The Great Buddy Guy Plays the Blues with Charm, Humor, and Incomparable Soul
By Kimberly Dunbar, all photos by Jeff Ruscitti
Today we had the honor of attending a performance by music legend Buddy Guy, who was not only born to play guitar (never has an album been more aptly named than his latest, Born to Play Guitar), he was born to entertain an audience with it like few other artists can (Read more about Guy and the extraordinary guitar players he has influenced over the decade in our article announcing today’s show). And that audience comes and has always come from all generations, all musical backgrounds (yes, there were even metalheads at today’s show, having the time of their lives along with the rest of us), and all walks of life, a testament to just how universal and unifying authentic talent expressed from the heart can be.
As soon as Guy took to the stage at Indian Ranch in Webster, MA, this afternoon, already playing the unmistakable notes of his hit “Damn Right I Got the Blues,” the capacity crowd went wild ~ and they didn’t stop dancing until Buddy had played his very last note of the day…and a few folks were still going strong as they headed to the parking lot.
At age 79, the immensely charismatic Guy still has both the voice and the moves (and of course amazing dexterity!). He doesn’t even need to open his mouth for us to be reminded of why he is a living legend and one of the greatest showmen ever. During the course of the show, he played his guitar with his teeth, behind his back (while kicking his legs), with his ass, with a drumstick, with a towel, overhand, flipped around backwards, and while it sat on top of a large speaker.
He also played and sang while walking through the crowd, giving all the fans ~ from those in the first rows to those in the very highest seats of the amphitheatre ~ as up-close-and-personal an experience as he could, making every one of us feel that this icon truly appreciated our presence (and sure, this personal touch was heartwarming and added to the intimate feel of the show, but it was also damn impressive because reaching those highest seats meant climbing a whole lot of stairs…at age 79…carrying a guitar…while singing…major props for that!).
Once Guy returned to the stage, he asked the throngs of screaming fans (honestly a case of “from 9 to 90 years old) if he were playing too loudly. “I have a tendency to do that when y’all make me feel so good,” he said with his signature charm, and the response was a near-deafening “NO!” This moment was just one of many captured by the sea of cell phone cameras being held up by arms that are going to be very sore tomorrow but felt no pain while Buddy was onstage; the man has a such a vast repertoire of facial expressions that are all so captivating and endearing in their own way ~ whether sad, happy, goofy, pensive, or expressing a host of emotions in between ~ that not capturing them all for posterity seems a crime!
If you’re planning to attend a Buddy Guy show to hear him play his greatest hits like most artists do, you should forgo the tickets and just throw in one of his CDs. A Buddy Guy show ~ and Buddy himself ~ are about much more than just music (and as fantastic as all his recordings are, live is the ultimate way to experience Buddy) . The Grammy winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer uses his concerts as opportunities to connect with his fans and share his love of music that is so clearly from the depths of his being that one can’t help but be moved by the experience ~ while being thoroughly entertained and inspired at the same time. At a Guy concert, you get the real Buddy: 90 minutes of jam sessions, personal stories, and of course, authentic, soul-touching Chicago blues. There is no pretense, not a single contrivance involved, and his excellent backing musicians ~ The Damn Right Blues Band ~ radiated the same experienced, blues-cool vibe as did their leader.
One of the most emotional portions of the show came when Guy shared a personal story about his mother. “My mother never saw me play,” he said, “but I want you to hear what she taught me.” He then told us of a time when he was nine or ten and his mother was brushing her hair in a broken mirror. Guy caught a glimpse of his own reflection and told his mother that he was kind of good looking. “She said, ‘Son, that’s only skin deep.’” Guy went on to play his song “Skin Deep” and was rewarded with a standing ovation.
Buddy Guy can make people laugh just as effortlessly as he can make them applaud, cheer, and even tear up. While recounting an anecdote from his early days just starting out in Chicago (58 years ago next month), he was interrupted by an audience member yelling about something or other ~ in other words, showing no respect for the man on stage. Buddy, without hesitation and with a simultaneously firm yet good-natured quality in his voice and a twinkle in his eye, ordered the guy to “…sit your ass down and listen…” because he “…wasn’t finished yet.” Needless to say, the guy sat, and the audience couldn’t help but chuckle at the exchange.
While Guy played some of his most popular music, he also treated the crowd to some oldies but goodies. Before he broke into the Muddy Waters classic “Hoochie Coochie Man,” he stated, “I want you to know where this music came from. It came from people like this.”
The Indian Ranch concert represented everything that is great about Buddy Guy and blues music and I suspect that everyone who showed up to listen to and watch one of music’s true legends will not soon forget this day.
And although Guy closed the show with “Take Me to Chicago,” it was his first song that summed up the entire afternoon ~ and the essence of the man himself: Damn right, he’s got the blues.
Order Born to Play Guitar via iTunes