Origin: Lettsworth, Louisiana
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George “Buddy” Guy is one of the titans of the blues, straddling traditional and modern forms, as well as musical generations. As an exponent of Chicago blues Buddy Guy has influenced such eminent guitarists as Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jeff Beck, and John Mayer among many others. Guy played with Muddy Waters as a house guitarist at Chess Records and began a musical partnership with harmonica player Junior Wells. Guy is known for his fierce staccato and tense single-note guitar solos and ranked 23rd in Rolling Stone magazine’s “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”
Buddy Guy was born in 1936 in Lettsworth, Louisiana and began learning to play guitar using a two-string Diddley bow he made. Early influences included T-Bone Walker, Lightnin’ Slim and Lightnin’ Hopkins; blues musicians who were all uniquely expressive stylists and showmen. In 1958 after sending a tape to Chess Records Guy headed to Chicago to seek his fortune. By 1959 Guy along with label mates Willie Dixon and Otis Rush began recording for Chess Records.
Guy’s Chess Records tenure never won the recognition that accrued to some of his label mates, but he scored a hit with “Stone Crazy,” his fourth single for the label. The song became a top twenty hit on the R&B charts in 1962. Another highlight of his Chess tenure was “When My Left Eye Jumps,” a menacing slow blues penned by Willie Dixon. While at Chess, Guy also served as an in-house guitarist, playing on sessions for Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Koko Taylor and others. Notably, he performed on Koko Taylor’s “Wang Dang Doodle” and Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor.”
In the late 1960’s Guy took notice of the evolving blues-rock scene in England, and cut the classic albums A Man and the Blues (1968) and Hold That Plane (1972). In 1970 Guy released Buddy and the Juniors (recorded by a trio of Guy, harmonica player Junior Wells and pianist Junior Mance). Guy’s partnership with Wells yielded the 1972 album Buddy Guy and Junior Wells Play the Blues. A spontaneous, tradition-minded blues set, it was produced by the impressive triumvirate of Eric Clapton, Ahmet Ertegun and Tom Dowd.
Although he continued to perform, Guy’s recording career stalled somewhat in the Eighties. In 1989 he opened the blues club Legends in Chicago, which became a favorite hangout for blues musicians. Guy continues to perform a month long residency each January at his club.
Guy’s comeback began when he joined Eric Clapton onstage at London’s Royal Albert Hall during the guitarist’s multi-night run in 1990 and 1991. That exposure led to a new recording contract and the release of his landmark album Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues.
Damn Right I Got the Blues won Guy a Grammy and became a rarity; a blues album that sold well enough to go gold. The star-studded album included cameos by such acolytes as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Mark Knopfler. Two years later, he released Feels Like Rain (1993), which included contributions from Bonnie Raitt, Travis Tritt and John Mayall. Later that same year, Guy received the prestigious Century Award “for distinguished artistic achievement” from Billboard magazine. These albums propelled Guy into the role of preeminent blues guitarist of the Nineties.
Into the 21st century Guy continues in his role as America’s foremost blues guitarist while continuing racking up honors and awards. A 2005 Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Guy performed at the White House in 2012 for President Obama. He is a National Medal of Arts award winner for those who have made extraordinary contributions to the creation, growth and support of the arts in the United States. A Kennedy Center Award recipient Guy has also won seven Grammy Awards for his work on electric and acoustic guitars and for contemporary and traditional forms of blues music.
Guy’s Born to Play Guitar album copped the 2016 Grammy for Best Blues album. Guy’s most recent album 2018’s The Blues is Alive and Well finds him in peak form. One of the album’s more interesting tracks is “Cognac,” which he performs with Keith Richards and Jeff Beck. The album’s title track is another highlight. Backed by the Muscle Shoals Horns Guy keeps things bluesy and true to his own sound.
While Guy’s music is often labeled Chicago blues his style is unique and separate. His music varies from the most traditional, deepest blues to a creative, unpredictable and radical gumbo of the blues, avant-rock, soul and free jazz that changes with each performance.
Perhaps Eric Clapton summed Guy up best when inducting him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “No matter how great the song, or performance, my ear would always find him out. He stood out in the mix, simply by virtue of the originality and vitality of his playing.”
Sacramento’s K-ZAP 93.3 FM plays Buddy Guy. All part of 50 years of Rock, Blues and More, 24-7 on our station’s stream at K-ZAP.ORG/LISTEN/