a melody. The blues pattern allowed for the vocals to be spoken or hummed. The style became the popular creative median for black musicians. The style has transcended its humble roots and has created such famous musicians as B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and John Lee Hooker. Lou Pride emerged during the tail end of the blues music era, yet he still maintains the traditions of the original craftsmen.
Mr. Pride entertained the crowd with his colorful stories of love and loss. He took breaks between songs to tell the crowd stories of his glorious past and his bouts with love. This oral tradition has roots in the former slave’s oral tradition of entertainment. His story telling and unique stage persona are classic elements of blues performance. Having observed other blues legends, I believe I have uncovered a tactics of the blues men. The blues men attempt to create an informal and relaxed atmosphere with his audience by inserting personal touches to their performances. The relaxed atmosphere makes the audience believe that they are seeing the true persona of the performer. Therefore, they are apt to empathize with the performer’s lyrics of woe and more likely to enjoy the performance. Lou Pride seamlessly employed the standard tactic that night. The music and the atmosphere of the night captivated me and sent me back to my dorm still hearing the dramatic riffs in my head. However, I also took with me a somber realization.
The blues, as a popular musical era, has come to an end in America. I can tell from the sparse crowd that blues has seen better days. Lou Pride’s attempt to reconnect with the students was thwarted by the
inconvenient timing of the debate. Although the debate may become a part of American history, the great performers of this unique American style of music will soon pass into history themselves. We all could have benefited from forgoing contemporary American “events” in order to step back and appreciate a genuine aspect of American culture before it perishes. With the American economy’s recent faltering, everyone can find comfort in the man with Armani suit who is still singing the blues.