Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Buddy Guy: Stayin' Around a Little Longer

I remember years ago, at his Chicago night club, I asked Buddy Guy for his autograph. He grabbed a cocktail napkin from the bar, signed it, and handed to me.
Since then, our paths have crossed frequently, usually with him on stage and me in the audience. One time I caught him at the Pocono Blues Festival. And I was at the Chesapeake Blues Festival one year when a powerful lightning storm forced him to stop in mid-performance — ironically just as he was singing “Feels Like Rain.”
I have to admit, every time I see 74-year-old Buddy Guy, it’s like looking at a piece of living musical history. Here is a man who hung out with Freddie King, Muddy Waters and Magic Sam and who inspired Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
No wonder that I tried to interview Guy after catching his show last week at the Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia. There were all kinds of things I wanted to know. What did Muddy teach him all those years ago? Did Hendrix really sit in on one of his concerts as reportedly shown in footage from Martin Scorsese’s blues documentary “Lightning in a Bottle?” Did the late Chicago record company executive Leonard Chess really object when Guy soloed loud?
I also wanted to know about his new album, “Living Proof,” which went on sale Tuesday. I was particularly curious about “Stay Around a Little Longer,” Guy’s new single with B.B. King. Guy and King are arguably the only blues performers in the world who enjoy rock star status, and hearing them together would naturally make any hardcore fan like me curious.
I also was curious about Guy’s relationship with Carlos Santana, who also guest stars on the new CD and who played on Guy’s 2005 album, Bring ‘Em In.
But damn it, I couldn’t catch up with him that night. Beldon’s Blues Point—and I’m not saying this sarcastically, just as fact—is probably not a large enough publication for him to go out of his way for.
Still, anyone attending one of his shows could probably gather almost the same amount of material as through a face-to-face interview, because a Buddy Guy concert is a performance and a music history lesson rolled into one.
It’s also a comedy show, as Guy delivers one-liners with timing that would make Richard Pryor proud.
“How many pictures you got?” he said to one fan who was snapping away on a camera phone. The guitarist then revealed that, before camera phones, he never ate cheese. “Now every time I see someone coming at me with the phone I start hollering cheese! “ he said with an ear-to-ear smile.
Later, apparently flustered about something during a rendition of “Meet Me with Your Black Drawers on,” he grumbled “I didn’t write this fuckin’ song!” The audience, which had suffered its own frustrations as it tried to sing along, laughed.
Guy’s discussion of musical history was a show-and-tell session where he used his guitar to show the styles of contemporaries Clapton, John Lee Hooker, and Hendrix, the last of whom he acknowledged by playing with his teeth.
Couched in his message was a friendly but definite jab at White America for overwhelmingly ignoring Waters and other blues greats in the days before British rock bands like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Cream began recognizing them.
“The Rolling Stones and Mick Jagger, they were trying to get on the television show “Shindig” And they were trying to get them to play and they said ‘Okay, we’ll agree to play if you let us bring on Muddy Waters,’” Guy said. “And white America said ‘who in the hell is that?’ And Mick got offended. He said: ‘You don’t know who Muddy Waters is and we named ourselves after one of his famous records, which is called Rolling Stone?”
Ardent Buddy Guy fans, the predominately white audience either didn’t catch the jab, ignored it—or were so caught up in the music that they didn’t care.
But earlier in the show, one fan had cared about something else: a Buddy Guy concert at Constitution Hall last year that was cancelled due to snow.
When the man shouted his complaint to the stage, Guy didn’t miss a beat. “That wasn’t my fault,” He said, tongue-in-cheekly.The audience erupted in laughter.
Maybe because B.B. wasn’t with him, Guy didn’t play “Stay Around a Little Longer.” But he did comment on it after someone from the audience yelled out that they wanted to hear it. “Let me stay and thank the Lord for letting me stay around a little longer,” he said.
I hope Buddy does stay around a little longer. The blues needs him. And so do we.

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