The Grandfather of the Blues: Buddy Guy

Most (maybe all) of his contemporaries are dead. Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Albert King; all gone.

Seven-time Grammy winner Buddy Guy is still standing. He’s 81 years old and can still rock the house down, make his guitar weep and make you laugh out loud. He’s the living spirit of the Chicago Blues and an amazing live act. Yes, WC likely sacrificed another couple of decibels in his hearing range. But it was worth it.

Buddy Guy and Band at the Morrison Center, Boise, Idaho June 21, 2018

Buddy Guy and Band at the Morrison Center, Boise, Idaho June 21, 2018

(It’s a iPhone photo, they’re all iPhone photos; Morrison Center won’t let WC take a real camera to shows there.) Buddy and his Damn Right Blues Band were at the Ann Morrison Center Thursday night and gave a fine show.

He dressed in faded denim bib overalls and sneakers, a call back to his sharecropper origins. Along with a fine selection of tunes from the blues catalog – most of which he has recorded or backed someone who recorded them – he gave us some blistering solos, sweet ballads, great old yarns and reminiscences, and his uncanny impressions other blues artists. His impression of Eric Clapton on “Strange Brew” was simply amazing.

Even though he is 81 years old, he gave the crowd his signature audience tour, playing and singing as he wandered through the crowd.

Buddy Guy at the back of the house, giving the crowd "Snaking In, Sneaking Out"

Buddy Guy at the back of the house, giving the crowd “Sneaking In, Sneaking Out”

The band was good, especially Marty Sammon on keyboards and Ric Hall on guitar. It’s not always easy to know where Buddy Guy is gong to go in a tune. He’s famous for his quick shifts in volume, song mood and tempo. The band responded wonderfully.

New York Times music critic Jon Pareles wrote in 2004,

Mr. Guy, 68, mingles anarchy, virtuosity, deep blues and hammy shtick in ways that keep all eyes on him…. [Guy] loves extremes: sudden drops from loud to soft, or a sweet, sustained guitar solo followed by a jolt of speed, or a high, imploring vocal cut off with a rasp…. Whether he’s singing with gentle menace or bending new curves into a blue note, he is a master of tension and release, and his every wayward impulse was riveting.

It’s all true; if anything, Pareles understates how completely absorbing a live Buddy Guy gig is.

His influence is unmatched: Jimi Hendrix’s high voltage electricy blues: Buddy Guy was doing it a decade earlier. Clapton’s work, and especially Cream: Clapton says he owes it to Buddy Guy. Stevie Ray Vaughn: Guy “plays from a place that I’ve never heard anyone play.”

Former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman said,

Guitar Legends do not come any better than Buddy Guy. He is feted by his peers and loved by his fans for his ability to make the guitar both talk and cry the blues. Such is Buddy’s mastery of the guitar that there is virtually no guitarist that he cannot imitate.

There’s a legend – it may even be true – that the late, great Muddy Waters passed the torch to Buddy shortly before his death when he said, “Don’t let them goddam blues die on me.” Guy has kept that promise by passing on reverence to the blues to the next generation

It’s all true, and it was all on display at Thursday’s show. It was a privilege to be there.