29 September 2010
Buddy Guy - 74 Years Young
"When I was 21,” says Buddy Guy, "some of my older friends, who are no
longer with us, they’d say, 'You’re still a baby.' And then they said the same
thing when I was 31, then 41, and I thought, ‘Man, when do I get old?’

I've been hearing that ever since I first went to Chicago - 'You’re still wet behind
the ears.' So when do I get dry?"

With his new album, Living Proof – out 26 October on Silvertone Records – Guy
takes a hard look back at a remarkable life. At age 74, he’s a Rock and Roll Hall of
Fame inductee, a major influence on rock titans like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and
Stevie Ray Vaughan, a pioneer of Chicago’s fabled West Side sound, and a living
link to that city’s halcyon days of electric blues. He has received 5 Grammy
Awards, 28 Blues Music (formerly W.C. Handy) Awards, the Billboard magazine
Century Award for distinguished artistic achievement, and the Presidential
National Medal of Arts. Rolling Stone ranked him in the top 30 of its "100 Greatest
Guitarists of All Time."

Yet as the album's opening track declares, today Buddy Guy is "74 Years Young,"
still searching for new sounds and fresh ideas. The start of each new decade
always seems to inspire him (see 1981’s Stone Crazy, 1991’s Damn Right, I Got
the Blues, and 2001’s Sweet Tea), and on Living Proof, such songs as "Thank Me
Someday" and "Everybody's Got to Go" are strikingly personal meditations on his
past, his legacy, and his mortality.

"The life I’ve lived is what we’re singing about," he says. "These songs are
exactly what I came up through in my life, what I’ve experienced." He credits
producer/drummer Tom Hambridge (who co-wrote all the songs on Living Proof,
and has previously worked with such artists as Johnny Winter, Delbert McClinton,
and Susan Tedeschi) with helping to capture and preserve his innermost
thoughts. "He would come in with a pad and a pencil," says the guitarist, "and
while we were having conversations, he was writing down things I said and
making songs out of them."

Making a Racket

Still stinging from the restrictions that the legendary Chess Records put on him
during his youth ("they said I was just playing noise, and wouldn't let me get
loose like I wanted to"), Guy also says that his music continues to benefit from
the support of his record company and the team around him. “These guys said, ‘It’
s your guitar, your studio, you just go be Buddy Guy’ - and I’ve been trying to be
that for 50 years,” he says. “I had the freedom of playing with only me to say,
‘Let me try that again.’”
.
Though Buddy Guy will forever be associated
with Chicago, his story actually begins in
Louisiana. One of five children, he was born
in 1936 to a sharecropper’s family and
raised on a plantation near the small town
of Lettsworth, located some 140 miles
northwest of New Orleans. Buddy was just
seven years old when he fashioned his first
makeshift “guitar” - a two-string contraption
attached to a piece of wood and secured
with his mother’s hairpins.

On “Thank Me Someday,” he recounts his
early efforts with the instrument, and his
ability to keep his faith when his family
chased him out of the house for making a
racket.
“I would go out in the yard, on the levee, to practice,” he says. “We didn’t have
electric lights or running water - you could hear that guitar a mile away in the
country, so I’d have to go a long way away so they didn’t say ‘Get out of here
with that noise!’”

No Genre Distinctions

In 1957, he took his guitar to Chicago, where he would permanently alter the
direction of the instrument. His incendiary style—still in evidence all over Living
Proof—left its mark on guitarists from Jimmy Page to John Mayer. “He was for me
what Elvis was probably like for other people,” said Eric Clapton at Guy’s Rock
and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2005. “My course was set, and he was my pilot.”

Though the name Buddy Guy will always be associated with the blues, this set of
songs illustrates the true range of his playing. Songs like “Much Too Soon” and
the blistering instrumental “Skanky” come directly out of the roadhouse rhythm &
blues tradition. To Guy, though, such genre distinctions are meaningless
afterthoughts.

“Before the ‘60s, we were always just R&B players,” he says. “Then they
branded us—there was Chicago blues, Memphis, Motown, and so we were
considered blues players. But in Chicago, if you wanted to keep your gig, you had
to be able to play all the top tunes on the jukebox, whether that was Lloyd Price
or Fats Domino or Ray Charles. Now if you play a Little Richard song, the
audience looks at you like you’re crazy, but we always had to do that for a black
audience back then.”

King and Santana as Guests

Perhaps the most significant landmark on Living Proof is that, for the first time,
the incomparable B.B. King stopped by to play and sing on a Buddy Guy album.
The two giants reel off the introspective “Stay Around A Little Longer” like the old
friends they are—but Guy still doesn’t take his relationship with the King of the
Blues for granted.

“B.B. created this style of guitar we all play,” he says. “I grew up listening to
people like him, T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, and I still take 95% of my playing
from him. So to have someone like that in the room with you makes chillbumps
come up on your skin.”

The only other guest on the mostly stripped-down Living Proof is Carlos Santana,
who joins Guy on the slinky “Where The Blues Begins.” Noting that he and Junior
Wells covered Santana’s “Vera Cruz” more than three decades ago, Guy says,
“When I’m playing with someone that good, I just have to close my eyes and
say, ‘Here I come!’”

Asked what exactly it is that he considers himself Living Proof of, Buddy Guy
answers modestly—he doesn’t mention his talent or his influence, but focuses
instead on his perseverance. “Do you know how many guys I started out with
who just threw up both hands and quit?” he says. “My first wife said to me, ‘It’s
me or the guitar,’ and I picked up my guitar and left. We still laugh about that.
But I’m still picking away at it, I know nothing else.”

“The other day, I heard B.B. King say, ‘I can’t slow down, because I still think
there’s somebody out there who doesn’t know who I am yet.’ But, you know,
blues players don’t stop, they just drop. It’s like my mother used to say about
religion—I’m too far gone to turn around!”

Recently, Buddy Guy wrapped shooting the “Stay Around A Little Longer” video
with B.B. King in Las Vegas and just held “An Evening With Buddy Guy” at the
Grammy Museum’s theater in Los Angeles where he discussed his storied career
and performed a selection of songs. Right now the indefatigable Mr. Buddy Guy is
on tour throughout North America.

Text courtesy of
Blind Raccoon

Links: Buddy Guy website and MySpace, Buddy Guy's Legends, Jive / Silvertone

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