John Lennon once said, “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.” Well, if Chuck Berry is Mr. Rock & Roll, perhaps Buddy Guy could be called “Mr. Blues,” at least among the still-living electric blues guitarists. No matter how you may want to characterize Guy, one thing is clear – his 17th studio album sure as heck illustrates he was born to play the guitar!
Released on July 31, 2015, Born to Play Guitar certainly doesn’t sound like an album from a man who was close to 79 years old when he recorded it! The record kicks off with the title track, an excellent slower tune showcasing Guy’s amazing electric blues guitar skills and, not to forget, his still-formidable voice.
Then things pick up with Wear You Out featuring ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, one of many guitarists who were influenced by Guy. The album also includes guest appearances by other top-notch musicians. Fabulous Thunderbirds frontman Kim Weston plays a bad-ass harp on Too Late and Kiss Me Quick. English singer-songwriter Joss Stone shares vocals with Guy on (Baby) You Got What It Takes. And then there is Van Morrison who joins Guy on vocals for Flesh & Bone, a beautiful tune dedicated to B.B. King.
While each of the above songs already is a true gem, to me there is one that takes things to an even higher level: Whiskey, Beer & Wine. This kick-ass blues rocker sounds like a reincarnation of none other than Jimi Hendrix, another guitarist Guy influenced.
While many artists listened to Guy, he of course was influenced by other musicians as well. One of them was Muddy Waters. Guy is paying homage to Waters with the album’s closer, Come Back Muddy, the only acoustic blues on the record. The tune’s last lines pretty much sum up what Guy views as his mission these days – keeping the blues alive: “Come back Muddy/The blues ain’t been the same/Give you my promise/That I’m gonna keep on playing.” It’s also a message Guy shares during his concerts. I witnessed this firsthand when I was fortunate to catch one of his shows last July, an amazing double bill with Jeff Beck. You can read more about it here.
Most of the album’s music was written by Richard Fleming and producer Tom Hambridge. He also was one of the studio musicians, playing drums and other percussive instruments and contributing background vocals. Guy only has co-writing credits on four of the songs. But as Rolling Stone’s David Fricke observed, Guy sings “lines he didn’t write but lived. In the blues, that’s what matters.”
Born to Play Guitar climbed to no. 1 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart and made it into the Billboard 200, peaking at no. 60. It also won the Grammy for Best Blues Album in 2016. As reported by Blues and BG Music News, when Guy accepted the award, his 7th Grammy, he said: “At least I know the blues is not dead yet! I want to thank my record company, because I don’t think blues is getting played that much no more. And I’m not ashamed to say that, because I used to could drive down the streets and hear Muddy Waters once or twice a week. But I didn’t give up. And I gotta thank my record company for puttin up with me and my producer Tom Hambridge.”
Of course, I couldn’t finish this post without a clip of – I suppose you correctly guessed it – Whiskey, Beer & Wine.
Sources: Wikipedia, AllMusic, Rolling Stone, Blues and BG Music News, YouTube