Buddy Guy has influenced guitarists from Jeff Beck to Jimi Hendrix to John Mayer with his anarchic blues guitar style. Les Davidson explores the measure of this true blues legend.
began on a two-string home-made guitar, later graduating to a cheap Harmony acoustic that now resides in the rock and roll Hall of Fame. Although younger by several years than Albert King and BB King, Buddy’s name invariably comes up in any conversation about the giants of electric blues guitar and vocals.
From gigging around the Baton rouge area, Buddy realised that a move north to Chicago would improve his career chances. Sure enough, he soon got work as a session man for the legendary Chess records, behind artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, otis Spann and Little Walter. From this session work he was signed by Chess as a solo artist. Although an album was released in 1967 (Left My Blues In San Francisco) it did little to advance his career. Though already a legend among guitarists it was not until the 80s blues revival that he finally gained recognition from the wider public.
Guy has made over 70 albums, starting with Hoodoo Man Blues (1965) with the Chicago based harmonica player Junior Wells. Probably his best known album is Damn right, I’ve Got The Blues, released in 1991 on Silvertone and on which high-profile guests including Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Mark Knopfler appeared.
Buddy continues to gig, record and has just released a new album called Born To Play Guitar with guest appearances from Van Morrison and Joss Stone. He was inducted into the rock and roll Hall of Fame in March 2005 by eric Clapton who recalled seeing Buddy play his guitar behind his head and with his teeth as far back as 1965! Have a listen to Jimi Hendrix’s electric Ladyland album to hear Jimi’s take on some of Buddy Guy’s licks – he too, was a huge fan.
Buddy is an expressive player whose speedy flurries and big string bends mark out his style. Such is the intensity of his playing that accuracy sometimes takes a back seat to pure blues feel. Buddy is quoted as saying he has used anywhere from 10 to 12 gauge strings, sometimes also tuning down to eb.
our two examples are both in standard tuning and played with a pick (Buddy uses pick or fingers). When playing the licks go for attitude over accuracy – the latter will come with practise but the former is often part of the showmanship so important in this exciting genre. Have fun!
Buddy Guy with regulation polka-dot Strat and strap