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Buddy Guy

One of the blues genre’s greatest guitarists of all time, journeyman BUDDY GUY embodies the true essence of playing for the sheer hell of it; HENDRIX was a big fan. On a good day Buddy was quite simply the most devastating bluesman around, capable of sharing a stage with ERIC CLAPTON, ROBERT CRAY and ALBERT COLLINS, and still stealing the show. However, on the wrong night he could be the complete opposite. He wasn’t a temperamental man per se, just a musician’s musician that simply had more talent than he himself knew. On February 22, 2012, there was no bigger honour than when President Barack Obama joined him and friends (including MICK JAGGER, JEFF BECK and GARY CLARK JR.) on stage at the White House to sing `Sweet Home Alabama’.
Born George Guy, July 30, 1936, Lettsworth, Louisiana, he learned to play on a homemade 2-string guitar by copying heroes MUDDY WATERS, JOHN LEE HOOKER, B.B. KING and LIGHTNIN’ HOPKINS; their songs he’d heard on the radio. Teenager Guy was sitting in with the likes of SLIM HARPO and LIGHTNIN’ SLIM by the mid-50s. He moved north, as many bluesmen of the time did, to Chicago in 1957, joining the Rufus Foreman Band, before quickly establishing himself as leader of his own band.
His first singles, `Sit And Cry (The Blues)’ and `You Sure Can’t Do’, were released for Artistic Records in the late 50s to little success, although his career blossomed when he met WILLIE DIXON; the latter taking GUY to Chess Records where, as part of the resident house band, he played in sessions by MUDDY WATERS and HOWLIN’ WOLF. Buddy also made recordings in his own right with a typically frenzied `First Time I Met The Blues’ – a track compared to ROBERT JOHNSON at his best – and `Stone Crazy’, a song that became an R&B Top 20 hit.
In addition to his solo work he made a promising partnership with JUNIOR WELLS (though JW got more out of it than Guy), and contributed to the mouth-harpists early releases, “Hoodoo Man Blues” (1965) and “It’s My Life, Baby” (1966).
GUY duly made a series of excellent albums for Vanguard Records, namely A MAN & THE BLUES (1968) {*8} and THIS IS BUDDY GUY! (1968) {*8} – the latter live at New Orleans House, Berkeley, California – which combined classic Chicago blues with contemporary soul. A year later, Buddy, jazz pianist Junior Mance and the aforementioned WELLS, recorded a joint effort in BUDDY AND THE JUNIORS (1970) {*7}. The bluesman finally won through to a mainstream rock audience when he supported The ROLLING STONES on their 1970 tour.
A raft of exploitation LPs surfaced prior to his appearance in the film, “Chicago Blues” (1972). These included the belated Chess-sanctioned/1967-recorded LEFT MY BLUES IN SAN FRANCISCO (1969) {*8} and the 1969-recorded HOLD THAT PLANE! (1972) {*7}, though it was the man’s MEMPHIS SLIM credits on “South Side Reunion” (1971) and the JUNIOR WELLS collaboration, “Southside Blues Jam” (1970), that stirred up the pot. In fact, the latter pairing swapped top billing for 1972’s Atco Records album, BUDDY GUY & JUNIOR WELLS PLAY THE BLUES {*7}, a record produced by ERIC CLAPTON, Tom Dowd and Ahmet Ertegun. A few years on, GUY and WELLS combined with bassist BILL WYMAN at the Montreux Jazz Festival, which was later issued as another archival release.
Having been a major influence on ERIC CLAPTON, JEFF BECK and others, STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN was another to sing the blues man’s praises. Although Buddy’s solo career took a bit of a nose-dive later on in the decade, he was a constant of JUNIOR WELLS’ Chicago Blues Band, and released only in France, the July ’77 recording LIVE IN MONTREUX (1978) {*6} attempted to claw back the years.
The 80s were as testing as the previous decade, but there was compensation for his lack of homeland support (after 1981’s STONE CRAZY! {*7}) when French and UK albums came out intermittently. Alternatively titled “The Blues Giant” and recorded during a one day break from an October 1979 French tour (with a quartet including his brother Phil on rhythm guitar), this was a loud album, as fervent as anything GUY had put on record. It included a spooky rewrite of the title track as `Are You Losing Your Mind?’.
Buddy had consequently found a home at the London-based JSP Records (run by John Stedman), where he cut a handful of solo sets, including a couple with his aforementioned brother Phil Guy: BUDDY & PHIL (1981) {*7} and “The Red Hot Blues Of Phil Guy” (1982). The first of these, THE DOLLAR DONE FELL (1982) {*4} was recorded live at The Checkerboard Lounge, October 1979, whilst BREAKING OUT (1982) {*6} and D.J. PLAY MY BLUES (1982) {*6} were both recordings from 1980; it was said that Buddy had lost some of his passion, his mojo, for the blues.
In 1990, GUY appeared with CLAPTON during his “24 Night” Albert Hall concerts, and the following year he signed to the UK-based label, Silvertone, releasing the excellent, critically-acclaimed, DAMN RIGHT, I’VE GOT THE BLUES {*8}. A blues/rock album with original songs by GUY and JOHN HIATT; plus covers of LOUIS JORDAN, BIG JAY McNEELY, WILSON PICKETT and EDDIE BOYD material that were recorded with the help of CLAPTON, JEFF BECK and MARK KNOPFLER (Jeff was noticeable on a masterful solo on `Mustang Sally’), it reached the Top 50 in the UK and gave BG his first Billboard 200 placing in his homeland, bringing him back into the limelight as one of the genre’s greats.
1993’s FEELS LIKE RAIN {*7} – which included stunning covers of JAMES BROWN’s `I Go Crazy’, MARVIN GAYE’s `Trouble Man’, MUDDY WATERS’ `She’s Nineteen Years Old’, RAY CHARLES’ `Mary Ann’, JUNIOR WELLS’ `I Could Cry’ (featuring JOHN MAYALL) and GUITAR SLIM’s `Sufferin’ Mind’, it also benefitted from the help of BONNIE RAITT who played slide on the title track; PAUL RODGERS performed on attendant single `Some Kind Of Wonderful’, and TRAVIS TRITT on `Change In The Weather’.
Spurred on and unwilling to let his foot off the pedal, Grammy winner BUDDY GUY kept up his momentum with the release in 1994 of SLIPPIN’ IN {*7}. Recently reunited with JUNIOR WELLS at his Legends club, producer Eddie Kramer grinded out another superb set of tracks; augmented by STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN alumni Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton; not forgetting the piano work of Johnnie Johnson on `7-11’. The latter would stick around for 1996’s LIVE: THE REAL DEAL {*7}, a concert with the backing of guitarist G.E. Smith and horns-a-plenty, Saturday Night Live Band.
HEAVY LOVE (1998) {*7} continued GUY’s resurgent run of albums, and although formulaic in approach, with as always several covers saddled next to a peppering of the bluesman’s own compositions, he significantly roped in new kid on the block, JONNY LANG, on `Midnight Train’.
SWEET TEA (2001) {*8} had OAP Buddy stepping up to the plate once again. Armed with raw and rustic interpretations of no less than four JUNIOR KIMBROUGH cuts (long before The BLACK KEYS re-discovered the man), GUY went from the acoustic `Done Got Old’ opener, to the mind-blowing 12-minute `I Gotta Try You Girl’.
BLUES SINGER (2003) {*6}, BRING ‘EM IN (2005) {*7}, Top 100 breaker SKIN DEEP (2008) {*7}, and Top 50 entry LIVING PROOF (2010) {*7} – the latter a pseudo-autobiographical account – kept the newly-appointed Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee’s motor running until his blistering LIVE AT LEGENDS (2012) {*6} set; recorded a few years back, check out medleys of `Boom Boom’ & `Strange Brew’ and `Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ & `Sunshine Of Your Love’.
The star-studded double CD, RHYTHM & BLUES (2013) {*7}, surprised no one in the biz when it cracked the Top 30. Featuring the peppering of Muscle Shoals Horns as well as big names, KID ROCK (`Messin’ With The Kid’), KEITH URBAN (`One Day Away’) and BETH HART (`What You Gonna Do About Me’) on the first “Rhythm” disc, and AEROSMITH (`Evil Twin’) and GARY CLARK JR. (`Blues Don’t Care’) on the flip “Blues” disc, the concept worked for the most part. Despite the swagger and bluster on show, the grittiest grooves were producer Tom Hambridge’s inserts, `What’s Up With That Woman’, `Too Damn Bad’, `Meet Me In Chicago’ and `I Came Up Hard’.
Sticking with the people and the formula, and gleaning yet another chart entry, umpteenth set BORN TO PLAY GUITAR (2015) {*7} struck gold; Buddy’s mighty big Stratocaster was made to play Chicago blues. Whilst one track was dedicated to the late B.B. KING: `Flesh & Bone’ (featuring VAN MORRISON), there was room on board for the ETTA JAMES-inspired JOSS STONE on the BROOK BENTON cover `(Baby) You’ve Got What It Takes’. The stars of the show though were BILLY GIBBONS on `Wear You Out’, and former FABULOUS THUNDERBIRDS harmonica man Kim Wilson on `Too Late’ and `Kiss Me Quick’.
Turning 80 was no big shake for GUY, and he must’ve been the only octogenarian to reach a transatlantic chart spot a la THE BLUES IS ALIVE AND WELL (2018) {*7}. Remarkably, the bluesman was still performing live when he went off-road to record the set; another Grammy winner that showcased MICK JAGGER (on the slow-burning `You Did The Crime’) and both JEFF BECK and KEITH RICHARDS on `Cognac’. And if one thought it was an exclusive party for old timers, in gate-crashed newbie star JAMES BAY on the horizontal `Blue No More’. Hinting this might be his last, Buddy closed the set with `End Of The Line’.
© MC Strong/MCS/GRD 1995-1998 // rev-up MCS Nov2019

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