Times Staff Writer

The sixth annual Long Beach Blues Festival got off to such a smooth, amiable start Saturday that the first half of the two-day event felt like a massive backyard barbecue. Under clear skies at Cal State Long Beach, most of the 6,100 fans casually munched on fried chicken and spareribs while soaking up the sun and seven hours of blues, rock and jazz.

The emphasis was horn-accented urban blues, although headliner Bo Diddley closed the show with a one-hour set of twangy, throbbing roots rock. The 56-year-old rocker squeezed every bit of life--and then some--out of his signature “Bo Diddley” syncopated beat with a 10-minute version of the song that bears his name. He followed with three more tunes that were only slight variations on his first hit.

Second-billed Linda Hopkins turned in the day’s strongest set with an ebullient performance of such classics as “Every Day I Have the Blues” and “God Bless the Child.” Projecting a beatific smile and vocals so powerful that they made amplification seem superfluous, Hopkins ignited the religious fervor of a revival meeting on her final number, the gospel standard “Down by the Riverside.”

Preceding Hopkins, organist Jimmy Smith’s quartet was hampered by sound problems through most of its jazz-flavored set, and Smith often came through as little more than an indecipherable drone. Vocalist and alto saxophonist Eddie (Cleanhead) Vinson livened up the mid-afternoon with a short, but spirited four-song set on which he was backed by tenor saxophonist Lee Allen’s seven-piece band.

Chicago guitarist Otis Rush, who followed opening act Roomful of Blues, got off to a slow start but finally exhibited some of the stinging instrumental work for which he is known on the sinister, minor-key blues “Double Trouble.”


Transitions between acts were handled efficiently, averaging a brisk 15 to 20 minutes. Sunday’s lineup was scheduled to include the Blasters, Albert Collins and Papa John Creach.