By Steve Newton
“I know I’m a survivor,” 56-year-old Buddy Guy told me back in 1993. “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.”
Considering how few blues albums are tearing up the iTunes charts these days, Guy’s hope for a comeback of the Mississippi sound seems rather bleak. But it’s not from any lack of trying on his part. The Chicago guitar legend (Go ‘Hawks!) turns 79 next month, and the day after his birthday RCA Records will release his new studio album Born To Play Guitar.
If there ever was an apt title for a blues album, that’s it. Remember how Buddy used to sound back on that Stone Crazy album?
Now that’s what I call born to play! And raised to rip it up, too!
Nowadays Guy isn’t quite so fierce on the frets, but he’s still out there delivering his true-blue message, as he’ll do during his Vancouver Jazz Festival show at the Orpheum Theatre tonight.
I don’t want to take up too much of this valuable Internet space going on about how great Buddy Guy is, and how worshipped he is by guitar greats far and wide, but I will mention that time Jimi Hendrix cancelled a gig so he could sit at Guy’s feet with a tape recorder.
“I didn’t know who he was at the time,” Guy told me back in ’91, before a PNE gig. “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.’ ”
It goes without saying that Buddy Guy will be spreading the gospel of the blues till the day he dies. He doesn’t seem like the type to let little things like his health get in the way of his appointed task.
“I’m feeling fine,” he told me in 2001, having just turned 65. “You know, every once in a while when you get my age some illness’ll get ya. I had what they call the gout for a coupla weeks there and it was very painful in my toe. But I had ’em laughin’. I told ’em, ‘It’s not gonna stop me from playin’, ’cause I can still play standin’ on one leg.’ ”