Kicking off a dynamite evening of his own brand of Chicago blues, Buddy Guy owned the house at New York’s B.B. King’s from the opening lines of “Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues.” Backed by a scorching hot band, right from the outset, keyboardist Marty Sammon’s first solo caused the sold-out crowd to sit up a little straighter and listen up.
Guy’s got a mischievous streak as wide as his smile, introducing songs with “I’m going to play you something so funky you can smell it!” and well into John Lee Hooker’s “Five Long Years,” interrupting the Have you ever been mistreated? lyrics by pointing to a front-row listener and declaring, “You know what the fuck I’m talking about, don’t you!” When the crowd didn’t sing along to Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man” as loudly as Guy would have liked, he told us that recently in Japan, “They didn’t fuck it up like you just did.” We didn’t make the same mistake twice.
During his own song, “74 Years Young,” (which is itself four years old), Guy reminded us that he’s no spring chicken, but you can’t tell from his performance. Despite a couple of interruptions for some unkind words about rap music that a 20-something might not agree with, Guy is as youthful and vibrant as someone a quarter of his age. If we had any doubts, his duet on Cream’s “Strange Brew” with the opening act, 15-year-old prodigy Quinn Sullivan, dispelled them.
All photos by Arnold Goodman
A highlight of any Buddy Guy performance is his “walkaround,” where he walks offstage and plays from the crowd. We asked him how that part of the act came about, and Guy told us:
“I introduced Guitar Slim back in the ’50s, and all I heard was the guitar—he came in the door playing. Back then, you didn’t have the electronics like I do now, so he had a 150-foot long wire plugged into the amplifier. I said, I want to shake my wrist like B.B., but I want to act like Guitar Slim. Today, if I don’t walk offstage, people say, ‘He’s not well.’ I got branded with that, and now I don’t feel comfortable until I do it.”
Besides his tremendous musical talents, Buddy Guy is appealing for his obvious humanity. With the prolific blues and country writer Gary Nicholson, Guy co-wrote “Skin Deep,” with the reminder, “We all gotta be careful how we treat one another…Underneath we’re all the same.” That’s not some lip-service—Guy lives it. From his consistent championing of young guitar players who will carry on the blues to the respect he pays his own band members—like ceding center stage to his talented side guitarist, Ric “Jaz” Hall, or his obvious pleasure in Sammon’s flamboyant, improvisational keyboard solos—this man possesses a generous spirit, and, damn right, that’s how we got the blues.
– Suzanne Cadgène