Familiar faces will accompany local blues guitarist Johnny Vernazza when he takes the stage during Zydeco-and-blues fest Gator by the Bay on May 7 and 8. During the two shows, Vernazza is bringing revered Bay Area musicians whom he played alongside in the ’70s.
“I was told that I could invite some special guests to join me at the fest, and they were the first ones that came to my mind,” says Vernazza from his home in Oceanside. During the past 40 years, Vernazza has played slide guitar for Chuck Berry, Steve Miller, Greg Allman, and George Thorogood.
On May 7, Vernazza, known as Johnny V, will trade licks with legendary bluesman Elvin Bishop. This will be the second such reunion since Vernazza left the Elvin Bishop Band in 1978.
Vernazza started playing with Bishop in the early ’70s when the two met in San Francisco’s North Beach music scene. In 1974, the Elvin Bishop Band hit the charts with “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.” The song peaked at number three in the U.S., and the album it appeared on, Struttin My Stuff, was certified gold the following year.
That was the first of two gold records for Bishop and Vernazza that year, as the two played slide on the Marshall Tucker Band album Where We All Belong, which also went gold in ’74.
“It’s going to be great to be onstage again together,” says Vernazza. “He is a master slide player with the sweetest tone there is. He can hit one note and you know who it is.”
Playing with Bishop won’t be the only musical reunion for Vernazza, though. The following day, the guitarist will join the backing band for blues-harp player Norton Buffalo on the main stage. The band will also back folk-blues singer Maria Muldaur.
Muldaur had her biggest hit in ’74 with “Midnight at the Oasis” and was a frequent backup vocalist in the Jerry Garcia Band.
Vernazza and Bishop will play on Saturday at 3 p.m. Norton’s Knockouts and Maria Muldaur play Sunday at 2 p.m.