Interview with Blues Guitarist Buddy Guy

Blues guitarist Buddy Guy has often said his shows are spontaneous events where even he often doesn't know what will happen on any given night. If the crowd is on and Guy is on his game, it's a mixture that can produce the kind of musical magic that turns a concert into an unforgettable experience.But don't expect Guy to offer any clues about whether any of those magic moments were captured on tape on his new concert CD, Live: The Real Deal."You know, I don't ever answer that," Guy said when asked to assess the performances on the live CD. "I'd love for somebody else to see me play and tell me how was it because I have played shows and I thought it was my worst night and people would come back and say that was the best I've ever seen. So I'm a poor judge on that. I don't even answer questions like that. I don't know. I just think I go out each and every night and try to give you 110 percent of myself and the best I can. As my dad told me before he died, he said don't be the best in town, just be the best until the best comes around."When it comes to playing blues guitar, more than a few people think Guy is the best in the business. Some of blues-rock's biggest names -- Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to name a few -- were greatly influenced by Guy's stinging attack. Clapton even proclaimed Guy "by far and without a doubt the best guitar player alive."Unfortunately, for many years, such praise didn't do that much to propel Guy's career forward. Neither did Guy's impressive credentials as part of the legendary Chess Records label during the late 1950s and 1960s, where he not only recorded several impressive records, but was a valued sideman on albums by Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf and dozens of other blues greats.Instead, during the entire decade of the 1980s, Guy was unable to find a record label that would let him record the kind of high-charged blues that had earned him so much praise to begin with.Only when Silvertone Records signed Guy did he return to the studio, where over the past five years he's released three straight Grammy-winning albums, Damn Right, I've Got The Blues (1991), Feels Like Rain (1993) and Slippin' In (1994).Guy, who's as gracious and humble as any musician one is likely to meet, expresses no hard feelings about being overlooked by the record industry for so many years."I'm not bitter about that because my thinking is if it was meant for me it would have happened, and it didn't happen," Guy said. "I'm enjoying life right now, and what I'm playing, if I'd had gotten success when I was in my 20s or 30s, who knows, I might have lived the fast life and you wouldn't be talking to me now. I'm kind of religious. You know, God works in mysterious ways. So I'm saying well he waited on me, and I'm still here and in pretty good health and playing. So I don't know. I probably wouldn't have known how to appreciate the success as I do now because I'm like saying now you look around and there aren't too many of us (veteran blues artists) left. I'm like trying to take this music as far as I can and I'm like saying OK, if God got it for me when I'm age 60 years old, which is today, I'm like thank you. I'm having fun."Contentment aside, there is a certain urgency to Guy's activities these days. When he talks about performing and what he wants to accomplish with each concert, he sometimes expresses a desire to show audiences what they had been missing."I've done shows with the Rolling Stones, and there are people who pop up there who don't know who the hell I am," Guy said. "So my thing is tonight, tomorrow, next year, wherever you see me on the stage, I want to let somebody know yeah, he can play. I didn't know nothing about him, but I saw him. And I get (people who say) I didn't know who the hell you were until I read Eric Clapton's comment. So I wanted to come out and see what you sound like. I said yeah, Eric's got such a name, he don't have to play well, but I've got to show you what I can do. I don't have a record to lay back on and say yeah, that was me, even if I don't play that well tonight. I've got to jump out here -- tonight I'm in Nevada, and it's 114 -- and I've got to let it all hang out, man."When it comes to recording, Guy shows a similar intensity. He wants to take advantage of every opportunity that is presented to him, and his concert CD, Live: The Real Deal is a perfect example of his desire document as much music as possible on record.Guy had not been planning to do a live record at this point. In fact, he had only finished his most recent studio CD, "Slippin' In," a week or so before the idea of a concert recording started to surface."It wasn't my idea," Guy admitted. "I went in and played the Saturday Night Live show with their band, and some people from my record company heard it and they liked what they heard. They came back and said hey man, I'm going to talk to G.E. Smith and see if we can do something live. That sounded good. It wasn't my idea at all. I just give people credit where credit is due, whether it's good or bad. That was their idea because I had just finished doing 'Slippin' In' and they come back and say you're back live doing another album."Jesus Christ, it took me 15 years to get a record company. Now you're going to make me record week after week," Guy said feigning exasperation at the situation. "Whenever I get a chance to record I don't know how to say no because I lost a lot of time by not being with a record company to record. So while you're healthy and well, if you can put anything on tape, especially if you're a blues player, I think you should just do it."The pairing of Guy with Smith -- well known as the former guitarist for Hall and Oates -- and the SNL band doesn't seem like the most natural pairing for a bluesman. But the performances, captured in two shows at Irving Plaza in New York City and two shows at Guy's own Legends nightclub in Chicago, are solid and highly entertaining, as Guy works his way through Chess-era tracks like the frisky "I've Got My Eyes On You" and the boisterous "Let Me Love You Baby," as well as slow burning songs like "Sweet Black Angel (Black Angel Blues)."The arrangements supplied by the Saturday Night Live Band provide Guy with plenty of opportunities to display his six-string fireworks, as well as his gruff, soulful and high-charged vocals -- the songs "My Time After Awhile" and "Damn right, I've Go The Blues" provide prime showcases of both talents.Interestingly enough, Guy had never met Smith before the Saturday Night Live appearance, and did only minimal rehearsals before the CD was recorded. "I wish we had (done more rehearsal). I think it would have been more tight," Guy said. "But sometimes people don't really want blues to be so tight. They call it like sewing machine type music. But I wish I could have just messed with them for a month or two and said OK, now I'm more relaxed with you. Let's go out and do this thing. But it was like write the charts down, let's go to New York and go to Chicago and do this thing, two days at Irving Plaza and two days at my club in Chicago.

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