The Bill Magee Blues Band will play high-energy Chicago blues from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in Hoyt Park on Sunday, Aug. 13, part of the 2017 Scripps Ranch Symphony in the Park Series. (photo courtesy of Bill Magee Blues)
Bill Magee brings blues to Hoyt Park
Scripps Ranch has a chance to witness an authentic blues master Sunday as Bill Magee will deliver his brand of Chicago blues to Hoyt Park during a free concert starting at 6 p.m.
“I love playing these outdoor concerts and I especially love playing Scripps Ranch,” Magee said. “I did it a couple of years ago and I enjoyed it so much. They really get into it. They love to dance and we just have a good old time.”
The Bill Magee Blues Band consists of drums, saxophone, keyboards, guitar and bass, but this isn’t some generic blues band fresh off the shelf. No, Magee has a long and distinguished blues career, so the Hoyt Park audience is in for a real treat. Magee has performed alongside such legends as Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Otis Redding, John Lee Hooker, Wilson Picket and Bo Diddley. In addition, he has played in venues big and small, including Madison Square Garden, the Apollo Theater, the Fillmore East, Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium.
Magee was born in Mississippi and later moved to Ithica, New York when he was 13. He picked up his first guitar at age 14 and learned to play. At 16 he joined his first band with a bunch of college students from Cornell University, he said.
“When I got out of high school I knew I wanted to be a musician, so I moved to the Big Apple and that’s where I hooked up with Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, James Brown and Otis Redding,” Magee explained.
“Jimi was not a big star then. He was just another guitar player in New York City,” he said. “In fact, he wasn’t even using the name Jimi Hendrix. He was going by Jimmy James.”
Magee joined a band with Hendrix called Jimmy James and the Blue Flames and played in 1964 and 1965.
“So, we played the Village, played Connecticut and upstate New York and places like that,” he said.
It was about 1966 when Jimi Hendrix went to England and the rest is history, Magee said.
“About the same time, I went on the road with James Brown and after that, B.B. King. I used to work with B.B. King. I used to work with Otis Redding,” Magee said. “I put together my own band, the Kansas City Playboys. I toured Russia, France, England, as well as all over the United States.”
Magee’s roaring blues whirlwind slowly began to unwind as the disco era began.
“In New York we used to play like seven nights a week … Then the disco thing came and we went down to three or four nights a month because everybody wanted a deejay,” Magee explained. “Then in the ’80s here comes hip hop and I wasn’t playing any hip hop. So, I got out of the business and retired from it.”
He was burned out, Magee said. He had three children and his wife was expecting another. He said he was always touring and wasn’t around much to watch his children grow up, so he told his wife he would get a day job and stay around to watch his fourth child grow up. He believed that was the end of his music career.
“I told my wife, ‘If I ever decide to leave New York, I’m going to move to San Diego. That place is beautiful,’” he said.
Magee worked a normal job in New York from 1984 until 1987 when he packed up his family and moved to San Diego where he got a job as a salesman for the Yellow Pages phone directory. But his music career would be revived about six years later.
“In 1993, I woke up one morning and, like overnight, I told my wife, I said, ‘Look, I got to play again,’” Magee said.
So, he began slowly, playing at coffee shops for tips.
“You don’t forget how to play, but you get rusty,” he said.
Six months later, he started to venture into night clubs for performances again. When he was younger he played around 200 shows a year, he said, but today he is much more selective about where and when he plays.
“I don’t tour as much as I used to because touring is hard,” he said. “When I was young I loved it, but as you get older, going on the road is hard, man.”
The last extended tour for the Bill Magee Blues Band was in 2016 when the band played in Canada for six weeks. The band recently returned from Las Vegas. On Sunday night, the blues will be right here in Scripps Ranch in a big way.
“We’ll be playing strictly Chicago blues. That’s all we’re going to be playing all night long,” Magee said. “It’s high-energy. It will definitely get you up on the dance floor.”
Enjoy the Bill Magee Blues Band from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in Hoyt Park on Aug. 13, part of the 2017 Scripps Ranch Symphony in the Park Series. This concert is sponsored by Sharp HealthCare. Visit symphonyinthepark.org.