By Chuck Lanza and Aaron Porter
Recently our good friend photographer Chuck Lanza shared his road to honor Buddy Guy with a Mississippi Blues Trail Marker. What seems like a no brainer to the blues community as a whole turns out was a no brainer for the state of Louisiana and Mississippi as well. You don’t have to take our word for it though, here’s the story straight from Chuck Lanza himself, and don’t forget to check out the photo gallery from the events at the bottom of the article!
Aaron Porter: We interviewed you about a year or two ago and I would have you been up to since then and what have you been up to?
Chuck Lanza: I’ve been great, just doing my thing at home in New York as a Teamster and being here and there with Buddy on the road doing some cool photo stuff including December of ’17 when I went down to Lettsworth for a photoshoot that ended up being the cover (front and back) of his GRAMMY nominated record, The blues is alive and well.
AP: What was it like being there with him (Buddy)?
CL: It was nothing short of amazing, I’ve known Buddy more than 25 years and we’ve talked about it for the better part of the fifteen years. I always wanted to go see where Buddy was born in Lettsworth. He would always says to me, “Do you know what’s out there?” I said no, “there ain’t shit out there.” and he’s right it’s nothing out there but crop fields, sugar cane is what they predominantly produce now but that’s really all you have out there is sugarcane crops and corn. In fact, Pointe Coupee Parish will be the largest producer of sugarcane in Louisiana this year.
AP: Aside from photos of Buddy’s album new kind of going on in your photography life or kind of like technologies or just some things you’ve done lately that’s kind of excited about?
CL: No new technologies to speak of. I’m kind of excited I finally started a photography business. I still have no social media at all of any kind, I don’t know why but I do not, but I’ve been pretty busy shooting this past year, with Buddy for RCA/SONY and taking other band photos from Ace Frehley from Kiss to Gary Clark Jr. the spectrum is pretty broad of the people that I shoot. I just did some studio head shots for a contestant in the Miss New York pageant that’s coming up in late January so a photography wise it’s been pretty busy, pretty exciting.
AP: Have you shot anybody in a particular venue or location that you really enjoyed?
CL: KISS! Without a doubt it’s KISS. They were my absolute favorite to shoot live. When it comes to rock photography, KISS the pinnacle, PERIOD ! As far as venues go, two come to mind real quick. One is Red Rocks in Colorado where I had the chance to photograph Buddy and Steve Miller. The other is the Fox Theater(s) in Detroit and St. Louis. I shot both while they were empty and I have to say, they are my favorite shots of Theaters. The two I’m most proud of. Thanks for asking !
AP: In regards to Buddy getting the Mississippi Blues Trail marker and the Highway Re-Naming , how did that come about, who called who?
CL: Well this started November of 2017 one of my best friends, Kempf Poole, he is the Chairman of the Mississippi Blues commission. I had asked him, “how come Buddy doesn’t have a Mississippi Blues Trail marker like Muddy Waters, BB King, Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker.” and he said that was a good question. I said, that wasn’t the answer I was looking for (laughs). So he said he would look into it, he would try to see what the link is being they’re a Mississippi Blues Trail. Buddy’s link with Mississippi is more than evident with his link to Muddy Waters and being called up on stage in Chicago for the very first time to play by another Mississippi artist, Otis Rush. Buddy’s lineage to Mississippi is long as you know his connection with B.B. King, the list is endless with Buddy and Mississippi artists. He recorded two of his albums there, Sweet Tea and Blues Singer in Oxford, Mississippi at “sweet tea” recording studio.
AP: Cool, so he looked into it and what happened from there? So it was just talk at that point, when did things really get rolling?
CL: We got into it when Kempf was able to talk to them at the blues commission meeting with Kamel King and Craig Ray, he’s the director of Visit Mississippi. They were able to start moving forward with it. They thought it was a high possibility to give Buddy the marker. At that point Kempf started to reach out, trying to find somebody in the Lettsworth or a tourism group, because we needed them to help make the connection between the two states, Mississippi and Louisiana. The first person that he came in contact with was Jeannie Andre, she is the Director of Pointe Coupee Parish Office of Tourism. She is the person we made the contact with in Lettsworth. She was thrilled that Kempf had contacted her because she was trying to start a music trail of her own and saw Mississippi and Buddy as her chance to get hers going as well.
AP: You just mentioned a couple of peoples names there, this was a huge thing to plan and you know regular guys like us can only get so far. Was there anybody else involved that was really instrumental in making all of it happen or was that pretty much to be kind of everybody?
CL: We didn’t even come close to covering everybody because you know how they say “it takes a village” this Buddy Guy commemoration actually took three states to do this Mississippi, Louisiana and of course, New York ! It was such a big undertaking, over a year in the making because the first time we met with Jeannie Andre and Craig Ray from Mississippi and Kamel King from Mississippi as well as Kempf was a year ago December 2017. I went to Buddy’s house in Baton Rouge and left from there to go out to Lettsworth where we did the album cover shoot for the Blues Is Alive And Well. Immediately after that we met up with the Craig Ray, Kamel King and Jeanie Andre. Made the initial introduction between all involved at that point. After, Buddy took me to his mother’s grave site which was on the way to the Plantation. He took us to where his little school house was which are now two small silos and then we went around looking for the property where he grew up.
AP: Wow that’s a huge actually I’m not sure if you know this but the can you tell us a little bit about the signs that were placed kind of if you have any more kind of detail like you know who is responsible for the backstory there but I wasn’t sure who provided that or where it came from.
CL: It only gets bigger from there. On the Mississippi marker itself they have scholars who get information and they put it on the front of the marker. With the backside of the marker there is a little more freedom to get creative and Buddy had input in that as well. That was amazing because most of the people that get these are not around to see them. What made this one pretty unique is that Buddy is here. . Buddy had some specific requests, he wanted the parents and the grandparents of the young man that he used to play with as a boy, Craig Feduccia, on the marker. The family still owns that property that Buddy’s parents were sharecroppers on. Craig is around, he met with us as well as his younger brother David who now owns the property, and they both gave their blessing to put the Mississippi Blues Trail marker on the property. Buddy’s input to include them on the back of the marker was amazing, he wanted to commemorate their Parents and Grandparents as well.
AP: The thing about Buddy is I mean, no matter how well-known he becomes, no matter how many people come to his concerts and things of that nature, he has remained so grounded and has never forgotten all of the people who have come across this life and the things that they’ve done for him.
CL: Like Buddy has said many times throughout this process “you can take me out of Louisiana but you’ll never take the Louisiana out of me”. You know he’s just the same humble kind soul that you meet at Legends on any given night when he’s home. President Clinton said it best when he described Buddy as “A prince of a human being”.
AP: Aside from what you mentioned when trying to get this organized, were there any other challenges you had to overcome? Because you you’re pretty much spearheading it right?
CL: Correct, Myself and Kempf were pretty much spearheading everything. It took literally three states and three tourism departments to get this working. I’ve never dealt with so many people before at one time, from the Governor’s office on down. You know there’s one person who has been my go-to person – Sharon Calcote. She is the Louisiana Byways Director and works for the Louisiana Office of Tourism. She has been everything. I couldn’t have pulled it off without Sharon. Sharon is the one who put me in touch with Leann Weill – Louisiana Office of Tourism. Sharon and Leann put me together with Logan Schroeder – Athletics Dept. of LSU. They sent an email to Logan and they said Chuck has a vision of what he wants with a press conference, we would like you to deal with him directly. So now here I am dealing with LSU on what ideas I had for a press conference. We also had Sheriff Bud Torres who’s been with us from the first meeting out there. When putting this together we arranged for a police escort from New Roads, which is about a 25-minute trip to Lettsworth. We had a total of 4 deputies out there and the sheriff. They really helped us out with controlling the crowd. I want to give a big Thank You to sheriff Torres and all of his deputies in Pointe Coupee Parish. I had asked Bud early on if he could always just be near myself and Buddy. You know my focus was on a million other things and just knowing that Sheriff Bud Torres was always right there watching Buddy allowed me to do what I needed to do. He was with us at the press conference and other trips out there as well. I took several flights from New York down to Louisiana, two with Buddy and some without, for meetings on where to set the marker locations. I was on conference calls with people from the tourism departments from Louisiana and Mississippi – at any given time we would have 10 people on the line. I was working with Carey McNamara from The Louisiana Office of Transportation and Development (LOTD) on the different sign options that we were available and which one I preferred. Even though Kempf and I were spearheading, there were just so many people involved in every step of the way. As far as the LA Hwy 418 being renamed “Buddy Guy Way”, I was telling Jeannie that Buddy has an “honorary” Buddy Guy Way named after him in Chicago, and that we needed get that road in Lettsworth renamed “Buddy Guy Way” , how do we work that magic? I was on a mission with that. LA Highway 418 is in front of the property he lived on. That’s when Jeannie brought it to her police jurors to vote on the renaming of LA Highway 418. They approved the resolution 12-0. The police jurors then sent it to Senator Rick Ward III and State Representative Major Thibaut to introduce to legislation. It passed through the house and the Senate with a vote of 97- 0 in favor of doing it. The Lieutenant Governor said it was the easiest house bill ever passed. It was amazing. House Bill 64 !!
AP: That is amazing. I have to ask this, you have a regular job, you have a family, you made all these trips, why was it so important to you that this happened?
CL: It’s my relationship with Buddy. Me and Buddy say we’re not like family we are family. I have a long history with Buddy and a deep relationship with him. We have a very special bond. For me this was something that I felt not only I wanted to do, but I needed to do. Buddy has spent a lifetime putting smiles on peoples faces. I wanted to do whatever I could to put one on his. I’ve heard the stories over the years with Buddy talking about his mother when she would say, you know Buddy if you have flowers give them to me now because you can’t see, smell and touch them, when they’re on top of the casket and that has always resonated with me. Buddy talks about getting awards whether it’s a GRAMMY, blues awards, proclamations, medals for the arts, he never understands how people get them when they’re gone. If you know you’re going to give someone something, give it to them so they can see it, feel it. This is something that I really wanted to do for my friend, to make sure that he was commemorated in his hometown where he was born, where he made his first guitar out of screen wire and empty lighter fluid can and a stick. It was a mission we saw through to the end and it was amazing to say the least. I was honored to be able to pull whatever strings I could to reach out to whoever I possibly could to see this come to fruition. It is something that I really cannot explain.
AP: You actually helped put the signs up correct?
CL: I did yeah, on Thursday the 6th. The Mississippi Blues Trail marker came down with Kempf from Mississippi. Kempf lives in Mississippi and he actually brought the marker itself down. The post was put in a few days earlier. Kempf and I actually hoisted this heavy cast aluminum marker up on top of the post and we all (Chuck, Kempf, and our wives, Lori and Sandra) tightened all the bolts and fastened it to the top. We also had to make sure the tents were where they need to be and where the chairs were to be set up etc.
AP: Once they were up, bolts are tightened what was the feeling?
CL: The feeling was surreal. We stood back when it was up and you know we actually joked and I said, “I guess this is going to happen.” You know for over a year we’ve been going through conference calls, flights, meetings and so much stuff going on. It seemed the longer it was going on the bigger it was becoming. When we put that marker up it was a relief but yet we still had two more days to go because the following day we had a media day. That was Friday on the 7th of December. We had so many inquiries from the media. The publication Oxford American wanted to do a feature on Buddy, which the dept. of tourism of the state of Louisiana asked if Buddy could do. We said, okay we would definitely accommodate them. Also Sony/RCA records were documenting it as well with Daniel Junge, an Academy Award winning director, they’d been documenting some stuff with Buddy and wanted to include this event. I had reached out to WGN9 in Chicago early on and it was nothing but, 100% count us in, we’re in, we’re coming down and that was Steve Sanders. Steve Sanders has always been good to Buddy. 98.1FM The Eagle in Baton Rouge wanted to do a live spot with Buddy to promote the event on 12/8, which we did Thursday 12/6 . We went out to Lettsworth that Friday the 7th, early in the. By 7:30 a.m. we picked up Buddy and Jimmie Vaughn then headed out to Lettsworth to meet up with the media people. Jimmie Vaughan was Buddy’s special guest and helped dedicate this to Buddy. Once out in Lettsworth, we had a little media day these three media outlets. Everyone was interviewed, Jimmie Vaughan, Craig and David Feduccia and of course Buddy. We had to get back to Baton Rouge because as we were out in the country there were many people back at LSU Tiger Stadium preparing for a Press Conference. We had a short break and then it was off to LSU Tiger Stadium where Buddy worked from the age of 19 until he was 21. Chris Bynum – Buddy’s Guitar Tech, brought from Nashville the LSU Strat that I had made Buddy when he got the honorary PhD from LSU in 2013, we had that on display. We had Charlie Whinham up on the stage. He’s the Louisiana Public Information officer along with Jimmy Vaughn, Buddy, Kempf Poole from Mississippi Blues commission, Kamel King Esquire the Bureau Manager of Visit Mississippi with a bunch of media news outlets, radio stations and TV. It was a great, great day for Buddy and I couldn’t have been any happier for him.
AP: To be a part of that no matter how big or small must have been wonderful.
CL: Yeah, Buddy is the first marker in Louisiana, and this is the first joint thing with Mississippi Blues Trail and Louisiana. When we were realizing just how many people wanted to interview Buddy it was like a tidal wave gaining momentum. We originally thought of doing a press conference in the Hilton but it was too small. Sharon Calcote was thinking maybe the Governor’s Press room but It was Kempf’s idea to have a press conference at LSU, so that was the way we were able to accommodate all of the other media outlets by having that press conference at LSU. The event grew to such a place that Pointe Coupee Parish brought in the state of Louisiana partly because the Lieutenant Governor, Billy Nungesser, wanted to have a luncheon to honor Buddy and we did that prior to the event on Saturday. The luncheon was amazing and was done at a place called Hot Tails in New Roads, Louisiana. The owners are Cody and Sam Carroll. The Carroll’s customized the menu to the foods I told them Buddy liked. They have a show on the Food Network called Cajun Aces and they’ve won the Louisiana best seafood I think two years in a row. They shut the restaurant down on the morning of December 8th for about one hundred and fifty VIPs. The lieutenant governor was there as a speaker. We had Steve Azar, he’s a hit songwriter recording artist and he’s a Mississippi Ambassador ,there to speak We had Reed Wick – he’s senior membership and project manager for the Recording Academy which is the GRAMMY’s. Craig Ray, Kamel King Esquire, Kempf Poole, from the Mississippi Blues Trail, Jimmy Vaughn, GRAMMY Award winning musician, long-time friend of Buddy’s, and all around badass, Jeanie Andre and David Jarraeu also, both from the Pointe Coupee Parish Office of Tourism. Lieutenant governor Billy Nungesser, the guy is – when I tell you – a fan of Buddy. He told Buddy, “I got goose bumps when I walked in and met you.” and “You are a treasure to Louisiana”. He just wanted to know – when it came to Buddy, where, when and what do you need me to do.
AP: after everything was said and done after all the press and all the all the tourism and everybody was gone somebody say anything to you about it.
CL: I left Buddy when he was in the car it was a cold, cold day and it felt like we were in New York or Chicago. It was raining – I don’t know what the temperature was but it had to be I would say in the fourties. It was bitter cold so once this was all done and he received his proclamation of” Buddy Guy Day he received the lieutenant governor’s Ambassador Award, he received his outstanding Citizen Award for Pointe Coupee Parish, his Mississippi Blues Trail marker was the capper. He received his historical marker from Lettsworth and the lieutenant governor presented him with the renaming not honorary, but completely renamed, of Louisiana Highway 418 to Buddy Guy Way. I thank God he got to lay eyes on it and when it was over it was such a bad day I got him right to his car and when he was in the car we had a moment right there I told him to have a safe trip out and enjoy the ride out on “Buddy Guy Way”, and then I told him I loved him he said he loved me shut the door and off he went. It was he an amazing undertaking and it was just unbelievable to see all of these honors they bestowed upon him, all the people who came out to make it happen. Hundreds and hundreds of people were out there in the rain. I can’t thank everyone enough for their hard work and diligence.
AP: I mean yeah that’s that is amazing and congratulations and thank you yeah. Not for talking to us but also for talking to us butt for making that happen, because it’s a tremendous thing to be to be recognized but more importantly to be recognized while you’re still alive.
Chuck would like everyone who hasn’t visited the Mississppi Blues Trail website to do so at msbluestrail.org