23 February 2006

Buddy Guy

My Love and I went to see Buddy Guy last night. My Love told me that this would be one of the best performers I will ever see. And darn it if he wasn’t absolutely correct, perhaps even a little modest in his assertion.

Early in the day My Love told me we should leave the house no later than 7 pm for the 8 o’clock show that was roughly less than 30 minutes from home. So I bought the fast food dinner on the way home, promptly ate, showered and was ready to go by 6:30. At 6:40 Lover decides to pop in the video he has of Buddy performing in Chicago some years ago. After several minutes of re-winding, we leisurely enjoy about three numbers from this video. During a break, at about four minutes to seven I decide I should take advantage of our home facilities to avoid having to wait in line at the public restrooms of the venue. Between the time I entered and departed the bathroom, my Lover’s mood had changed from relaxed to a frenetic, goal-driven man with a focused sole-purpose. GET THEE TO THE SHOW. He buckled me into the passenger seat and off we went in a flash.

We arrived safely at the venue in 18 minutes flat. He parked while I gathered together the few belongings I wanted to keep track of during the show. We promptly found our way to our seats with 20 minutes to spare before the opening act. I spent that time adjusting my binoculars and just watching the human zoo.

The opening act was forgettable, with the only notable fact being that one of the three guitar players was the grandson of the late RL Burnside. Charlie Musselwhite and his wife were seated four rows in front of us and seemed to only be there for this opening act, which hailed from Clarksdale MS, Charlie’s “other” home town, because I did not see Charlie return to his seat for the headliner, although he very well could have been in the house.

At nine o’clock, Buddy’s band took to the stage and Buddy was introduced to the enthusiastic crowd. They broke in to the first number, the classic blues standard Goin’ Down, right on into a blistering Hoochie Coochie Man. Buddy spoke a few words about how happy he was to be there and how good he was feeling and then played Little Red Rooster, using his guitar like a magic wand wavering between subtlety and explosiveness. Next they did one of Buddy’s own, Feel’s Like Rain. They followed this with Sonny Boy Williamson’s Good Morning Little School Girl, very sweet, going off on a little tangent of Mary Had a Little Lamb. The band was tight and never missed a beat of Buddy’s eclecticism. He tried to tell us that he never rehearses because he never knows what he’s gonna do. But I find that really hard to believe based on the deft performance.

Buddy talked a bit about how he grew up and the first time he saw a light, having lived without electricity, how his family drank water from the creek, how his grandmother smoked a pipe and chewed tobacco and still lived to be a hundred.

Then they played Drowning on Dry Land. During this and the next three numbers Buddy stepped off the stage and ventured right down into the crowd, pausing in the aisle to play directly in front of a wheelchair-bound person. He slowly rambled up the aisle and into the lobby, all the time playing his guitar and occasionally singing. The audience is loving this interplay and heads were turning all directions to see where he’s gonna go next and next thing you know the people in the balcony of the Luther Burbank Center are on their feet and clapping for him as he strolls from one end to the other interacting with the crowd. Next he re-enters the main floor through the opposite doors and walks back toward the stage down the other aisle. During this time he and the band moved through Rock Me Baby and Big Leg Woman.

Back on stage Buddy next played one from his newest CD called What Kind of Woman Is This?

Buddy talked about one of his previous trips to the West Coast (Berkeley in ’69) when he first played his next song Fever. Then he continued to noodle around while talking about those guys from England who picked up on American Blues and made it their own, specifically Eric Clapton and Cream, before playing a haunting, sublime version of Strange Brew. Then he said “There used to be a guy called Hooker who played like this” and he broke into a funkified version my favorite John Lee Hooker song Boom Boom. He said “That was how John Lee Hooker played and this is how BUDDY GUY plays:” and he launched into his own Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues, playing with ferocity and intensity, rubbing the guitar strings all up on his self. Then he closes the show with a number by “this other guy” (Jimi Hendrix) as he wah-wahed his way into Voodoo Child, even doing the classic Hendrix trick of playing the guitar with his teeth. He was perfect!

After the show, he sat in the lobby and patiently signed autographs and greeted his fans. My Love had brought a photograph which he had taken of Buddy 15 years ago in San Luis Obispo which Buddy signed for him.

Last night Buddy Guy owned Sonoma County, hell, he owned the world as far as I was concerned. It was a performance I shall never forget. Buddy Guy is one of the last living links to the greats of American Blues and last night he represented. He was a touchstone for such luminaries as Albert King, B.B. King, Don Nix, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and Bill Broonzy. We were treated to 90 minutes of pure and quintessential electric blues by a true virtuoso.

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