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Buddy Guy, Keeping the Blues Alive at the Age of 87

Blues, a genre rich in history and roots, has always thrived on its respect for the past, especially when younger musicians pay homage to their musical forefathers. Names like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and the three Kings – Albert, Freddie, and B.B. – resonate in the annals of blues history.

Unfortunately, many of these pillars have become part of a history book, leaving legends like Buddy Guy as some of the last remnants of the Chicago blues music scene, where clubs were alive with the sounds of Otis Rush, Magic Sam, Little Walter, Willie Dixon, and, of course, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.

PBS, recognizing the impact of Buddy Guy, who recently celebrated his 87th birthday, released the documentary “Buddy Guy: The Blues Chase the Blues Away” as part of the American Masters series.

The documentary coincided with the announcement of Guy’s “Damn Right Farewell Tour,” marking a shift from his decades-long touring schedule.

Scheduled to play at K-State’s McCain Auditorium on November 5, Buddy Guy remains dedicated to preserving the blues, a genre often eclipsed by contemporary music.

In a recent phone interview, Guy highlighted the need to support the blues, especially when mainstream radio stations seldom feature it. “The way they treat the blues now, you don’t hear it on your big radio stations anymore,” Guy lamented.

“Your big AM/FM stations don’t play blues hardly anymore. So whatever little I can do to help keep blues alive, I’m open for it.”

But what exactly is Buddy Guy’s contribution to the blues, and why is he so committed to its survival?

Buddy Guy, A Journey from the Fields to the Stage

The documentary “Buddy Guy: The Blues Chase the Blues Away” takes viewers on a 1-hour and 23-minute journey through the life of Buddy Guy.

It includes original interviews with Guy himself and notable musicians like John Mayer, Carlos Santana, Gary Clark, Jr., and Christone “Kingfish” Ingram.

Buddy Guy
Buddy Guy (Credit: Getty Images)

However, it is not just a biographical documentary; it’s a travelogue that delves into Guy’s life.

The documentary starts in the fields of Louisiana where Buddy Guy and his sharecropping family worked.

A section of the highway was named after him in December 2018, an acknowledgment of his significant contributions.

From those humble beginnings, the film tracks Guy’s journey to Chicago in the 1950s when the city was alive with the sounds of blues music.

Guy had arrived in Chicago with just a guitar and a suit to his name. His intention was to find a day job and enjoy the blues played by legends like Muddy Waters and Little Walter.

However, destiny had different plans for him. Waters took the young musician under his wing, and this was a pivotal moment in Guy’s career.

“Sixty-five years ago last year, I’d just gotten to Chicago, and I wasn’t looking to be a professional musician,” Guy recalled. “I’d left Louisiana because they told me I could go to Chicago, get a day job, and wouldn’t have to pay to see Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, and all those guys.

I was looking for a day job because I didn’t think I was good enough to play with them.”

Guy’s introduction to the Chicago blues scene was a memorable one. “I learned how to play Lightnin’ Hopkins, Jimmy Reed, and a few Muddy Waters licks.

I hadn’t eaten in three days, and a guy took me to the 708, a famous blues club on 47th Street in Chicago. I went up and played a number with the late Otis Rush, and somebody called Muddy Waters.

He got out of his van and, because he heard I was telling people how hungry I was, he brought me a bologna sandwich.”

Word spread quickly about Guy’s guitar skills, and he soon began recording for Cobra Records before landing at Chess Records, where his mentor Muddy Waters paved the way.

This period led to collaborations with other label artists, further solidifying Guy’s place in the blues.

Guy’s unique blend of showmanship and skill caught the attention of British guitar icons like Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, and Eric Clapton, as well as American guitar virtuoso Jimi Hendrix.

When asked about his first encounter with Hendrix in 1968, Guy chuckled and said, “You should ask what he thought of me, because he told me he came from a gig to come to see me play because he’d picked up some things from me.”

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