Great piece by my colleague Chris Serico who interviewed Buddy Guy last week in anticipation of the blues legend’s show at Purchase College. While the show is now history, there’s some great stuff here from one of the greatest electric blues player in the genre’s history.
Here’s Chris’ piece, courtesy of The Journal News and LoHud.com.
Chris Serico for LoHud.com
Six-time Grammy Award winner Buddy Guy won’t call himself a legend.
But Guy, whom Rolling Stone ranked as one of the top 30 greatest guitarists of all time, doesn’t mind if someone else says it.
” ‘Legend’ is something, I think, (others) give you if you’re lucky enough to have been around long enough,” says Guy, 74.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and 23-time winner of the W.C. Handy Blues Award has influenced many of the greatest rock, blues and jazz guitarists ever to handle the ax — including Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimmy Page.
And with the release of his latest album, “Living Proof,” Guy’s keeping the legend moving forward. Fans can check it out for themselves tonight, when Guy does the blues as only he can, at The Performing Arts Center of Purchase College.
Guy literally puts the ‘young’ in his new song, “74 Years Young.” While the blues can conjure images of a laid-back picker, Guy is an energetic stage performer who plays off the energy of the crowd, milking every last note for attention.
“I don’t know but one way to play,” he says. “I don’t (play) for one kind of audience. Whether it’s New York, Pennsylvania, Boston or whatever, I just come out and give you 110 percent of Buddy Guy.”
One hundred ten percent of Buddy Guy was more than enough to score the performer a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album at February’s ceremony. He hopes the accolade will not only attract audiences to his shows, but also to the blues as a whole.
“If you want crowds to come and see you, it’s not easy,” he says. “And winning a Grammy among some of the greatest people — they’ve got guitar players I think are 10 times better than I am — and to come in and win one is always a joy. Every time I win one, I accept my award — for a Grammy or whatever it is — and I honor those guys who should’ve got it long before me, and the ones who are no longer here.”
“Living Proof” serves as a bluesy retrospective of Guy’s life. The song “Thank Me Someday,” was inspired by his earliest days as a musician, when he — born George Guy — was growing up on a Louisiana plantation.
When he was 7, Guy built and played his own makeshift two-string guitar with a rubber band, a piece of wood and his mother’s hairpins — without even knowing what it was.
“That’s what made me say, ‘Hey, man, I don’t know what that is, but it sounds good,” he says. “And when I got a chance to go for it (on a real guitar), no one never sat down and showed me how to play the guitar; this all came from me, and somebody looking down over me.”
In 1957, he took those transcendent skills to Chicago, which would become his home and, thanks in large part to his contributions, the capital of blues. (Just ask Jake and Elwood.)
Guy’s not only made a guitar his way, he’s always played it his way — and not just with his hands. He’s been known to flick the strings with drumsticks, for example.
“Not only the drumsticks,” he adds. “I’ve played the guitar with a a towel, a handkerchief — whatever I can get my hands on — to try to get attention.”
By the late ’60s, Guy befriended a young Jimi Hendrix, who famously showed off his own guitar skills by playing one behind his head and between his legs. But Guy admits busting Hendrix’s chops at a New York City gig before they got to know each other: “Someone whispered to me, ‘That’s Jimi Hendrix,’ and I … had had a couple of glasses of wine and said, ‘So what? Who the hell is that?’ ”
Despite being a guitar guru, Guy seems to be on an endless quest to find the secret to the ultimate guitar solo.
“I’m still tryin’ to find that out,” he says, laughing. “When I play live, I don’t think about Buddy; I think about somebody sitting there, sayin’, ‘I heard what Jimi Hendrix said — or Stevie or Eric (said) about him — let me see him.’ ”
And he’ll even surprise himself on occasion in rehearsals: “I’ll see if I can find a note that’ll make you turn your head and say, ‘What the hell did he do?’ ”
Guy’s had his share of collaborations with everyone from B.B. King to Carlos Santana — both of whom guest on “Living Proof” — but he’s also helped usher in the next generation of guitar gods. He declares John Mayer “one of the great ones coming up,” and raves about newcomer Quinn Sullivan, an 11-year-old prodigy who’s opening for Guy in Purchase.
“If I’d have had that talent at his age! I tell him and his dad all the time: When I was 7 and 8 years old, I couldn’t even play the radio; this kid’s got to be 50 years old. He’s playing every note Hendrix played, I played, B.B. King and (everybody) else.”
With a music scene drowning in auto-tune, Guy hopes new blues fans will being to appreciate the beauty, musicianship and electricity of the blues. And with the economy still scrambling to recover, Guy says it’s the perfect time for aficionados and newbies to catch a blues show.
“Kind-of-rich people didn’t know what the blues was,” he says, “but they know a little bit about it now.”
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