Words: Buddy Guy at Summerfest
Buddy Guy at Summerfest 2018
Article by Adam Krueger
In an interview Buddy Guy gave with Rolling Stone in April of 2012, Buddy recalled meeting Jimi Hendrix years ago when Jimi was an excited and impressionable young man. The aspiring rock-star approached the blues legend telling his idol that he canceled a concert to catch him because he had been trying to catch him his whole life. Jimi asked to record him playing and Buddy responded he didn’t give a damn what Jimi did. That’s Buddy Guy. Today we look at Hendrix as the greatest guitarist of all time, whose number was called long ago for the infamous Twenty-Seven Club. Still one of his greatest inspirations is alive and well as Buddy Guy’s new album will flat-out tell you and as he happily demonstrated to a full and captivated audience at the Harley Davidson Roadhouse Stage on June 30, 2018 for Summerfest.
He kicked it off by tearing into one of his most raucous and beloved hits, “Damn Right I’ve Got the Blues” as a haze of smoke and mist passed the myriad of spotlights accenting every angle of the stage to the immediate uproar of the crowd responding. He proved why he’s arguably the best living guitarists today. Granted, some may say Clapton, but Clapton himself disagrees. He says it’s Buddy. Buddy Guy knows this and is eager to show it but still acts selfless enough to give ample time for the rest of his band to show everyone what they can do. Nobody disappoints. To play with Buddy you have to be some of the best in the business. He went on to cover many of the all-time greats, his peers, the people he recorded with, admired, and befriended. He playfully jostled the crowd for not knowing the lyrics to “Hoochie Coochie Man” when he claimed a crowd in Tokyo did better just three weeks ago. For the record, he says this almost every time I have seen him play and even in videos on Youtube. The audience laughed and obliged as they did better the next time. And every other time he chided the crowd all everyone did was cheer him. The only time he did it with anything besides playfulness in his tone was in response from someone in the crowd that yelled Stevie Ray Vaughn was one of the greatest guitarists. It came right after Buddy teased the crowd for a good forty seconds with “Boom Boom” by John Lee Hooker, whom he said, as he always does, that Hooker was the best he’s ever heard. But his annoyance had a reason. In every one of his concerts, for years now, he does not just go through his greatest hits, which would be perfectly fine and entertaining. He uses his showmanship and his band as a kind of history lesson of American music. He tells people about his dear friend, the late great Muddy Waters, he talks about playing with Junior Wells. He talked about how they all grew up and what that music meant to them and what it meant to America. He wants to champion those from an era who never received the mainstream appreciation they deserved. He pays homage to them in songs and stories and goes on to show what the blues grew into. He plays Hendrix, he plays Clapton, some Al Green, and a few seconds of the Stones before joking that “I don’t know how to play that, actually.” He inserts his own songs every so often, often encouraging a sing-a-long with hits like “It Feels Like Rain.”
Buddy Guy orchestrates the crowd beautifully as if he has been doing this almost every night for just under a century, because basically he has. He still does the things that Hendrix mimicked from him all those years ago, solos with his teeth, playing behind his back, humping his guitar so it becomes a percussion instrument, whipping his strings with wet rags and drumsticks to play along with his band. Everyone eats it up. For a man in his eighties he shows little signs of slowing down. He tells the crowd as it starts to rain that he was told by authorities if it begins to lightning the show will be shut down. The crowd reacted just the way he wanted and exploded with thunderous applause when he told everyone, “They’re gonna have to twist my fucking arms back to keep me from playing!” Later he threatened to play all night to an equally joyous response. Unfortunately, he didn’t do that this time, wrapping his set up on time with one of his more recent songs that he closes most shows out with now, one about racial harmony and love. He introduces it with a story about his mother and how she taught him that what everyone sees when they look at you is only skin deep, as is the name the song. And for what it’s worth maybe the biggest cheer of the entire night came after a lyric from that song:
“I sat my little child down
When he was old enough to know
I said out there in this big wide world
You're gonna meet all kinds of folks
I said son it all comes down to just one simple rule
That you treat everybody just the way
You want them to treat you.”
Hopefully we can all remember that, and as with every time I have seen Buddy play, I won’t be forgetting it any time soon.