Rant ‘N’ Roll: Buddy Guy

The last of the great Chicago blues giants, Buddy Guy, took the stage at the beautiful Sands Entertainment Center in Bethlehem, PA and proceeded to blow the house away with a stunning set of electric blues accentuated by Guy’s stinging lead guitar and howling vocals. He is, at 76, a certifiable legend and, amazingly, still a vibrant performer who hardly rests on his considerable past laurels.

This is a man who directly influenced such rock guitarists as Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, all of whom have admitted to copping his riffs to incorporate them into their own vocabularies. In Jimi’s case, he even copied Guy’s stage antics of playing guitar with his mouth and behind his back.

Midway through the show, Guy said, “55 years ago, I came to Chicago from Louisiana as a 20-year-old kid, broke, hungry, and with my guitar. I said to the man, ‘If I play you some songs, can I get a hamburger?’ And this is what I played him.” And with that introduction, Guy sat down and performed the most beautiful version of Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar” you’re ever going to hear.

He played some James Brown. He played some Hendrix. At one point, he said, “these British boys learned their lessons well playing my music. One of them, Eric Clapton, is now my best friend. Let me show you what he sounded like when he formed a band called Cream.” With that introduction, Guy stood up and performed the most rockin’ version of “Strange Brew” you’re ever going to hear.

At one point, he did the old showbiz trick of walking off stage during a solo, walking down the aisle of the theater and slapping some folks five (including myself, who left my seat to follow him). Guy then walked out the back of the room and into the casino bar area where he had a beer while still soloing. Then he walked back, security guards frantically clearing a way for him.

His voice is still so powerful! Hey, when you get older, you start losing a few octaves. Ask Robert Plant. Ask Ian Anderson. Ask Rod Stewart. Not Buddy Guy. He’s a freak of nature, a whirlwind, a hurricane force act of nature that epitomizes the blues and gives you, during the course of 90 minutes, a history of the genre. He referenced numerous blues legends and at one point, while talking about Robert Johnson (1911-1938) who, as legend has it, sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads for fame and fortune, he went into some intricate Robert Johnson-type riffs that had the blues purists in the crowd slack-jawed with awe.

It’s no surprise, then, that Buddy Guy has been named one of the seven recipients of the 2012 Kennedy Honors, which will be bestowed upon him at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. on Dec. 2, airing on CBS-TV Dec. 26. The other recipients are Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, David Letterman, actor Dustin Hoffman and ballerina Natalia Makarova. In a press release, Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein said, “Buddy Guy is a titan of the blues and has been a tremendous influence on virtually everyone who has picked up an electric guitar in the last half century.”