Starting with Muddy Waters all the way to Stevie Ray Vaughn – there are not too many guitar players that have escaped Buddy Guy‘s grasp …
Or – is it the other way around?
Eric Clapton, considered a rock God by millions of fans around the globe, had this to say about the man who grew up pickin’ cotton in Lettsworth, Louisiana;
“Buddy Guy was to me what Elvis was for others.” Clapton said in a 1985 Musician magazine article. “Buddy Guy is by far and without a doubt the best guitar player alive … if you see him in person, the way he plays is beyond anyone. Total freedom of spirit, I guess. He really changed the course of rock and roll blues.”
High praise from someone who created what many consider – the first ‘rock super-group’. Clapton formed Cream shortly after seeing Buddy Guy’s trio perform in England in 1965. Funny thing is – Buddy Guy is the last to know it …
“I just played with Jimmy Page at the Kennedy Center Honors and Jimmy come up to me and says – man, when I heard you I went crazy. I learned everything from your playing. He wasn’t even taking about my record, he was talking about an album I did a few licks on with Muddy Waters, the first live record I sat in on with Muddy – ‘Live at the Copacabana’. I said to Jimmy – man I did not know what I was doing, I was just trying to please Muddy Waters! Everyone took from someone else and evidently, as I was taking – I was also learning something about myself. I think – I went to pick up a nickel and I got a quarter instead …”
That is what stands out with Buddy Guy. His humbleness. He is a man who is admired by players such as Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones. A guitar player who – according to Buddy ‘must be’ doing something right …
” If I had done it the way he did it – I would be a rich man now. He is playing something that somebody hears and it is above what most guys do. I disagree that Richards is less talented than other guitar players , it is more the opposite.”
The Stones, having just announced that Chicago, Buddy’s home, is one stop on their 2013 ’50 and Counting Tour’, is one concert Guy will be attending since he has ‘time off’.
“I will be the first one there! Sure – If they ask me, I will open up for them but what I like to do is get in there so they don’t know I am there and listen to them and find out what they are doing because everything they do is so great.”
That is the irony in the music business.
The Buddy Guys and the Howlin’ Wolfs of the world never got their due when they needed it the most. Too often brushed aside by an industry while guys like The Rolling Stones and practically everyone involved in the British Invasion became world-famous and rich beyond their wildest imaginations. A music industry that has not tainted Buddy Guy’s love of playing guitar at the age of 77.
” I pick up the guitar, not as often that I used to but I do listen to music all the time. I have a bad habit – on Friday night I listen to the radio. That is what I always did. I learned, not by books – by listening. Right now I am listening to a lot of Gospel music and I try to pick something up from that. In case you don’t know, a lot of the Blues came from Gospel music.”
B.B King – according to Guy, one of the players who were schooled in ‘church music’ …
‘You had Mahalia Jackson and the Five Blind Boys and I could go on …” Says Buddy. ” People who were into that before Leo Fender and Les Paul amplified the guitar. The guitar took off when T-Bone Walker and B. B King starting playing the orchestra chords with the guitar. I kinda base myself on that …”
Guy admits he listens to Gospel to return to his roots. Unfortunately, in Chicago, there are not that many Gospel stations. So Buddy jumps in his car and drives to spots where he can pick up the signal. Lately – he has discovered a satellite station that plays his ‘favorite music’. Fortunately for him – he can stay home more often now and search out stations that play another type of music whuch Buddy does not think gets enough air play …
“They don’t have too many stations that play the Blues anymore and I can’t figure out why. The Blues is the father …” Explains Guy.” I was just listening to Muddy Waters last night and he once made a record called ‘The Blues Had a Baby and They Named it Rock n Roll’. They should be playing the Blues on radio stations … it’s what started Rock n Roll … ”
Buddy’s All Star band, which he pieced together elegantly and ‘heavenly’ in his biography; ‘When I left Home’ – consists of Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, Fred Below, Stevie Ray Vaughn and his dear old departed friend – Junior Wells. It is a band made of ‘ghosts’. All players, with the exception of Buddy – sadly in another realm. Blues heaven …
Yet – what about today? Who would Buddy Guy place in his band that are amongst the living? The walking, breathing Blues players …?
“Oh man – that’s a tough one.” Admits Guy. ” There are so many great players out there. One guy who I would have for sure in my band is Quinn Sullivan. If you do not know him, check him on YouTube. This kid was seven years old when he first played with me and I had to check to see if it was his amplifiers he was hooked up to. I could not believe it was this kid that was playing. I would take that kid and so many others in my band … I would have so many, it would be an orchestra not a band …”
According to Buddy, the Blues are alive with the kids. Buddy is one of their biggest supporters even if it means getting ‘flack’ for it. Sometimes, people say to him that a kid ‘don’t know the blues’ because they are kids.
“Man – I got Quinn playing some gigs with me on tour. He is thirteen years old now. We are putting a record out in June. You have a few young guys that are so talented and guys say … Buddy? What are you doing? These guys are too young to go onstage. I say give the kid a chance – these guys are doing it. This is tomorrow’s music and these kids deserve a chance. I mean if a guy starts playing at sixty – I say man … that’s too late! The ages of six and seven are when you get them going …”
Buddy Guy is an advocate of the Blues and it’s history. It is one of the reasons he waited so long before publishing his memoirs. He wanted the truth to be known …
“I was approached some years ago to do a book and I held back because some authors wanted me to lie. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted whoever got the book to read the truth about the blues musicians. They finally agreed to let me tell as much truth as I could remember about great players such as Johnny Lee Hooker. I did not want to jump up and write a book and say this is my experience. My experience was being a student of Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker and Howlin’ Wolf. I just wanted a book that should have come out years ago by anybody who wrote it to tell the truth. I did not learn anything in school, I learned everything by listening to these giants of music. I wanted to set the record straight …”
Thanks to Buddy Guy, the story of the Blues is on the right path. You can read ‘the truth’ in his autobiography; ‘ When I Left Home’ and see the man in person delivering the Blues truthfully – the way only Buddy Guy can. He will be in Montreal on April 19th as part of the Jazz All Year Round Series. He is playing at the Metropolis – showtime is 8pm.
Don’t expect a set-list …
According to Guy, if he starts doing that – he will be playing to make Buddy Guy happy. Instead he goes with the moment on stage and picks up on the feel of the audience and acts according to their vibe – musically.
I’m believing that the blues makes life better wherever it goes – and I’ll tell you why: even when the blues is sad, it turns your sadness to joy. And ain’t that a beautiful thing?
-excerpt from ‘When I left Home’