think tank

Some 'Hootchie' going on among DC lawmakers

When Buddy Guy took to the makeshift stage in the Senate Caucus Room on Wednesday, he probably didn't know that he was playing the blues in the room where lawmakers investigated the Titanic's sinking, the Teapot Dome scandal and the Watergate break-in.

Guy, resplendent in black suit, dark shirt imprinted with stars, gray homburg, black-and-white shoes and enough gold and diamonds to make Jacob the Jeweler jealous, played a custom Martin guitar with his name and other highlights inlaid in blue.

I took in this detail because I am a well-trained, professional observer. That, and the fact that I was about one yard away made it impossible not to notice. It's a pretty rare opportunity to get that close to a legend. I wasn't going to pass it up.

Guy's presence in the Beux Arts room is something the entertainment industry's enemies can't stand. Consumer Electronics Assn. president Gary Shapiro has often complained to me about the ability of the music industry, and to a lesser extent the motion picture industry, to bring in the talent to highlight their cause. Even though he appeared as a guest of the RIAA and sometime record- industry foe the Digital Music Assn., it's pretty clear that most of the congressional aides, press types and other hangers-on didn't show up at the Digital Entertainment Expo to look at Verizon's FIOS or Microsoft's Zune. They came for Guy.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, introduced Guy. I know Stevens is a music fan. I saw him at EMI's party before the Rolling Stones played the Verizon Center, and here he was again quoting Guy's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech.

"If you don't have the blues, keep living," Stevens said. "Some of us who have to go from the majority to the minority have to think about that."

Guy may not have known the history of the room, but he wasn't above playing politics as he lashed out at broadcasters.

"You don't hear music like this on the radio anymore. I don't know why," he said. "I'd love to turn on my radio and hear Muddy Waters singing like this."

With that pointed intro, he and fellow guitar virtuoso Ric Hall launched into "Hootchie Cootchie Man."

The entertainment industry feels pretty good about Washington right now. The Democrats have taken control, and some feel they have an opportunity to expand their policy objectives. Bringing people like Guy in to entertain the staff brings out a lot of good feeling for the industry in Congress.

That doesn't mean that it'll be easy. Just getting copyright, tax and telecommunications changes onto an agenda crowded with other competing policy issues is going to be difficult. You can bet the other lobbies aren't sitting idly by, either. They also feel that they could gain an advantage depending on how the Congress shapes up.

Who takes the key committee posts will make a big difference. If, for example, Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., doesn't take over the Judiciary Committee's copyright subcommittee, leaving it to Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., that could spell trouble. Boucher, a favorite of the anti-copyrightists, championed legislation poking holes in the entertainment industries' legal umbrella.

The industry also has to make friends with a new batch of Democrats who are more conservative than the party's liberal Hollywood-New York-Nashville wing.

If it isn't careful, the end of the 110th Congress could see the entertainment industry singing the blues.
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