Interview by Aaron Porter
Transcription by Kim Sells
Mike is a big fan, and is one of the nicest guys you could ever hope to have a conversation with. Being a regular at Buddy Guy’s Legends he can always be seen bringing a large dose of goodwill to employees and guests alike.
He’s the guy you want to be sitting with when the show begins because when you see a show through the eyes of Superfan, you get a whole new experience. Ask anyone at Legends who Superfan is, they will point him out easily, because he’s the man. Some people collect porcelain clowns, unicorns, or Elvis plates. Mike Illingworth collects Buddy Guy and Legends memorabilia. Whose house would you rather hang out at?
BL: When people call you…
MI: Wait, wait, wait…before we start, I just want to say I think you’re very handsome, and I really like you a lot. Go ahead.
BL: (See what I mean, nice guy).
BL: Well, you’re a very generous interviewee. When people call you a “Superfan,” how does that make you feel?
MI: It makes me feel good. I’m glad that I can be something positive associated with the club, with Buddy. It’s something that’s a positive thing, because it allows me to be an ambassador for the club.
BL: Awesome. How long have you been following Buddy?
MI: Unfortunately, I didn’t know who he was until he opened this club. Then one of my friends said, “Mike, we’re going down to see Buddy Guy tonight, he’s opening a club. Do you wanna go?” I said, “Yeah,” because they told me he was a great guitar player and I love guitar players. We went down, I saw him, I was floored, and I’ve never been able to not go again if the opportunity was there.
MI: So that was 1989.
BL: Right, right, 1989. The old club. So, you’ve pretty much been to every January show since then?
MI: I think I’ve missed…I normally miss one or two a year; but I’ve basically been to all of them except one or two a year, every year.
MI: Well, in the beginning it was easy because in the first year he did three shows, the following year he did four. I think he then went up to seven and stayed at seven shows for a few years. Then he went up to ten, and then fourteen, then sixteen, then twenty shows a year, which got to be too much for him – for anybody, and then he went back down to sixteen. In the beginning it was easy to go, but now it’s a little harder; but I’m very fortunate to live right close by.
BL: Right, right. And actually, not a lot of people know that. I didn’t even personally know that Buddy only started off with three January shows.
BL: That’s pretty interesting. Almost makes you kinda think – he must really love Chicago and the people of Chicago.
MI: He’s got to love it because he could live anywhere in the U.S. Chicago may not be the nicest place to live year round, but we’re lucky he lives right here. And, I’m lucky to live here too.
BL: Right, absolutely. I think we all are.
BL: You have a lot of memorabilia…a lot.
MI: Yeah. [pullquote]I only showed half of it to you. The other half I have scattered at my mom’s house because my wife would kill me if she knew how much I really had.[/pullquote]
BL: That’s funny. Ok, so what led you…this might not be the right word but, to “enshrine” Buddy Guy in your own home?
MI: I thought some of the stuff they had at the club was really cool, and I thought it would really look cool on my walls and stuff. Then when I started collecting it, I thought to myself, wow – I’d also like to make some of my own stuff that Buddy would appreciate, and that could be unique to myself and Buddy. So I started to manufacture some of my own stuff that I thought would be a tribute to Buddy.
BL: Right, and you did some guitars too?
MI: I have four one-of-a-kind guitars. They’re actually the Buddy Guy Stratocaster models. Then I modified them to different colors and different dot patterns, but trying to keep as close as possible to the Buddy design that was originally put out so I wouldn’t be taking away from the real spirit of the Buddy Guy guitar and/or memorabilia.
BL: Do you have a favorite guitar of those?
MI: I have a gold metal flake that just absolutely shines like a bass boat in the sun. And I have a beautiful purple guitar.Both the gold and purple are white polka-dot. Those are my favorites of the electrics because they are unique colors and what I would consider a beautiful representation of a guitar.
BL: Sure. Does your wife have a favorite?
MI: Umm…Any one that she can throw at me or try to throw out. No, my wife doesn’t have a favorite one. She kinda thinks I’m a little bit crazy to continue to buy polka-dot guitars, but she forgives me.
BL: Well, that’s a good wife.
MI: Obviously, I’m married to a saint.
BL: Right. Do you have in your mind a favorite Buddy show? Like a particular year or venue?
MI: Wow! That’s a super tough question because of course, no show is ever the same. Buddy never does the same show the same way, ever. He can be playing the same songs, and it’s nowhere even close to the same show. He’s had so many people playing with him in his club, or out of the club, or at different venues that you just never know what’s going to happen. That’s the most exciting part. And what makes it my favorite show that night is that anything can happen and anyone can show up.
MI: It could be raining out, it could be snowing, it doesn’t matter. You’re gonna see something that basically you’re not going to believe unless you’re sitting there watching it. So I can’t say that every show is my favorite, but there’s only really been a few times that I walked away not completely in awe of the guy
BL: What’s your favorite thing about Legends? Because you’re there often.
MI: There are many things that are great about Legends. Obviously, the first thing is the staff. The people there treat me very nice, they treat my friends nice; I see the way they treat people that come in from out of town. It’s the way they interact with the people. They know some people are there just one time because they’re from out of the country and they make certain these people are treated well. I love the staff, the music, and the food. It’s phenomenal for a “quote” blues bar. The food is like a five-star restaurant. So you’ve got great food, you’ve got phenomenal entertainment, and a great staff. It’s a total package – it’s the whole thing. That’s what Buddy Guy’s is. Legends is a complete experience and there’s not just one thing, it’s everything.
BL: Nice, nice. What about the fans?
MI: Oh my God, I forgot that! Over the years, I’ve met so many people. There have been retired people, young people, foreign people…I always try to sit down with them, talk with them, exchange addresses and stay in contact. The people I’ve met over the years and the other fans make it so much more enjoyable because we’re all a family – The Superfans. And I’m not the only one. [pullquote]There are many Superfans out there. Those other Superfans, they make it so much more enjoyable because we’re almost like family. We’ve been seeing each other for over twenty years.[/pullquote]
BL: Right. What is your favorite piece of memorabilia?
MI: Wow…wow! I have a couple of unique – very very unique things of Buddy’s. Some things that no one else has because Buddy and his management team have been very generous to me. The things that are one-of-a-kind, that are unavailable to the public – those are the most memorable things. I do have a few prototype guitars that came to Buddy as prototypes that eventually became Fender’s Stratocaster line. I was very lucky to be given those by his management team. Those things, the ones that are one-of-a-kind are the most memorable pieces I have.
BL: You have a Legends logo on your walkway out here?
MI: Yes, we had to redo the driveway and I told my wife I was going to put this little tiny plaque in the driveway somewhere about Buddy Guy. And she said, “Ok.” Then I got to thinking how beautiful and nice a stainless steel, three-foot round Legends logo would look in the sidewalk as compared to a little tiny plaque, and that’s how I ended up doing it. It caused a little rift in the family, but eventually I was forgiven. And again, another one-of-a-kind piece. When I showed Buddy, he laughed.
BL: Well hopefully never. What’s a typical reaction from other people seeing this and hearing about it?
MI: Everyone always asks, What is that?” “Who’s Buddy Guy?” Or if they know Buddy Guy they ask, “Oh did Buddy see that?” They always ask me why I did it. Everyone’s house has unique stuff in it – a special kind of decorating or motif. I want to see how much Legends stuff I can get in here before my wife kicks me out. Which could happen because I think she’s near the end and is like “Ok Mike, this Buddy thing’s got to slow down a little bit.”
BL: Ok, funny question. In a Kung Fu fight, who would win between Nixon and Castro?
MI: Oh I would say Castro because those Cubans are a little more crazy than Californians. Oh wait, I can’t say California because Nixon and I were born in the same town – Whittier, California.
BL: Nixon is “Tricky Dick.”
MI: Yeah, umm…I would say Castro, because of the cigars.
BL: I see. So, the smoke attack?
MI: Yeah, the smoke attack.