Lee Atwater may lead the list as the hippest Republican campaign manager for President. Inviting over a dozen of the country’s most revered blues, soul, and R&B musicians to participate in the 1989 Inaugural concert welcoming George H.W. Bush to the White House, Atwater, himself a guitarist who recorded an album with B.B. King and appeared on Late Night with David Letterman, assembled a roster of talent rarely seen before or since. The DVD, A Celebration of Blues and Soul, presents over two hours of that evening’s performances from classic artists Chuck Jackson, Percy Sledge, and Bo Diddley, to modern blues champions Joe Louis Walker, Delbert McClinton, and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
While each of the black-tie players gives memorable efforts, it’s the stand-out appearances by Diddley, whose signature beat boils over, and Vaughan, including a wicked pairing with mentor Albert Collins, that lift the collection from archival curiosity to keepsake. Just 18 months prior to his tragic passing in 1990, Vaughan attacks his headlining set with triumphant swagger, a searing “Frosty” with Collins and Vaughan’s brother Jimmie, then four with his band Double Trouble including an abbreviated but full-throttle “Scuttle Buttin’” over the production credits. Diddley’s stint comes earlier in the proceedings, his electrified takes on a trio of tunes bringing palpitations to the party. Essentially a live jukebox of ‘50s and ‘60s Stax Records standouts fills out the rest of the spectacular show, including Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman,” Eddie Floyd’s “Knock on Wood,” and Sam Moore’s “Soul Man.”
Individually throughout their careers these musicians enjoyed moments at the top, but never collectively had their respective genres of music been given such a prestigious podium. The significance of this Inaugural concert goes beyond an offering to supporters from the newest commander-in-chief. Instead, it seems a personal accomplishment for Atwater, an extension of gratitude for the art form, and a statement of a nation that the blues and its bearers deserve the crown for more than just this one night in January.