Chicago Bluesman Buddy Guy Goes Acoustic



By Steve Newton

Chicago blues great Buddy Guy has played the Commodore Ballroom many times during his 45-year career, but the next time he visits the historic venue he won’t be sporting his trademark black Strat with the big white polka dots. For the first time here, the guitar legend will be performing with the Buddy Guy Acoustic Ensemble, which includes guitarist Jimbo Mathus and, as Guy explains from his Windy City home, “a couple more guys out of California who are pretty cool with their acoustic stuff”. The focus will be on material from last year’s Blues Singer CD, which was modelled after the 1963 Muddy Waters, Folk Singer album, featuring a 27-year-old Guy on guitar.

“That’s what my record company approached me with,” relates the four-time Grammy winner. “They asked me did I remember doin’ that with Muddy, and I said, ‘Man, how could you forget sitting in the corner with Muddy Waters playing and singin’?’ So they asked me would I go to Mississippi and give it a shot, and I said, ‘Yeah, but you know, sometime I feel embarrassed tryin’ to sing songs like Son House and some of those guys, who were naturals.’ I’m just a student still tryin’ to learn it, to try and keep their traditions alive.”

Much of Blues Singer is just Guy on guitar and vocals, accompanied by Mathus on second guitar, but there is the odd guest appearance. Both B.B. King and Eric Clapton take solos on “Crawlin’ Kingsnake”, one of three John Lee Hooker tunes included.

The CD was dedicated to the memory of Hooker, who died in 2001 at the age of 83. “What a great loss to the blues,” notes Guy of Hooker’s passing. “He was always full of fun. All the old blues cats could make you laugh if you were hungry and hadn’t got paid, and he was one of ’em.”

Although his acoustic show at the Commodore on Saturday (February 21) should entice those who favour a folksy approach to the blues, the next night will see all the electric-guitar freaks in town following Guy’s southerly course. That’s when the six-week Experience Hendrix Tour hits Seattle’s Paramount Theatre and he joins an all-star tribute to Jimi that includes performances by Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Living Colour, Jerry Cantrell, Hubert Sumlin, Double Trouble, and Hendrix’s old rhythm section of Mitch Mitchell and Billy Cox.

Strangely enough, Guy isn’t even aware of the gig’s formidable lineup when we chat. “I’m always the last to know,” he points out. “With my people, they don’t ever tell me who I’m with, they just tell me: ‘You gotta play.’ ”

Another tidbit of information that gets a rise out of Guy concerns his Vancouver-based buddy and jamming partner, Storman Norman Casler, and the fact that Casler’s long-running Sunday Blues radio show was abruptly axed by CFMI last month. As well as providing listeners with a weekly dose of killer blues, the gravel-voiced DJ and harmonica ace had used the program as a springboard to producing three charity CDs, the first of which featured him and Guy trading riffs on Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago”.

The guitarist sounds genuinely shocked by the news, but his surprise quickly fades when he’s told that corporate “restructuring” is the culprit. “That’s happenin’ to everybody,” he says. “A lot of people losing jobs now. It’s the world of technology, man. Sooner or later I don’t think they’ll need a disc jockey, you just push a button and the radio station gonna take care of the rest.

“And the guitars might even go, too,” adds the 67-year-old picker. “You don’t got to go see a band no more, ’cause a lot of these super rock people not singin’ anymore anyway, man, and with that mike around their head they’re doin’ more dance. And then they’re playin’ the record with this very expensive equipment there, you know. They got the routine down, and the young people are eatin’ it up.”

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