Many have called Buddy Guy Chicago’s blues king of today. He is perhaps the most energetic and spontaneous bluesman that any aspiring guitarist can hope to see on stage, displaying a constant stream of unfiltered feeling through his polka-dotted Stratocaster and tortured vocal style.
Even Eric Clapton has called him “by far and without a doubt the best guitar player alive” (Rockhall.com). His story is the classic story of a Chicago bluesman seeking success, and it’s hard to say that he hasn’t succeeded. Born July 30, 1936, as George Guy, Buddy started out as the son of a sharecropper in Louisiana. At age 13, he built his own guitar and learned to play by reproducing the sounds of the bluesmen he heard on the radio, such as Guitar Slim and John Lee Hooker, when there wasn’t too much work to do on the plantation. It was at age 16 that he got his first real guitar: a Harmony acoustic.
As a teenager, he started to play clubs in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, although he later found out that times there were hard for a bluesman, and moved on to Chicago at age 21. The Midwest’s blues center was just as inhospitable, though. He was starving and broke when he was offered an audition at the 708 Club, where he was rescued by the great Muddy Waters himself. In an interview with Guitar Player magazine, he recalled, “I was going on my third day without eating in Chicago, trying to borrow a dime to call my mom to get back to Louisiana, and Muddy Waters bought me a salami sandwich and put me in the back of his 1958 Chevy station wagon. He said, ‘You’re hungry, and I know it'” (Collins).
Talking to his idol though, Guy was so overjoyed that he didn’t feel hungry anymore. When he said this to Waters, his response was, “Get in the goddamn car” (Collins). So began Guy’s career in playing Chicago clubs. Here, he started to build up his reputation as a bluesman. He got to play alongside his idols, even having guitar battles with them at times. Here, he displayed his influence through his playing style and onstage acts.
In his autobiography, he said, “I wanted to play like B.B. King but act like Guitar Slim,” (Rockhall.com) and, though his style has become very unique since then, that he did. Two of his 1968 singles for Cobra Records, “This is the End,” and “Try to Quit You Baby,” were clearly influenced by King’s playing. He told Guitar Player, “When I came to Chicago, most guitar players in town did not stand up to play.
I stood up and played to make everybody know me. I started kicking chairs off the stage when I went up there at the battles of the guitars. They were sitting there going, ‘Who the hell is that?'” (Collins). One day he brought his 150-foot cable to the show, and walked right out into the snow as he played. The next day, the media was there wanting to know who he was.
Through such acts, he gained a bit of fame and began recording with record labels. His early recording, though, consisted mainly of backing other renowned players under the Chess Records label. He had time to record some singles of his own, but it wasn’t until 1968 that he recorded his first album, A Man & the Blues, with Vanguard records. In 1972, he opened the Checkerboard Lounge blues club, where he regularly performed until it closed in 1983. Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, he went from one record company to another, often recording with blues harmonica player Junior Wells.
However, the growth in popularity of rock toned down Guy’s career for a while. Once younger guitarists like Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Jeff Beck acknowledged the influence that Guy had on their playing, though, his popularity picked up again, and he was able to release several acclaimed albums in the ‘90s. Today, Buddy Guy has become one of the great blues players of the city. Though his name isn’t a household name like Jeff Beck, anyone who really keeps up with Chicago blues knows it. He now owns the blues club Legends, which he opened in 1989, and even had enough influence to get the street it was built on renamed “Muddy Waters Drive.
” Besides that, his influence can be felt through the playing of the aforementioned modern artists and many others. Eric Clapton said, “He was for me what Elvis was probably like for other people” (“Buddy Guy”). In his latest album, “Skin Deep,” he’s tried to help up-and-coming musicians in much the same way that Muddy Waters did with him by giving them recording spots. The album features guest appearances by younger musicians like Derek Trucks, Robert Randolph, and even pre-teen guitarist Quinn Sullivan. Guy has said, “I just try to get the best players, and hope I can pop the top off this can and show that the blues are back. […] These guys got me feeling like when I was 22 years old and went into the studio with Muddy Waters” (“Buddy Guy”).
It would be very hard to say that Buddy Guy hasn’t earned himself a spot among the great bluesmen of Chicago. He’s worked through his humble start on the plantation and the hard times he felt in his early career to become one of the most influential and original blues guitarists of the age. Without Buddy Guy, the blues might not have evolved to what it is today. Works Cited “Buddy Guy Biography.” Biography.com.
25 Jan 2011. <http://www.biography.com/articles/%20Buddy-Guy-37980> “Buddy Guy Biography.” Rockhall.com. 25 Jan 2011. <http://rockhall.com/inductees/buddy-guy/bio/ > “Buddy Guy Biography.” Starpulse.com.
25 Jan 2011. <http://www.starpulse.com/Music/Guy,_Buddy/Biography/> “Buddy Guy.” Crossroadsguitarfestival.com.
27 Jan 2011. <http://crossroadsguitarfestival.com/index.php/artists/buddy-guy> Collins, David. “Buddy Guy Biography.
” Musicianguide.com. 25 Jan 2011. <http://www.musicianguide.com/biographies/1608000241/Buddy-Guy.html>