At the ripe age of 73 Guy continues to harness an unimaginable amount of energy and showmanship, with no signs of slowing down. Words and Pictures by Allison Taich.
Chicago blues master Buddy Guy had been tearing up the stage but 20 minutes before he ceased playing to admit: “I’m going to mess up tonight…you guys are making me feel good; I’m feeling real fucking good!” And with that Guy chuckled as his fingers danced about the neck of his guitar. In response the audience naturally roared with delight, egging Guy to further unleash his musical spunk.
Guy spread his good vibes to a packed house of rowdy, enthusiastic Chicago fans on a cold Friday night last month at his eponymous South Loop club, Buddy Guy’s Legends. For the past 20 years Guy has made it tradition to return home to Legends to revitalize the Chicago blues scene, pumping it up with a string of zealous performances and extraordinary guitar craft. During his month long January residency Guy played a total of 16 sold-out shows, making this Friday night lucky number 15.
On two occasions the stage’s three-foot height led Guy to hop off and venture into the crowd without missing a note. With the help of a wireless amp he paraded around the club electrifying all with an extended, and mobile, solo. Following his guitar he weaved between crowds of people, stopping in front of tables to lay out some licks and groove for a moment, only to move on to the adjacent table. His instrument took him behind the bar, into the women’s bathroom, to the merch counter and through the club’s foyer. He ultimately left the club all together only to continue shredding in the streets of Chicago, into the alley and back through the side door. As one of Guy's reoccuring spectacles the band naturally remained onstage indoors, perpetuating the established groove without hesitation. Fans respected Guy’s space as he wandered about, with no attempts to smother, swarm or distract the master, though several followed his gallivanting, attempting to flash pictures in his wake.
When confined to the stage Guy played a variety of covers and few original compositions. When winding up to either sing or wail Guy would shimmy his shoulders and gyrate his body in response to his band’s rhythms. Guy’s hallmark guitar licks were fiery and precise. Based on his facial expressions alone one could tell Guy was digging deep, delivering tight charismatic solos in response. Never one to not hot-dog it, he pulled out all tricks like playing behind his back, with his teeth, like a violin and like a gun.
Also joining the party was 10-year old guitar prodigy Quinn Sullivan of New Bedford, MA. Guy introduced Sullivan by saying he first heard the boy play and sing the blues when Sullivan was a ripe age of 8. Guy also noted that he sounded like one of the old time greats. Sullivan may be young but he sure could sing the blues; his main number was about how Guy influenced him to sing and play the blues.
When Guy wasn't immeresed in the music he ranted about the origins of hip-hop, “potty records”, profanity in music, the blues’ role in the British Invasion, the indoor smoking ban in Chicago and the future of Legends. The current residency was marking the last time Guy would grace the stage of his South Wabash club. Don't worry, it's just moving to a new location one block north. Still, "Have fun while you can" Guy advised. Mostly he reminisced about the distinct smell of 21 years of blues, sweat and cigarette smoke, an odor the new location will lack. He even offered to light up the new location with barbecue grills to instill a dingy smell in the new walls.
Guy brought the stellar evening to a close by providing a lesson on blues-rock and the British Invasion. He demonstrated what the blues sounded like “before the British got to them,” which included a rendition of John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom,” followed by Willy Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man” (a tune immortalized by Muddy Waters). He responded to the old American standards with powerhouse Brit covers: Cream’s “Strange Brew” and “Sunshine of Your Love”.
Overall an intimate Buddy Guy experience is still absolutely incredible. At the ripe age of 73 Guy continues to harness an unimaginable amount of energy and showmanship, with no signs of slowing down. In fact with Legends, he's ready to begin anew.
Quinn Sullivan and Buddy Guy
Quinn Sullivan and Buddy Guy