Buddy Guy is the last of a generation of innovative musicians that amplified the blues over the din of Chicago’s bustling streets creating an authentic, raw urban sound that captured the attention of the world and changed the face of rock ’n’ roll, R&B and hip-hop.
At 86, Buddy Guy is leaving the road, but not the blues. “If you don’t think you have the blues, just keep living,” Guy said with a laugh.
Buddy Guy brought Chicago blues to its pinnacle, his phrasing, originality and style topped it all. Not only that, but he’s a great guy. I’m still recovering from our last meeting. Take it easy, Buddy!
On stage Thursday evening at our US/EU Jazz – Blues Festivals 2023 Blues legendary guitarist Buddy Guy reminisced about his first visit to Brussels.
Of course, letting Guy finish his story is what this is all about. A Chicagoan by way of Lettsworth, La., he is 86 years old, on his Damn Right Farewell Tour. “You damn right, I’ve got the blues,” he sang, first thing, “From my head down to my shoes.”
He talked a lot. He played here and there, never to the electrified heights we associate with his prime. He sang that he was our hoochie coochie man, and that “I’m here to mess with you.” There were tricks, such as thrusting his hips to the quick hits of the drum – bam-bam! At one point he laid his Stratocaster guitar atop an amplifier and played the riff to Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love by batting the strings with a hand towel.
These kinds of shenanigans are typical of the blues-based showmanship model invented by artists such as Guitar Slim, a hero of Guy’s who used to walk through audiences while playing. Slim had a hit with The Things That I Used to Do in 1953. Seventy years later, Guy is doing the things Slim used to do, walking in the aisles at one point at Massey.
So, plenty of razzle, but little dazzle. Somewhere along the line, Guy (and many others of his generation), decided playing blues alone wasn’t enough to sell tickets. You say it is showmanship; I say it sells the music short. “If you don’t like the blues, you’re in the wrong house,” Guy said early on during his sold-out concert.
But it is his house, his blues, his rules. He indeed is our hoochie coochie man, making pretty women jump and shout: “Then the world wanna know, what this all about?”
Guy and his four-piece band ran through a number of songs, rarely finishing any of them. Instead, the music moved fluidly from one piece to another, with moments of conversation happening more than occasionally. “I’m gonna play something so funky you can smell it,” he said at one point.
The audience was encouraged to participate. Guy went so far as to admonish the crowd when it failed to sing along enthusiastically enough to his liking. Again, this is blues showmanship 101. Some people like it.
Buddy Guy showed off his guitar skills in short eruptive bursts that defied the building’s fire codes. Vocally, while he can no longer manage the high falsetto notes he once hit with ease, his lower register was fine on Muddy Waters’s She’s Nineteen Years Old, Little Milton’s Grits Ain’t Groceries and his own ballad Skin Deep.
It’s the last full-scale tour of Guy’s storied career and the last time fans will witness the blues master at his finest – enthralling audiences with his untethered playing style: bending notes to the breaking point and the parry and pause of his impeccable timing.
Exit tours are commonplace, but the “Damn Right Farewell Tour” is something more. It’s a bittersweet sendoff not just for the nine-time Grammy winner, but the very bedrock of the format fashioned by Guy and his long-passed peers.
Guy – whose latest album, The Blues Don’t Lie, came out last year – is quick to clarify that stopping touring does not mean the music will end. There may be more albums. “I think my record company is doing about as well as anything in the blues,” he notes. His January residency at Legends will continue for as long as he can play, too. “I’m still going to probably play some of the big festivals,” maintains the blues guitar legend.
Buddy Guy embodies the Blues. The blues have taken Guy from the cotton fields of Louisiana to the White House, twice. The state highway that runs in front of the plantation where he envisioned a way out of poverty as a sharecropper was named in his honor in 2018: “Most people get something like that named for them after they’re gone,” Guy explained. “I told the governor of Louisiana, what my mother told me, ‘Son, if you’ve got flowers for me, give them to me when I can smell them. I’m not gonna smell them on top of the grave.’ And I told the governor, ‘If you’re gonna give me a sign, let me see it.’”
“My oldest sister, she said, ‘I’m going with you,’” Guy recalled laughing. “She said, ‘We’re a long way from the outhouse to the White House. I’ll never forget it. And when they named that highway where I was born, you don’t dream of that – coming out of the south and being Black.cThey told me before I left Louisiana – my mom, dad, grand-momma, all of them – ‘Son, don’t be the best in town. Just be the best until the best come around,’” he said.
Buddy Guy talked about growing up impoverished in Louisiana, with no running water. This was context – for his life and, perhaps, for an understanding of the blues.
American writer and literary critic Ralph Ellison once described the genre as “an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one’s aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it, not by the consolation of philosophy, but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism.”
Guy does most of his own squeezing and fingering of the jagged grain on the neck of the guitar. His playing of How Blue Can You Get? answered the song’s own question. At the end of the show, he walked along the rim of the stage tossing guitar picks to the front-row people. Catch them if you can, but, better yet, catch where Guy is coming from.
Simon Sarg; Brussls, Belgium
PS: – In his speech, Simon Sarg evaluated the events of the past year and singled out the names of some bums who tried to cast a shadow on our festivals, this website and his name, which the audience accepted by shouting and cursing at such so-called and bad musicians and tearing their caricatures. In this report, we don’t even consider it necessary to touch on such lice…
Unfortunately, the video is not from our festival, but it was performed with the same composition and the same composition.