Thursday, July 30, 2009
Today another B-Day wish saluting George "Buddy" Guy. The legendary guitarist turns 73 years old today.
Buddy guy was born in Lettsworth Louisiana in 1936. He learned guitar the same way many other poor black musicians did in his day by nailing a string to the wall of the shotgun shack he grew up in. At 17 his father bought him a real guitar. In 1957, at 21 he moved to Chicago, also in the same way that many other southern black musicians did throughout the 40's and 50's in search of work and to escape the haunted past (not to mention present) of the south.
There is not enough that can be said about Buddy's talent, innovation, performing, and influence that he has had over blues and rock & roll. He has been called the bridge between the two forms and rightly so. Buddy was at the forefront of the new Chicago blues movement of the late 50's and early 60's, where wild and loud single note guitar playing was fast replacing the harmonica and slide guitar as the main emotive instrument fronting the blues at the time. While it was B.B. King and T-Bone Walker who wrote the book on this style, players like Otis Rush, Magic Sam and Buddy himself were expanding it. Buddy Guy's playing though, was wild and imaginative playing with furious speed as well as dynamic tenderness that set the standard for ALL guitarists to come. Not everyone was impressed at first and the legend has it that his label boss Leonard Chess called his playing "noise" and demanded he turn his amplifier down on studio sessions for them but later apologizing in embarrassment and crediting guy with foresight after the blues rock boom of the late 60's and bands like Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience were enjoying massive success. Still Guy's records are packed with fiery playing and ecstatic singing and his live performances were fast becoming legendary and influencing. Jimi Hendrix, in fact, was an early pupil and would sometimes cancel his own shows if he knew Buddy was around to catch him in the small clubs that he was electrifying. Guy would walk into the crowd mid-show, play one handed, flirt with women up close and do it all in stride. Never missing a beat. Tricks that he has said he learned from Guitar Slim whom he would follow around in Louisiana as a young man.
Buddy's career was not perfect and for a while he suffered the same fate as many other bluesman like him in the 60's and 70's, ironically struggling in a time when rock guitarists like Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and many more who owe a debt to Guy's style, flourished. Unlike many other peer artists of his sort he did in fact enjoy a rather fruitful resergence in the 80's and 90's when, ironically again, blues music was at it's most homoginized and polished state. But with glowing praise from Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn and others', attention was once again brought to him which revealed not only that he certainly hadn't gone anywhere but that he had only improved with time.
I've seen Buddy 3 times now all in this decade and they have been highlights of my showgoing career. He's still going at 73 and showing no signs of slowing. I had a cassette tape recording of the video below when I was 17 and I was blown away several times daily by it. I'm also delighted to see it here on youtube because it may be my favorite performance by him, which is rare for me to decide on for any artist. Also I should point out that it is from a 1970 movie entitled "The Chicago Blues" and shows (though not in this clip, unfourtunately) and enchanted and bewildered Jimi Hendrix in the Crowd of this tiny club where class, most certainly, was in session.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY BUDDY! You are a living legend.