ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, APRIL 8, 1993
By Steve Newton
Back in the ’60s, it is said, Jimi Hendrix was so inspired by Buddy Guy’s guitar-playing that he would go to blues clubs and lay a tape recorder at Guy’s feet to capture his performances. Not only Hendrix, but rock greats such as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Stevie Ray Vaughan found inspiration in the way Guy would wring every drop of feeling from a raucous blues note.
Guy himself has had his share of inspirational moments, though none as memorable as the day when, as a teenager living on a Louisiana plantation, he got his very first taste of electric guitar.
“Lightnin’ Slim came out here on Sunday evenin’ and got up on a storefront,” confides Guy, on the phone from a Holiday Inn in Buffalo, N.Y. “He plugged that thing in, and I couldn’t believe that was a guitar. I said, ‘What the hell is he doin’?’, ya know. He was playin’ the ‘Boogie Chillen’ and I had 30 cents allowance that Sunday and I dropped it in his hat.
“Something like that you never forget. I don’t think I would have forgotten that, even if I hadn’t turned out to be a professional guitar player myself.”
Thanks in part to Lightnin’ Slim’s impromptu performance of that John Lee Hooker classic, Buddy Guy has gone on to become one of the most revered members of the blues community—for reasons fans will no doubt appreciate when he plays the Commodore Ballroom on Wednesday (April 14).
“I’ve been comin’ there for Drew [Commodore owner Drew Burns] even when I didn’t have no records out,” says Guy. “But I’m thankful now that I’ve got a pretty good record out there [Feels Like Rain] and a few of my fans are showin’ up and bringin’ some more of their friends to see me”
Guy is also quick to give thanks to another bluesman, Guitar Slim, for introducing him to the guitar that defined the sound of his early Chess recordings: the Fender Stratocaster. These days, Guy tours with an assortment of guitars—some Fenders (Guy was recently honoured with a signature-model Strat built to his specifications by Fender’s custom shop), some jazzy hollow-body Guilds, and one of B.B. King’s Gibson-made “Lucille” models.
Guy even had a chance to perform with the veteran Blues Boy on King’s upcoming Blues Summit release. (“That was one of my dreams, man,” says Guy of the experience.) Like Blues Summit, Guy’s recently released Feels Like Rain is a star-studded affair, although not all of the guest performers come from a blues background. Country star Travis Tritt, for instance, shared the vocals with Guy on a version of John Fogerty’s “Change in the Weather”.
“This Travis kid is such an entertainer,” enthuses Guy. “To have someone like that, with the stardom and success he has had, to just say, ‘I want to get in the studio with Buddy Guy,’ it brings out somethin’ in me. At first I didn’t think I could do nothin’ with that song, till I heard that guy open his mouth. He brought out the best in me on that thing.”
The unlikely connection between the two musicians began when Tritt followed Stevie Ray Vaughan’s example and recorded Guy’s “Leave My Little Girl Alone” for one of his own releases.
“We was drivin’ on my bus one day,” recalls Guy, “and my road manager came up and said, ‘Guess who recorded one of your songs?’ He didn’t think I listened to people like Travis and all these country and western guys. I said, ‘My man, I’m sittin’ here right now thinkin’ about recording a Randy Travis thing.’ He said, ‘I didn’t know you listened to that!’, and I said, ‘You crazy? That’s good stuff, man!’ Oh yeah.”
Another surprise for Guy’s blues-loving followers is his duet with former Free and Bad Company crooner Paul Rodgers on the new album’s first single/video, “Some Kind of Wonderful”. A pop hit originally recorded by the Soul Brothers Six and then popularized in the ’70s by Grand Funk Railroad, it’s the kind of tune that could turn off the blues purists in Guy’s fan club. He hopes that won’t happen.
“I would love for my hard-core blues fans to try to feel like I felt about this album,” he says. “I know I was gonna get criticized from them for doin’ it, but blues… You don’t hear it on your radio or television like equal to the other music. Tell ’em [the purists] I’m just tryin’ to slip in the back door, so I can be in the house with the rest of the guys, and then I can explore the blues more than I have done in the past. And tell ’em I didn’t forget about ’em, ’cause I’m a blues man from my heart.”
Although Guy may have gotten off the blues track a bit with “Some Kind of Wonderful”, there’s no reason to write off his latest batch of tunes as a bid for commercial acceptance. Feels Like Rain might not be as bluesy as his previous release, the Grammy Award-winning Damn Right I Got the Blues, but there are still plenty of his trademark piercing blues wails on tunes like Muddy Waters’ “She’s Nineteen Years Old” and Ray Charles’s “Mary Ann”. The opening cut, “She’s a Superstar”, has Guy cutting loose with some serious string-bending. It’s one of the two songs he wrote on the new album.
“I dedicated that to my wife, my family, and all the other beautiful women throughout the world,” says Guy. “It’s a funny thing about women: we can’t get along with ’em, but we sure can’t do without ’em. So I love ’em. I just figured it was time for me to say somethin’ about all the beautiful women, man.”
At 56, Guy has been travelling the blues road longer than most, and he’s managed to outlive many of the great blues artists whose paths have crossed his. The word survivor comes to mind.
“I know I’m a survivor,” says Guy. “I mean we’re all only here for a time, you know—we’re here for a reason, not here for a season, man. All our days are comin’, so I’m just hopin’ I can keep our music goin’ on till some other young generation of people carry on for us, hopefully.
“It looked very dim a few years ago, but now things look a little better for the blues, and hopefully I can hang around a little longer till I can maybe get a couple more good albums. At least I’m ridin’ in my coach now, where I can lay down and sleep when I get ready. I done made that little step, thanks to Damn Right I Got the Blues.”