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Buddy Guy

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Buddy Guy

Buddy Guy (born George Guy, July 30, 1936 in Lettsworth, Louisiana) is an American blues music and rock music guitarist, as well as a singer. Known as an inspiration to Jimi Hendrix and other 1960s blues and rock legends, Guy is one of the greatest exponents of Chicago blues made famous by Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. He learned guitar on a homemade instrument, influenced by both widely known and local blues guitarists. Eric Clapton once said of him, "By far and without doubt the greatest guitarist alive today".

Guy is known for his showmanship; for example, he plays with drumsticks and walks into the audience whilst playing, the latter being a gimmick he picked up from a local blues guitarist at an early age (joining or leaping into the audience has also long been common in both American popular and gospel music, as in the earlier work of Big Jay McNeely or the Dixie Hummingbirds).

Guy first recorded on bass guitar for legendary Chess Records , where he was mainly used as a session guitarist to back Chess recording artists. It was claimed Phil and Leonard Chess would not allow him turn up the volume on his amp. He recorded on Junior Wells sessions for Delmark Records under the pseudonym Friendly Chap in 1965 and 1966. His career took off during a blues revival period in the late 1980's and early 1990's, and was sparked by Eric Clapton's request that Guy be part of the '24 nights' all-star blues guitar lineup at London's Royal Albert Hall and Guy's subsequent signing with Silvertone Records.

Notable albums include Stone Crazy, Damn Right I've Got The Blues, Feels Like Rain, Blues Singer, Buddy's Baddest: The Best Of Buddy Guy, and Junior Wells' Hoodoo Man Blues.

His club, Buddy Guy's Legends (http://www.buddyguys.com/), is a popular club in Chicago.

Contents

Biography

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

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B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Eric Clapton at the 2005 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Ceremony

Guy was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 14, 2005 by Eric Clapton and B.B. King. Clapton recalled he bought the American Folk Festival Of The Blues record in the early 1960s and thought Buddy Guy blew away all the other blues greats on it (these 1960s festivals had a profound impact on the history of popular music). Later, in 1965, the teenage Clapton saw Guy perform in London’s legendary The Marquee Club and was impressed by Guy’s playing, his looks, his star power. "Musically, Buddy was a star. He was to me what Elvis was for others. My course was set and he was my pilot…Buddy personified all that the modern bluesman needed to be. His technique was and is unique.” He remembered seeing Guy pick the guitar with his teeth and play it over his head – two tricks that later influenced Jimi Hendrix. He said that Guy’s playing still reduces him to a “helplessly ecstatic teenager.” Seeing Guy’s power trio perform also gave him the idea for a power trio format (Clapton later formed the seminal rock band Cream). B.B. King said of his famous guitar “I think Lucille liked him better.” Guy’s acceptance speech was concise: “If you don’t think you have the blues, just keep living.” According to the New York Post, the subsequent ‘blues summit,’ featuring Guy – supported by legends B.B. King and Eric Clapton – was a showstopper.

Influence

For almost 50 years Guy has astounded audiences with his flamboyant live performances of high-voltage blues and blues rock, predating the 1960s blues rockers. As a musician’s musician, he had a fundamental impact on the blues and on rock and roll, influencing a new generation of artists.

Guy's reputation spread to Great Britain, where young rockers like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and the Rolling Stones were seeking out American blues music and learning about Buddy Guy. His first trip to the U.K. was in February 1965, during which Rod Stewart acted as his valet and Guy shared a bill with the Yardbirds. Guy’s tour exposed his music to a whole new generation of British musicians eager to soak it up, repackage it, and turn around and sell it to Americans as the hip new thing. Guy was surprised to see how influential a role he played to white English guitarists who had cut their teeth learning his licks. That’s when he got to know Eric Clapton who said that he'd driven a long way in a van and slept in it just to hear Guy play! “Of course, I had a lot more energy than I have now—I was playing the guitar with my feet and throwing it up in the air—crazy stuff! But although I was getting to play overseas, back home I still didn't have a record. I thought that maybe it was because I played too loud and with too much feedback, then the next thing I know, Clapton and Hendrix are out there using the same tricks and selling millions of albums,” recalled Guy.

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A young Buddy Guy

Unfortunately, Guy’s career and fame were held back by the myopia and conservatism of his early record company as well as by “the scorn, diminishments and petty subterfuge from a few jealous rivals.” Chess Records, Guy’s record label from 1959 to 1968, refused to record Buddy Guy’s revolutionary style that was similar to his live shows. The Chess brothers were men who made and sold only blues records, and they didn't know what to make of the loud, wild, distortion-laden sounds that came from Guy's speakers. Leonard Chess (Chess founder and 1987 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee) denounced Guy’s playing as “motherfucking noise,” and as far as they were concerned, it wasn't the blues. Instead, in the early 1960s, Chess tried recording Guy as a solo artist with R&B ballads, jazz instrumentals, soul and novelty dance tunes, but none were released as singles. Guy’s only Chess album “Left My Blues in San Francisco” was finally issued in 1967. Most of the songs belong stylistically to the era's soul boom and were busy orchestrations designed by Chess men Gene Barge and Charlie Stepney. Chess used Guy mainly as a session guitarist to back Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Koko Taylor and other Chess stars.

Image: Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters and a young Buddy Guy Willie_Muddy__Buddy.jpg

“As the years passed, the guitarist (Guy) grew increasingly frustrated with the unwillingness of Leonard Chess to let him cut loose with the incendiary, rock-influenced licks that regularly wowed live audiences.” When Chess refused once too often, Guy left Chess Records in 1968. “When I got ready to go to Vanguard, that’s when Chess came to me and found out that Eric and his Cream and the Stones and Beck was hollering,” says Guy. “Leonard came and told us, ‘Jesus, that’s the shit you’ve been trying to sell me for the last 12 years, and now it’s sellin' like hotcakes!’ He bent over and said, 'Kick me!' " Donald Wilcox noted in his biography of Guy: “Leonard Chess would eventually realize his mistake in not recognizing Buddy's appeal in the clubs, or that much of the appeal of the British rock bands was based on the kind of 'noise' that Buddy was producing live…Still, Chess had not yet released a single album by Buddy Guy. What saved Buddy at Chess was his versatility." Ironically, Chess later released far more Buddy Guy albums (including compilations of unreleased sessions) after the artist left the label.

Had Buddy Guy moved to England in the early 1960s and spearheaded the bubbling blues-rock movement, history might have been very different. Guy reflects: "Sometimes I pinch myself and say, 'Why didn't I listen to Hendrix and them?' They said, 'Buddy, go to England!' …People like Eric Clapton said I should, too." “I felt close to Hendrix because he had to go to England to get his first recognition, and so did I." By the late 1960s it was too late for Guy. The heavy blues-rock bandwagon he inspired had left without him. For the next two decades Buddy Guy had to endure the neglect many blues and rock artists faced in their careers: As visionaries and pathfinders they are overlooked while their followers received the fame, recognition and fortune.

As DJRadiohead once observed: “Rock and roll just could not be the same without Buddy Guy.” Buddy Guy helped modernize the blues, “moving the blues forward without losing sight of its roots.”

Buddy Guy has been called the bridge between the blues and rock and roll. He is the historic link between Chicago electric blues pioneers Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf and popular musicians like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page as well as later revivalists like Stevie Ray Vaughan and John Mayer, all of whom made millions exposing blues music to the world. This was what Stevie Ray Vaughan meant when he said, "Without Buddy Guy, there would be no Stevie Ray Vaughan." Even Guitarist magazine observed, “Without Buddy Guy, the blues, not to mention rock as we know it, might be a heckuva lot less interesting today. Take the blues out of contemporary rock music – or pop, jazz and funk for that matter – and what you have left is a wholly spineless affair. A tasteless stew. Makes you shudder to think about it...”

In addition, Guy's pathfinding guitar techniques also contributed greatly to rock and roll music. Guy’s guitar playing was louder and aggressive; used pioneering distortion and feedback techniques; employed longer, exciting guitar solos; had shifts of volume and texture; and was driven by emotion and impulse. These lessons were eagerly learned and applied by the new wave of 1960s British artists and later became basic attributes of blues-rock music and its offspring, hard rock and heavy metal music. Jeff Beck realized in the early 1960s: “I didn't know a Strat could sound like that — until I heard Buddy's tracks on the 'Blues From Big Bill's Copa Cabana' album” (reissue of 1963 Folk Festival Of The Blues album) and “It was the total manic abandon in Buddy's solos. They broke all boundaries. I just thought, this is more like it! Also, his solos weren't restricted to a three-minute pop format; they were long and really developed.”

Guy could theoretically be considered the inspiration, directly or indirectly, for every rock power trio format since Cream (i.e., bands such as the Jeff Beck Group, Led Zeppelin, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Rush, Nirvana). Clapton admitted that he got his idea for a blues-rock power trio during his teenage years while watching Buddy Guy's trio perform in England in 1965. Clapton later formed the rock band Cream, which was “the first rock supergroup to become superstars” and was also “the first top group to truly exploit the power-trio format, in the process laying the foundation for much blues-rock and hard rock of the 1960s and 1970s.”

Eric Clapton said "Buddy Guy was to me what Elvis was for others." Clapton, who's not prone to hyperbole, insisted in a 1985 Musician magazine article that "Buddy Guy is by far and without a doubt the best guitar player alive…if you see him in person, the way he plays is beyond anyone. Total freedom of spirit, I guess… He really changed the course of Rock and Roll Blues." Recalls Guy: "Eric Clapton and I are the best of friends and I like the tune ‘Strange Brew’ and we were sitting and having a drink one day and I said ‘Man, that Strange Brew… you just cracked me up with that note.’ And he said ‘You should…cause it's your licks…’ " As soon as Clapton completed his famous Derek & the Dominos sessions (spawning “Layla”) in October 1970, he co-produced (with Ahmet Ertegun and Tom Dowd) the "Buddy Guy & Junior Wells Play The Blues" album with Guy's longtime harp and vocal compatriot. That record, released in 1972, ranks as being among the finest electric blues recordings of the modern era.

Image: Buddy Guy was a leading star at 1969 Supershow at Linoleum Factory, England that also included Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, Jack Bruce, Stephen Stills, Buddy Miles, Glen Campbell, Roland Kirk, Jon Hiseman. “The extraordinary jazz legend Roland Kirk…add an ethereal, spacey calm to the proceedings, only to have it shattered by Buddy Guy, Jack Bruce, Buddy Miles and Dick Heckstall-Smith jumping through 'Mary Had A Little Lamb' ” supershowdvd.jpg

In recognition of Guy's influence on Hendrix's career, the Hendrix family invited Buddy Guy to headline all-star casts at several Jimi Hendrix tribute concerts they organized in recent years, "calling on a legend to celebrate a legend." Jimi Hendrix himself once said that “Heaven is lying at Buddy Guy’s feet while listening to him play guitar.” Songs such as 'Red House', ' Voodoo Chile’ and ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ partly came from the sonic world that Buddy Guy helped to create. According to the Fender Players’ Club: “Almost ten years before Jimi Hendrix would electrify the rock world with his high-voltage voodoo blues, Buddy Guy was shocking juke joint patrons in Baton Rouge with his own brand of high-octane blues. Ironically, when Buddy’s stringtorturing chops and flamboyant showmanship were later revealed to crossover audiences in the late Sixties, it was erroneously assumed that he was imitating Jimi! In reality, it was the other way around, as a videotape from 1968 shows Jimi crouched at Buddy’s feet, tape recording his concert. When they spoke for the first time after the show, Jimi admitted that he had lifted quite a few licks from Buddy’s repertoire. For his part, Buddy had been only vaguely aware of Jimi Hendrix. Now, from our current vantage point, we can see that Buddy has clearly influenced everyone from Eric Clapton and the other British blues rockers on through to Stevie Ray Vaughan and his progeny.”

Stevie Ray Vaughan once declared, "He (Buddy Guy) plays from a place that I've never heard anyone play." "Buddy can go from one end of the spectrum to another. He can play quieter than anybody I've ever heard, or wilder and louder than anybody I've ever heard. I play pretty loud a lot of times, but Buddy's tones are incredible…he pulls such emotion out of so little volume. Buddy just has this cool feel to everything he does. And when he sings, it's just compounded. Girls fall over and sweat and die! Every once in a while I get the chance to play with Buddy, and he gets me every time, because we could try to go to Mars on guitars but then he'll start singing, sing a couple of lines, and then stick the mike in front of me! What are you gonna do? What is a person gonna do?!"

Image: SRV with Guy srv8-26(buddyguy).jpg

Jeff Beck affirmed, “Geez, you can’t forget Buddy Guy. He transcended blues and started becoming theater. It was high art, kind of like drama theater when he played, you know. He was playing behind his head long before Hendrix. I once saw him throw the guitar up in the air and catch it in the same chord.” Beck recalled the night he and Stevie Ray Vaughan jammed with Guy at Buddy Guy’s Legends club in Chicago: “That was just the most incredible stuff I ever heard in my life. The three of us all jammed and it was so thrilling. That is as close you can come to the heart of the Blues.”

Image: Jeff Beck with Guy guy.jpg

According to Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page: “Buddy Guy is an absolute monster” and “There were a number of albums that everybody got tuned into in the early days. There was one in particular called, I think, American Folk Festival Of The Blues, which featured Buddy Guy — he just astounded everybody.” Former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman: “Guitar Legends do not come any better than Buddy Guy. He is feted by his peers and loved by his fans for his ability to make the guitar both talk and cry the blues… Such is Buddy’s mastery of the guitar that there is virtually no guitarist that he cannot imitate.” Guy has opened for the Rolling Stones on numerous tours since the early 1970s. Slash: "Buddy Guy is the perfect combination of R&B and hardcore rock and roll." ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons: "He (Buddy Guy) ain't no trickster. He may appear surprised by his own instant ability but, clearly, he knows what's up." Lonnie Brooks: “Buddy Guy is a master. He’s the bravest guitar player I’ve every seen on a bandstand. He’ll pull you into his trap and kill you. He owns that bandstand and everyone knows it when Buddy’s up there."

Image: Guy performing with the Rolling Stones at the Orpheum Theatre, Boston h-withbuddyguyduringrockmebabybykevinmazurwiththankstoiorr.jpg


Image: Buddy Guy 07130035.jpg

Guy has won Grammy awards both for his work on his electric and acoustic guitars, and for contemporary and traditional forms of blues music.

Music

While Buddy Guy's music is often labeled “Chicago blues,” his style is definitely unique and separate. Indeed, Guy’s music often transcends categories such as blues and rock, and gets into what has been described as realms of sheer energy — "total freedom of spirit," as Clapton described it. His music can vary from the most traditional, deepest blues to a creative, unpredictable and radical gumbo of the blues, avant rock, soul and free jazz that morphs at each night’s performance.

Guy can go from one end of the spectrum to another – he can be outrageous, fast, loud, reckless or he can be quiet, sensitive and sultry. As Jon Pareles noted: "Mr. Guy, 68, mingles anarchy, virtuousity, deep blues and hammy shtick in ways that keep all eyes on him...(Guy) loves extremes: sudden drops from loud to soft, or a sweet, sustained guitar solo followed by a jolt of speed, or a high, imploring vocal cut off with a rasp...Whether he's singing with gentle menace or bending new curves into a blue note, he is a master of tension and release, and his every wayward impulse was riveting."

Buddy Guy’s work appeals to diverse tastes; few can fully appreciate his broad range, eclectic approach and immense talent. Some conservative blues fans and music critics believe that “Guy's 1960-1967 Chess catalog remains his most satisfying body of work” and disapprove whenever Guy’s music does not fit predictable, commercial or traditional blues formats. This limited view of Buddy Guy’s musical contribution discounts the pathfinding music Buddy was creating since his early live performances, some of which is captured in the American Folk Festival Of The Blues albums. Fortunately, artists like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page appreciated such music that was radical in the early 1960s.

Buddy Guy’s songs have been covered by Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, Rolling Stones, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Mayall, Jack Bruce, and others. A good songwriter, several of Guy’s early songs and licks were stolen, including allegedly by the late great Willie Dixon and Guy’s early record companies. Regardless, Guy is perhaps better known for his creative interpretation of the work of other songwriters.

As for Guy’s albums, traditional blues fans may appreciate “The Very Best of Buddy Guy,” “Blues Singer,” Junior Wells' “Hoodoo Man Blues,” “A Man & The Blues” and “I Was Walking Through The Woods.” Contemporary blues and rock fans may appreciate “Slippin’ In,” “Sweet Tea,” “Stone Crazy,” “Buddy's Baddest: The Best Of Buddy Guy,” “Damn Right, I’ve Got The Blues,” and “D.J. Play My Blues.” Guy's live show is featured in the video “Live! The Real Deal” and he performs in the DVDs “Lightning In a Bottle,” “Crossroads Guitar Festival,” “Eric Clapton: 24 Nights,” “Festival Express,” and “A Tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan.” Several excellent authorized soundboard bootlegs of Buddy Guy’s 2004 live shows at his Legends club are available from http://www.piratebootlegs.com. The January 17, 9, 28, 29, 30 and 31 are standouts. Other sources may carry an excellent bootleg of Buddy Guy and Stevie Ray Vaughan jamming titled “It's Still Called The Blues” (Swinging Pig records, July 1989)with the song “Champagne and Reefer.”

Entertainer

Guy is a consummate showman who influenced Jimi Hendrix and others how to entertain on stage. Hendrix sometimes canceled his own concerts to attend Guy’s club shows, which he filmed or audiotaped. In “Lightning In A Bottle” (Martin Scorsese blues concert DVD) you can see footage of an enchanted Hendrix in the audience watching a wild Buddy Guy performance.

Guy’s dramatic live shows used to involve much leaping off amps; playing guitar with his feet, teeth, a handkerchief or drumstick; playing guitar behind his back; playing guitar while hanging from the rafters by his ankles; and going on a walkabout into the audience on the end of a 150 ft guitar lead. Guy would sometimes begin his sets from inside the men’s washroom, all the while shaking up the house with his wild multi-fret bends and piercing, string snapping attack. He then hits the stage like a demon and dives into his solos. He splashes across as many keys as he pleases, maybe capping a run by flipping his axe backwards and sliding the pickups over his T-shirt, laughing all the way.

Tom Lavin remembers the first time he saw Buddy Guy at a college concert. “Buddy was wearing a leopard skin blazer and when he soloed with one hand while he removed his jacket and then switched to soloing with the other hand while he took off the other sleeve, never missing a note. I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. Right there I knew that's what I wanted to do.” Tom Vickers recalls: "The first time I saw Buddy Guy wasn't in a club or bar, but on a street in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We were lined up outside the Blues club he was playing in, waiting for the next set. It was cold and snowing as Buddy walked out into the dark air. We were all freezing to death, but when Buddy opened the door and started walking up the club's steps, the cold went away. He had on a sharkskin suit that was drenched in sweat, but he was shouting and singing like a man possessed as his fingers danced over the guitar strings, with his guitar attached to a long cord. "Y'all stick around, don't go no place," he yelled to us as he went back inside."

Guy recalls, "The first guitar player I saw putting on a show was Guitar Slim—I must've been 13 years old—he came out riding that guitar, wearing a bright red suit. I thought; 'I wanna sound like BB King, but I wanna play guitar like THAT.' " "Buddy's act was not premeditated or contrived," Donald Wilcox said in his biography of Guy. "His style was merely a natural by-product of being self-taught, having a compulsion to play, and being insecure enough to feel that if he didn't dazzle and hypnotize his audience with the flamboyant techniques he'd seen work for Guitar Slim, he'd be buried by competition from guitarists who were better technicians."

Awards

In addition to being an inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Guy has previously served on the Hall of Fame’s nominating committee. By 2004, Buddy Guy had also earned the following awards: 5 Grammy awards, 23 W.C. Handy Awards (the most any one blues artist has received), Billboard Magazine's prestigious The Century Award (Guy was its second recipient) for “distinguished artistic achievement,” the title of Greatest Living Electric Blues Guitarist, and the Congressional Medal of Arts (awarded by the President to those who have made extraordinary contributions to the creation, growth and support in the arts in the United States).

Blues Caretaker

Muddy Waters passed the torch to Buddy shortly before his death when he said, "Don't let them goddam Blues die on me." Guy has kept that promise by passing on reverence to the Blues to the next generation. The Buddy Guy Foundation helps pay for the tombstones of long forgotten Blues musicians, giving them the respect Guy feels they deserved in life. Guy is also the proprietor of Buddy Guy's Legends, the premier blues nightclub in Chicago.

The story of Buddy Guy is captured in the book “Damn Right I've Got the Blues: Buddy Guy and the Blues Roots of Rock-And-Roll” by Donald Wilcox and Buddy Guy.

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