blues in his blood

We can count our lucky stars that Buddy Guy con­tin­ues to sing the blues, ef­fec­tively keep­ing the genre alive and well on his new al­bum Liv­ingProof.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIFESTYLE - by n. RAMA LO­HAn

We can count our lucky stars that Buddy Guy con­tin­ues to sing the blues, ef­fec­tively keep­ing the genre alive and well on his new al­bum Liv­ing Proof.

IF Buddy Guy is wor­ried for the fu­ture of the blues, then we’ve got some real hard think­ing to do. While there seems to be a con­stant flow of tal­ent com­ing through the ranks for ev­ery one that fades into the sun­set, a se­ri­ous dan­ger ex­ists of the genre sink­ing into obliv­ion.

And come on, let’s be a lit­tle hon­est and re­al­is­tic here: while no dis­re­spect is meant, the new crop of­ten strad­dles the di­vide be­tween lame and tame. But that’s the sta­tus quo at the moment and more wor­ry­ing is the lack of in­ter­est from the African Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion, who, though gave birth to the blues, couldn’t care less about it now.

B.B. King and Guy are the last re­main­ing cus­to­di­ans of the genre from the first gen­er­a­tion of ur­ban blues play­ers, but Guy in­sists that’s only ap­pli­ca­ble if one of them re­leases a sig­nif­i­cant body of work.

“We’re only rel­e­vant if we put out a great record,” said the liv­ing leg­end humbly over the phone from Chicago, the United States.

Guy right­fully has a gripe on how the mu­sic in­dus­try has grown be­cause “in­dus­try” has been given greater em­pha­sis at the ex­pense of “mu­sic”.

“The blues just doesn’t get the ex­po­sure it de­serves. You don’t hear it on the ra­dio or watch it on TV. They’re only look­ing for young peo­ple these days. There’s no place for older folks now. If my face was on TV, you might see a few more black play­ers be­cause peo­ple look for role mod­els. Blues is good time mu­sic and it’s for ev­ery­body,” he as­serted.

The 74-year old gui­tarist is not one for mod­ern mu­si­cal pas­tiches. He es­chews hip hop and makes no bones about it, ei­ther.

“I grew up as a stu­dent of Muddy Wa­ters, T-Bone Walker ... peo­ple who ded­i­cated them­selves to their art and lived by it. I mean, mu­sic is mu­sic but there seems to be a need these days to be a su­per­star, which I don’t get. We play for the love of it, but with the new mu­sic, they play for the love of money ... they just can’t tell the dif­fer­ence.”

No sur­prises then that the Lettsworth, Louisiana-born mu­si­cian has con­tin­ued to ply the same route he has for all of the last half cen­tury. His new record, Liv­ing Proof pools all his life sto­ries and ex­pe­ri­ences, pre­sent­ing it with a lu­cid­ity and con­vic­tion rarely present in to­day’s mu­sic. “There ain’t noth­ing I haven’t done. I’ve been a dog. I’ve been a tom­cat. I chase ’em tales, and I’ve left some tracks. I still know how to have my fun ‘coz I’m 74 years young,” go the lyrics of the open­ing track on the al­bum, aptly ti­tled 74 Years Young.

There couldn’t be a more tell-it-likeit-is al­bum out there. On You’ll Thank Me Some­day, his lyrics rem­i­nisce on his grow­ing tal­ent 60 years ago; “Down in Louisiana, on a cot­ton plan­ta­tion. Lit­tle tin roof shack, and a third grade ed­u­ca­tion. Two-string wood gui­tar. I taught my­self how to play. Kept my whole fam­ily up all night and told them you would thank me one day.”

“I would go out in the yard, on the levee, to prac­tice. We didn’t have elec­tric lights or run­ning wa­ter – you could hear that gui­tar a mile away in the coun­try, so I’d have to go a long way away so they didn’t say ‘ Get out of here with that noise,’ ” he con­fessed of his dis­ap­proved mu­si­cal am­bi­tions.

His fam­ily may have ul­ti­mately thanked him, though, es­pe­cially af­ter Guy earned his stripes as a hot­shot gui­tar slinger in the 1950s. In fact, it was this gui­tar-sling­ing men­tal­ity that found him in a “shootout” with West Side con­tem­po­raries Magic Sam and Otis Rush, which even­tu­ally earned him a record­ing deal un­der broth­ers Leonard and Phil Chess’ bur­geon­ing la­bel Chess Records in 1958.

All was not rosy though and Guy faced the ig­nominy of hav­ing his play­ing la­belled “a bunch of noise” – a tes­ta­ment to his fre­netic and fiery style on the gui­tar. He has few fond mem­o­ries of his time with the la­bel since he was forced to play in a tamer man­ner than he’d liked.

Guy sol­diered on though, and went on to be­come a prime in­flu­ence for the likes of Eric Clap­ton (who’s per­formed with him on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions) and Jimi Hen­drix. Over the years, Guy has con­fessed to his men­tors – T-Bone Walker, B.B. King, Light­nin’ Hopkins and John Lee Hooker – that he hasn’t any­thing orig­i­nal to of­fer, only for them to re­spond that they picked up what they knew from oth­ers, too.

“When we were play­ing back then, we didn’t call it blues, we called it R&B. Back then, we had to play Top 10 hits, stuff that was on the juke­box like Ray Charles and Light­nin’ Hopkins. If I was lucky, I got paid three dol­lars a night,” he of­fered, pro­vid­ing a peek into his past.

Earn­ing his keep by driv­ing a tow truck in the day, Guy con­tin­ued to hone his craft and ply his trade wher­ever he was given the op­por­tu­nity at night.

To­day, Guy en­joys the lux­ury of be­ing al­lowed to do what he wants and how he wants. How times have changed. “These guys said, ‘It’s your gui­tar, your stu­dio, you just go be Buddy Guy’ ... and I’ve been try­ing to be that for the past 50 years.”

And that’s ex­actly what the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame in­ductee has been do­ing. “I just keep go­ing on. Life is so strange but I am blessed that I’ve been al­lowed to do what I love. I’m just try­ing to play good mu­sic, to make peo­ple happy and put a smile on their faces.”

Amid the sting­ing blues of opener 74 Years Young, Thank Me Some­day and On The Road, Guy has also squeezed in a mod­ern clas­sic, Stay Around A Lit­tle Longer, a col­lab­o­ra­tion with B.B. King.

“I’ve played with B.B. be­fore but this is the first time I got him on record and it was won­der­ful,” he said, his joy al­most seep­ing through the phone line. Latin jazz/rock hero San­tana has also thrown in his two cents worth into the mix with the sur­pris­ingly sump­tu­ous Where The Blues Be­gins.

Cot­ton is no longer picked by hand, so how is fresh blues writ­ten to­day? Guy doesn’t have any con­clu­sive an­swers but he reck­ons that this mu­sic form only ever gets ex­po­sure if a rock band or a sec­ond gen­er­a­tion mu­si­cian pop­u­larises it.

“Amer­ica didn’t ac­cept it (the blues). And when the Bri­tish guys started play­ing it, the Bri­tish peo­ple said ‘Bring it on’, but Amer­ica still didn’t know about it or like it. You need to pay at­ten­tion to blues to ap­pre­ci­ate it,” he said, all fired up.

Ul­ti­mately, the blues deals with the high­est of highs, the low­est of lows ... and all points in be­tween, and there’s plenty of that on Liv­ing Proof. Guy takes pride in hav­ing penned/copenned many of the songs on the al­bum.

“I’m happy that I didn’t have to play other peo­ple’s songs. My pro­ducer, Tom Ham­bridge would speak to me and jot down some of the things I said and turn those things into lyrics,” re­vealed Guy on the al­bum’s cre­ative process.

Guy – who has al­most 70 al­bums un­der his name (com­pi­la­tions and live al­bums in­cluded) – is the epit­ome of cool and sees no rea­son in hang­ing up his gui­tar just yet. He has seen and done enough to re­alise that it’s the hard­ships he’s en­dured that al­lows him to con­tinue sing­ing the blues.

“I treat this sit­u­a­tion as if I was a prize­fighter – if I’m not will­ing to get in that ring and risk get­ting knocked out, I don’t stand a chance to win,” he con­cluded, di­vulging his se­cret to suc­cess.

Liv­ing Proof is no Buddy Guy And Ju­nior Wells Plays The Blues, but it’s still tes­ti­mony to the en­dear­ing qual­ity of this mu­sic, played by one of the last liv­ing leg­ends. n Buddy Guy’s Liv­ingProof is avail­able from Sony Mu­sic.

Mojo work­ing: Blues leg­end Buddy Guy cer­tainly has his go­ing on his all-new tell-it-like-it-is al­bum Liv­ingProof.

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