One of the things about being president is some nights you want to take a walk or a drive but you can’t,” President Obama said at the White House February 21st. “But there are other nights where B.B. King and Mick Jagger come to your house and play a concert.” The president reveled in 12-bar bliss as an all-star cast including Jagger, King, Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck, Derek Trucks and a house band led by Booker T. Jones put on a spectacular tribute to the blues in the White House’s East Room, filmed for a PBS special. The vibe before the show was loose, even when the president showed up to watch a lengthy soundcheck. “He was just relaxed, sitting in the back in his loafers,” says Jagger. “It helped everyone feel at ease.”
The set list covered Delta blues, Chicago blues and beyond. King, 86, dusted off his classic “The Thrill Is Gone”; Beck ripped into his finger-tapping instrumental “Brush With the Blues”; and Susan Tedeschi and Warren Haynes nailed a heart-wrenching version of Etta James‘ “I’d Rather Go Blind.” Jagger, meanwhile, riled up the crowd with a surprising set including the Stones’ “Miss You” and Otis Redding‘s “I Can’t Turn You Loose.” “It wasn’t really blues, but I wanted to treat it like a club,” he says. “I practiced for two weeks before – then it’s like riding a bicycle.”
But the night’s most electric moment came when Guy urged the president to sing a verse of his hometown anthem, “Sweet Home Chicago.” “If I got him to sing something, maybe the people will pay attention to the blues a little more,” Guy says. “It’s one of the highlights of my career. If you come from the cotton fields like I did, and now you’re up there in the White House playing for the commander-in-chief and the First Lady, how high can you go?”
This story is from the March 15th, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.