Skip to Main Content

Baton Rouge Blues: More BR Blues Musicians

Louisiana is known as the birthplace of jazz, but it's also a state with a strong blues tradition, and Baton Rouge, the state capital, has long been regarded as the incubator of Louisiana's blues culture.

More BR Bluesmen

raful neal

Raful Neal

Raful Neal is the real thing--a blues composer, singer and harmonica whiz who could wail and croon, sass and sashay just as comfortably at a Sunday church supper as in a jumpin', smoke-filled Chicago nightclub or an open-air festival for tens of thousands of enthusiastic fans. Born in 1936, Raful grew up on a tenant farm in Chamberlin, a little town outside of Baton Rouge. At age 17, Raful and Lazy Lester (then known as Lester Johnson) formed a band and played a circuit of country saloons like the inimitable Hobo Junction; as the band got hotter, the crowds got bigger. Lazy Lester eventually left for Chicago and guitarist Buddy Guy took his place.

The year Raful got married, the unimaginable happened: his favorite harmonica player, Little Walter, performed in Baton Rouge, heard Raful play harmonica, and invited the band to move to Chicago and sit in for him at gigs he couldn't do. Raful declined the opportunity, but Buddy Guy did move to Chicago the next year--and met fame there.  The year after Raful turned down Little Walter's invitation, he waxed his first single, "Sunny Side of Love," on the Houston-based Peacock label. Other singles followed on small labels and on the Jewel subsidiary, Whit Records. In the late 1970s and early '80s, Raful toured with his friend Buddy Guy and by 1987 had also become a Louisiana legend--the title, in fact, of his first CD, released by Fantastic-King Snake Records and reissued in 1989 by Alligator Records.

Over the years, Neal toured the world and in 1997, he contributed harp on a couple of tracks on Tab Benoit's album, Live: Swampland Jam. Neal's next LP, Old Friends, appeared in 1998. After a long bout with cancer, Raful Neal died in September 2004, leaving behind a great musical legacy -- and a very large musical family.

Neal Family

buddy guy

Buddy Guy

George "Buddy" Guy was born in 1936 and raised on a plantation near the small town of Lettsworth, La.   He was one of five children born to Sam and Isabel Guy.  His childhood was spent in rural poverty until, in 1957, he boarded a train to Chicago to begin a fabled career.  Within months of arriving in Chicago, Guy was playing the fabled 708 Club -- his first gig there followed a set by Otis Rush.  

By the early 1960s, Guy was doing session work at Chess Records and recording on his own.   1967’s I Left My Blues in San Francisco, his last effort for Chess, and 1968’s A Man and the Blues for Vanguard are two notable recordings from this period and albums that captured the musical imaginations of many rock artists.  Eric Clapton was a particular fan.  During the 1970s and ’80s, Guy recorded at least 20 albums, and his collaborations with harp master Junior Wells are considered to be some of the best of this period.   

In the last 20 years, Guy’s legend has grown. Releases like Live: The Real Deal (1996) and  Heavy Love (1998) and 2001’s Sweet Tea have demonstrated that Guy, while paying tribute to his blues roots, always looks to the musical future.  Internationally acclaimed, a Grammy winner, and an inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Buddy Guy has firmly cemented a musical legacy that confirms him as a Blues Legend.

lazy lester

Lazy Lester

Lazy Lester, born Leslie Johnson in Torras, La, got his stage name because of his supposedly lethargic demeanor.  He got his career start when he met Lightnin' Slim on a bus ride and volunteered to play harmonica for an Excello Records session when the scheduled harp man was a no-show.  He became Slim's harp player and a regular at the Excello studio.

In 1956, Lester went from being a sideman to a solo artist, recording "Sugar Coated Love," "If You Think I've Lost You," and "The Same Thing Could Happen to You."  He then took a 20 years hiatus until he was coaxed back into the studio to record Harp & Soul for the Alligator label in 1988.  Subsequent releases include 1998's All Over You and 2001's Blues Stop Knockin', featuring Jimmie Vaughan.  In September 2002, Lester received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Boston Blues Society.

e e