ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, AUG. 22, 1991
By Steve Newton
Blues guitar great Buddy Guy sure has seen some interesting things during his 55 years on this earth. How many players can say that Jimi Hendrix once cancelled a gig to sit at their feet with a tape recorder?
“I didn’t know who he was at the time,” says Guy, who plays the PNE Exhibition Bowl this Wednesday (August 28). “But he came up and asked me, ‘Could I tape it?’ And my manager at that time was whisperin’, ‘That’s Hendrix, that’s Hendrix.’ And I’m goin’, ‘So what? Who in the hell is that?’ But within 20 minutes I knew who he was, and I thought, ‘Jesus Christ, maybe I shouldn’t have said that.’ ”
Then there’s the time when, according to Guy’s BMG bio, Muddy Waters force-fed him salami sandwiches in the back of a Cadillac.
“It wasn’t a Cadillac,” corrects Guy, “it was a red 1958 Chevrolet station-wagon. But the rest of it’s true. I went into this club, and some stranger dragged me up to a jam with Otis Rush, and when I came off I was tellin’ people how hungry I was, ’cause it was my third day without any food. Somebody heard me and went and called Muddy.”
Guy regularly won a bottle of booze at weekly Chicago blues jams, but thirsty bluesers like Waters, Rush, and Freddy King would always polish it off before Guy had even left the stage.
“I won it every Sunday I played,” says Guy, “but I never did get a drink. They would have this bottle of whisky sittin’ there on the bar, and the winner would win it according to the applause from the audience. They could tell I had won it, so they would just drink it up and look at me, saying, ‘We know you’re gonna win it, but you’re not gonna drink it, that’s one damn thing for sure.’
“I didn’t drink worth a damn anyway. But it was an experience. I couldn’t outplay these people, man, but I could put on a show, and Chicago wasn’t used to much show. I wanted to stick there and learn, so I had to do something to make somebody notice me.”
Guy got noticed all right, and not just in the Windy City. His recordings as a sideman with Waters and Howlin’ Wolf—and with singer-harpist Junior Wells—spread his legacy from England (where young bucks like Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck gloated over his inspired playing) to Texas (where a pint-sized Stevie Ray Vaughan copped his licks). Both Beck and Clapton—along with Mark Knopfler—made guest appearances on Guy’s new album, Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues, which he claims is the recording he’s always wanted to make.
So what’s left for the man who Clapton says is “without doubt the best guitar player alive”? Mainly, just a burning desire to make sure that the music he helped sustain doesn’t fade away.
“There’s not many of us left, the old blues players, and I’m not a baby any more myself. So I hope I could just get a few more albums out and maybe influence some other young people to not let the blues die. And if I could keep that alive, I’d be the happiest man in the world.”