[4 February 2009]
The Orlando Sentinel (MCT)
Looking forward to watching B.B. King on his current concert tour?
So is the other guy on the bill.
“Ain’t much you can say about that guy except that we all learned something from him,” says Buddy Guy, perhaps the only bluesman around who might rival King’s status. Not that he’s bold enough to suggest that.
Instead, Guy is known to recommend that every ax-slinger emblazon the letters “BB” on their guitars.
“I got ‘em on mine,” he says in an early morning phone conversation from his suburban Chicago home. “Without him, I don’t know if we’d be squeezing and bending strings. He is the guy who is the king.”
Whatever the hierarchy, a Guy-King twin bill is a royal treat, like visiting the Mount Rushmore of blues.
A protege of the iconic Muddy Waters, Guy, 72, built his chops in Baton Rouge, La., before migrating to Chicago in 1957. Soon, he was a fixture on historic Chess Records, churning out the blues on a roster with Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter and others.
The music would be a fountain of inspiration for rock’s first generation of guitar gods - Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, among them - and latter-day stars such as Stevie Ray Vaughan.
“He was for me what Elvis was probably like for other people,” Clapton said at Guy’s induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.
In concert, Guy has long displayed his formidable talent by effortlessly tossing off spot-on imitations of the guitarists who once studied his influential licks. That’s a parlor trick, but when he launches into one of his own blistering solos, it’s still powerfully expressive.
When Guy takes the stage with others, such as his cameo in the Rolling Stones concert film “Shine a Light,” he can still steal the spotlight.
Despite that talent, Guy languished in the shadows until his Grammy-winning 1991 album, “Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues”; its follow-up, “Feels Like Rain,” put him back on the pop-culture map.
His latest release, “Skin Deep,” showcases him with Clapton and other guests: Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi and Sacred Steel star Robert Randolph. Guy calls the project one of only a few that reflects his absolute creative control.
“All the other times, it was ‘I want you to do this; I want you to do that,’” Guy says. “Truthfully, this is what people do to get a piece of the cake. The only time a manager shows up is when you have something to offer.”
On the album’s title track, Guy offers an idealistic look at the racial divide, based on what his mother once said:
“As a little boy, she used to tell me that beauty was only skin deep,” Guy says.
As a child, Guy used to play with a white friend, until adults told the boys that they couldn’t do that anymore.
“We didn’t have no lights or streetlights,” he says, “so after it got dark, you could take a flashlight and shine it up to your hand and see red blood. Whether you were black or white, you could see that there.
“Me and him saw that and I said ‘Somebody’s lying.’ Underneath, we’re all the same.”
Although a Chicago icon, Guy wasn’t involved in any of the inaugural concerts celebrating the historic Obama presidency. It doesn’t trouble him, though.
“If it had happened, it would have been fine, but I’m enjoying it anyway,” he says. “It’s history all around.”
Just like watching two kings of the blues.