Buddy Guy is a quotation machine
I would walk a mile to see Buddy Guy. Hell, I’d crawl.
He is, in my estimation, the baddest mother ever to stroke six strings; the most dedicated and energetic live performer I’ve ever seen; a guy who can look cool in overalls and polka dots.
And after speaking with him on the phone I like him even more.
At 69 years of age, Buddy has had a remarkable career since he left Louisiana for the bright lights of Chicago in 1957 for a job sweeping floors that, thankfully, he didn’t get.
Since then he’s played on dozens of albums, been showered with accolades (four Grammys, 19 WC Handy Awards and a Billboard Century Award among them) and shared stages with some of the greatest performers the world has ever known. He plays about 175 gigs a year ‘— he says he’s never turned one down yet ‘— and he continues to live a remarkable life. Jog his memory a bit and the stories come tumbling out.
On Jimi Hendrix: ‘“I played Newport [Rhode Island] in 1967 and got my first chance to play in New York, a place called The Scene on 48th and 8th. It was in a basement. I met him and we became associated for about two years, got to know one another real good around ’68. He told me that first time I played New York that he cancelled a gig to see me.’”
On George Benson: ‘“In 1967 I was in Europe, the only blues cat on the tour. My roommate was George Benson. And every night he be in front of the mirror holding his guitar and practicing. I said, ‘Motherfu*ker, you can sing.’ To this very day every time I see him he say, ‘It’s because of you that I started singing.””
On San Francisco in the ’60s: ‘“I went to San Francisco and I didn’t know what the hippies was. I said, ‘What the hell is this? I can’t tell the woman from the man.’ I was at a club, The Avalon, and nobody wanted to open the show. Well I come to play. And the guy said, ‘Nobody want to follow you now.””
On crime: ‘“If there’s a city with no crime let me know because I’ll move there. Where I was born [Lettsworth, LA] there was no crime, but that’s because there was nobody out there but you and your dog.’”
On dirty business: ‘“I got a lot of songs stolen from me at Chess [Records]. I think all business is a dirty business. If you don’t believe me ask the people at Enron.’”
On success in the music business: ‘“Being a professional musician is a 24-hour job. It takes you 23 hours to get there and an hour to play. I didn’t quit, I didn’t get mad. Muddy [Waters], Little Walter, they all had day jobs. I was the biggest fool of all because I could have retired if I started driving a city bus.’”
On what he tells his band: ‘“When I step out there, you all play. If I don’t call you on your phone, don’t answer.’”
I could listen to that man talk all day, as long as he promised to play all night.
He’s recently been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and he’s on tour with a new album, Bring ‘Em In, covering tunes by the likes of Dylan and Otis Redding with help from Keith Richards, Carlos Santana, Tracy Chapman, Keb’ Mo’, Robert Randolph and John Mayer. He says it’s a throwback to the days when he would go into clubs and tell the manager he’d be playing what they had on the jukebox. And of course he’ll be in Greensboro on Saturday, Oct. 15 for a YES! Weekly concert at the War Memorial Auditorium, just another stop on the bluesman’s journey, one he says isn’t likely to end soon.
‘“The good Lord put us here for a reason and not a season,’” he says. ‘“Blues musicians don’t retire ‘— they drop.’”
And here’s one more quote that Buddy Guy asks me to relay to all of you: ‘“Tell the people I love them,’” he says, ‘“and to help me support the blues.’”
To comment on this story, e-mail Brian Clarey at firstname.lastname@example.org.