754 SOUTH WABASH

Someone once told Buddy Guy back in 1989 that his club, Legends, was far too big to be a Blues club.

Now they say it’s too small.

IMG_1494That’s because after 20 years of showcasing some of the world’s best artists, it can be hard to find a table on a Monday night, let alone a Saturday when Buddy is in town. [pullquote]Legends has grown into perhaps the most famous and prestigious Blues club in the world and it’s due to Buddy’s tenacity and dedication. [/pullquote]He knew when it opened it was a little bigger than its local predecessors, but he also knew that Blues music had a strong following and he wanted to keep the Chicago Blues alive. When Buddy came to Chicago in 1957, the biggest Blues club was able to hold 60 people. The small, intimate settings made it possible for many local Blues clubs to spring up on the south side.

“We’d be at one club and Muddy Waters would be playing right down the street, “ recalls Buddy, “But we’d never make it because we’d have to pass fifteen other clubs with their doors open to get there. No one was making money but we were having fun.”

Through the years, a vast majority of the other local clubs, whose music once spilled out into the night of a city thriving on industrialization, have closed. Legends has shown it has stood the test of time, although it wasn’t always a given. Buddy used the money from his performing to keep the club afloat while it gained a strong reputation for being a world class venue to see legends as well as newcomers.

“For the first nine years only a few people would be here on Saturday,” says Buddy, who has never been in it for the money, “It’s about keeping what’s Chicago in Chicago. The Blues is from Chicago and Austin is trying to lay claim.”

In June of this year, 21 years to the month after it originally opened, the original location of Buddy Guy’s Legends will be closing. Do not fret however, for a new location is opening just a block away.

And it’s going to be huge. [pullquote]Buddy learned the lesson that as long as people will come to see the Blues, no club can be too big.[/pullquote] The new location will boast two floors and more seating, but will keep the vintage Blues flavor that has kept Legends a must-visit for any Chicago tourist and a hotspot for locals with an appreciation of music and history. Buddy too has an appreciation for history, which is why the priceless memorabilia adorning the walls of the current location will be more predominately displayed at the new one. You won’t have to squint to realize that Eric Clapton signed the guitar hanging above the bar. There will be a plaque to let everyone know that The Yardbirds’ front man, who was disappointed Buddy was in London when he came to play at the club one night, loves Legends.

The dimly lit Blues club has as aura of musicians past and present, and if Buddy happens to be in town you’re sure to find him at the bar or on the stage. Through the years the club has seen an impressive list of people walk through its doors.

[pullquote]The Rolling Stones came for a visit when Chess records, the label that signed Buddy early on, was trying to recruit them. Clapton has come several times. [/pullquote]BB King, Albert King, The Allman Brothers, Susan Tedeschi, Lou Rawls, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Sting, Junior Wells, ZZ Top, Bo Diddley, John Mayer and many more have all stopped by Legends. When you enter the building it’s hard to forget you are mere feet from the same small stage shared by all those greats. The name “Legends” seems to fit perfectly.

More than anything, a trip to 745 S. Wabash is sure to be a good time. It’s a place where people from all walks of life can come to enjoy a drink, some quality food and a fantastic show in an intimate, laid back setting. If you’ve been to Legends, you’ve got a story, but the best ones always come from Buddy himself.

“One night Jeff Beck and Stevie Ray Vaughan were playing nearby and after their set they came over to get a bite to eat. Well, I waited ‘til they were almost done with their food and then told them they had to come on stage and play with me, greasy hands and all,” says Buddy with a chuckle, “They weren’t too happy about that but they did it.”

Vaughan was no stranger to the club. As Legends struggled to make a name for itself in the early months, Buddy called his old friend and asked for a favor. “Who do you want me to kill?” joked Vaughan. Vaughan, who was already an easily recognizable star, came to play at Legends to promote the club as a favor to his friend.

Buddy is as devoted to being a part of the club his name is on as anyone, and he’s only missed around 20 nights at the club in 20 years when he hasn’t been on the road.

“I once met three women sitting at the bar who had come to see Oprah. They came here [to Legends] because one of their husbands’ had wanted a t-shirt,” says Buddy, who shocked the women when he told them who he was, “They couldn’t believe it. They said, ‘We didn’t get to talk to Oprah!’”

Check out a few of the many memories listed below which Legends has helped to create over the years. They are just a sample of the memories that will be carried over to the new building where another 20 years will create many more. It’s never been about the building itself, or even the club. It’s always been about the people, atmosphere, love of Blues music and the promise of a great time in downtown Chicago enjoying a tradition founded here and which will continue to thrive here as long as places like Legends exist.

Legends has been such a fundamental part of Chicago that a large portion of Chicago natives have come at least once, and they are always blown away.

“One Friday evening, [a friend] talked me into going to Legends. I couldn’t believe the crowd lined up around the corner to hear the Blues. Before I knew it, the place was packed, exuding laughter and good times and I myself was having a great time. The ambience was exciting, alive and energetic! I didn’t think the evening could get any better until Buddy Guy appeared on stage. I will never forget that evening,” says Sheree Gilmore of Forest Park.

You take what you want from the club. It’s longevity has provided many with a great place to run away from daily monotony.

_MG_1519Says local resident, Kaye Sobczak, “Whether going to Buddy Guy’s Legends with friends to get lost in Buddy’s guitar, or just enjoy hot Blues on a hot Chicago night, or going by myself, to find escape in the music from the cancer treatment I was enduring.  It’s always the music.  It has always been the music. Don’t fret about those distinctive Legend’s smells, noises and walls being moved – it’s the people in Legends; the performers, staff, family and especially Buddy that make Legends a source of celebration, joy and for some of us, great solace and comfort.  And, of course, it’s ALWAYS the music.”

Artists too, enjoy playing at Legends.

[pullquote]Says Jonny Lang, “I remember the first time we played, we were like ‘Oh my gosh we’re playing Buddy Guy’s club!'”[/pullquote]

“It was at a point where I had just heard him on a CD and seen him on a video tape I had. He was a superstar to me. I was really nervous to play there and afraid that he’d show up. Sure enough he was in the VIP section.  Just the vibe of that place is so cool. It really is a special place. You really felt like you were part of something special, especially seeing buddy playing there and I think the atmosphere.”

Mark Augustine

Mark Augustine

Mark Augustine is a faculty member at Columbia College Chicago and a staff writer at BG: Blues And Music News.

More Posts