“When I grab my game and call your name
You would never be the same.
In the midnight hours when I dream of you
I swear that you’ll call my name.”
Along with B.B. King, Buddy Guy is an emissary of the blues…a last link to the 1950’s electric blues scenes of Chicago and Memphis. Guy, like the bluesmen he idolized, made the same trek from the deep south (in his case, Louisiana) to the great blues Mecca of South Chicago. While discovered and brought into the legendary Chess Records fold, he and longtime cohort and collaborator, harp player Junior Wells, were poised to become the next generation of homegrown blues players. This would make perfect sense, as Eric Clapton and other British newcomers in the 1960’s were topping the charts with hits from Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon and other Chicago blues legends of the 1950’s. But Buddy Guy would have to wait until the 1990’s to truly get his due as one of the preeminent guitar players and vocalists in electric blues.
After spending several years as a sideman for Muddy Waters and a session player at Chess Studios, Buddy Guy recorded a string of albums for the label. It is a common complaint that the albums, while quality blues LPs, feature none of the guitar histrionics he was becoming known for in his live shows. While many guitar players at that time were cribbing their acts from seeing Guy in person, Jimi Hendrix is known to have taken a large amount of his act from the Buddy Guy playbook. To see Buddy Guy in the early 1960’s was to get a preview of the Hendrix shows to come. Guy was a true showman who was able to synthesize the onstage antics of Guitar Slim and T Bone Walker and add it to the feedback and fuzz tone guitar sounds he was emanating onstage. What many players could not replicate was his singing voice. A true blues howl, Buddy could match his wild guitar playing with equally passionate vocals reminiscent of Wilson Pickett and Al Green.
After failed attempts to conquer the charts in the 1960’s, Guy and Junior Wells recorded a one-off album for Atlantic Records. The recording of the album was strained, with a host of producers coming in to work with the duo, including Tom Dowd and Ahmet Ertugen. While the performances could not match their live shows in intensity, the songwriting was a key ingredient. Guy has a knack for blues song writing, a skill not all guitar technicians can claim. Early classics included ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ and ‘Let Me Love You Baby’, both covered by acolyte Stevie Ray Vaughan. The Guy-penned ‘Man of Many Words’, featured on this 1972 release, is a scorching rock tune punctuated with the feel of Stax soul. While the guitar is prominent, it is the vocal line that dominates the production and it showcases the true force and power of Buddy Guy’s voice. The album was not a hit at the time, but is now essential listening for any fan of Buddy’s Chicago blues.
Guy spent nearly two decades out of the spotlight, recording sporadically and managing a local Chicago blues club, the legendary Checkerboard Lounge. He signed a major label deal in the early nineties and has released a string of solid blues outings while becoming one of the most respected names in the blues world. He now draws massive crowds wherever he plays in the world and has finally earned the respect, recognition and success he deserves. His blues club in Chicago, Buddy Guy’s Legends, is one of the remaining blues fixtures in the former blues capital, alongside the beautifully restored Chess Records building that now houses Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven museum. ‘Man of Many Words’ has become a Guy classic that was rerecorded on his 1994 Silvertone Records release “Slippin In” to great effect. To hear him today is just as jarring as his early live shows. He is truly doing the blues a great service by bringing the music to new audiences into the 21st century.