Clips & Pix: Buddy Guy & B.B. King/Stay Around A Little Longer

Earlier this week, I spotted this great clip on the website of the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in New York City, where I will be in mid-April to see Buddy Guy. Sadly, his partner in the recording B.B. King passed away in May 2015 at the age of 89. While it will be my second time for Guy, unfortunately, I never saw King.

Written by Tom Hambridge and Gary Nicholson, Stay Around A Little Longer was recorded for Guy’s 15th studio album Living Proof from October 2010. In addition, the tune appeared separately as a single just prior to the release of the record, which was produced by Hambridge who also played drums and percussion.

The moving lyrics are a dialogue between King and Guy, who express their gratitude for the life each has had and mutual appreciation. Admittedly, when I watched this clip the other day, I found myself tearing up a bit, especially at King’s line, When I’m pushing up daisies, don’t forget/You’re still my buddy. The soul that comes across in this song and these words is just beautiful – this is music at its finest!

Sources: B.B. King Blues Club & Grill website, Wikipedia, YouTube


Clips & Pix: Buddy Guy/Whiskey, Beer & Wine

Earlier today, I listened to a blues playlist curated by Apple Music, which included the above killer tune by Buddy Guy. It’s almost like a Jimi Hendrix reincarnation played by a man who was 78 years old when he recorded the track – damn!

Whiskey, Beer & Wine appeared on Guy’s last studio album aptly titled Born To Play Guitar. That record was released on July 31, 2015, one day after his 79th birthday. The song was co-written by Richard Fleming (couldn’t find anything specific on him) and the record’s producer Tom Hambridge who also played drums and percussion. According to Wikipedia, Guy has called him “The White Willie Dixon.” Hambridge certainly has worked with an impressive array of blues artists, who in addition to Guy include Susan Tedeschi, George Thorogood and Johnny Winter, among others.

Born To Play Guitar climbed to no. 60 on the Billboard 200, not too shabby for a blues record these days, and topped the Billboard Blues Albums chart in late August 2015. It also won the 2016 Grammy for Best Blues Album.

According to his website, the now 81-year-old Guy continues to tour vigorously. In case you are wondering, he is scheduled to play Mystic Lake Casino Hotel in Prior Lake, Minn. tonight. The current temperature in that part of the country is -7F, so a dose of smoking hot blues sounds like a good proposition! Between January 4 and April 24, Guy has 39 additional scheduled gigs, if I counted it correctly! I saw him last July. If you’re into electric blues and like guitar shredders, I can highly recommend his show.

Sources: Wikipedia, Buddy Guy website, YouTube

The Hardware: Fender Stratocaster

Perhaps no other model embodies the electric guitar more than the Fender Stratocaster

To me the Fender Stratocaster is the Porsche 911 of electric guitars. Similar to the iconic German sports car, the Strat was designed decades ago but its basic shape has remained unchanged.

The Stratocaster was developed by the founder of the Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company (“Fender”) Leo Fender, guitarist and adviser Bill Carson and company associates George Fullerton and Freddie Tavares. It was Tavares who came up with the two-horned body shape, similar to the Precision Bass Fender had launched in 1951.

Stratocaster Headstock

Introduced in 1954, the Strat became Fender’s third defining model after the Telecaster and the Precision Bass. While Les Paul built the first solid-body guitar, it was Leo Fender who started mass-producing the first such guitar in 1948, the Fender Broadcaster. A few years later, it was renamed the Telecaster and introduced in 1951. The Telecaster gained quick popularity among country and early rock & roll guitarists.

It is quite amazing that to this day, more than 60 years later, the Telecaster, Precision Bass and Stratocaster continue to be manufactured. By the way, it was Fender’s head of sales Don Randall who came up with the name Stratocaster.

Stratocaster Comfort Contours

The Strat featured several innovations. It was the first electric guitar with three pickups; the Telecaster had two. The Strat’s rounded edges and deep body and forearm contours were another first. The so-called “Comfort Contour Body” was another contrast to the Telecaster with its squared-off body that dug into the player’s body and picking-hand forearm.

The new shape, which has been attributed to guitarist Rex Gallion, made the instrument more comfortable to play. Gallion reportedly once asked Leo Fender, “Why not get away from a body that is always digging into your ribs?” The new shape also looked pretty cool – there was simply no other guitar like it!

Stratocaster Tremolo System.JPG

Another key innovative feature of the Strat was its spring tension tremolo system. Leo Fender came up with the design after scraping the initial vibrato system due to poor performance. In the new design the whole bridge moved with the strings rather than having the strings move over rollers with the bridge remaining stationary. The spring tension tremolo system allowed the pitch to vary by at least three half steps.

The tremolo system turned out to be hugely impactful. For example, without this feature, Hank Marvin, lead guitarist of The Shadows, could not have created his signature sound on Apache and many of the band’s other songs. And more than a decade later, Jimi Hendrix’s epic performance of Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock would not have been possible without his guitar’s vibrato bar.

Stratocaster Close-Up

Despite all of its novel features, the Strat was not an overnight sensation. Many guitarists considered it gimmicky. The early rock & rollers largely relied of flat-top acoustic or big, hollow-body electric guitars by Gibson and Gretsch. Leo Fender and his staff continued tweaking the Stratocaster until 1957 when they finally had improved it to the form that largely has remained unchanged to this day.

The Strat is a versatile guitar that has been used in many music genres, including blues, country, soul, rock, punk, heavy metal and jazz. Following are some of the influential musicians who have played the Strat.

Buddy Holly was the first “Strat hero.” According to Fender’s official website, Holly purchased his first Strat in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas in 1955, with money he had borrowed from his brother Larry. He helped popularize the guitar with his 1957 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Peggy Sue also happens to be one of my favorite tunes from that era.

Hank Marvin reportedly was the first U.K. owner of a Strat. His initial preference for the guitar was based the wrong assumption that his favorite guitarist James Burton, who played with Ricky Nelson at the time, was using that model. “We loved the sound he and Buddy Holly had,” Marvin told Vintage Guitar Magazine in 2006. “We just assumed that James would be using the same, because it seemed to be the top model…That’s how I got my Strat. And it was a beautiful guitar, [Fiesta Red] with a birdseye maple neck and gold-plated hardware.”

Like Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix helped popularize the Strat, especially his favorite white-finish version, the guitar he used at Woodstock. Two years earlier, at Monterey Pop Festival, Hendrix also proved you can set a Stratocaster on fire – don’t try this at home!

Eric Clapton became a Strat enthusiast in 1967, after originally having played Gibson guitars. The guitar he used to record Layla was a second-hand 1956 sunburst-finish Strat he had purchased in London in May 1967, which he nicknamed “Brownie.” Clapton’s other main Fender guitar, “Blackie,” was assembled from three different Strats. He used it until the mid-80s. In 1988, Fender introduced the Eric Clapton Stratocaster, the first model in the company’s signature series. Here is Clapton with It’s Too Late, together with Derek & The Dominos.

Rory Gallagher was well known for his battered 1961 sunburst Stratocaster, which he described as “a part of my physical make-up.” Since 1997, Fender’s Custom Shop has built the Rory Gallagher Signature Stratocaster, an exact replica of the Irish blues rocker’s instrument. Here is a clip of a 1977 live performance of Tattoo’d Lady.

Mark Knopfler, another big Strat enthusiast, has been using this Fender model throughout his career. Together with his fingerstyle playing, he created his own signature sound. Sultans of Swing is one of the finest examples. In an interview with Guitar World last year, Knopfler commented on the role his Strat played for the song. “I thought it [the National Steel guitar he used to write the tune] was dull, but as soon as I bought my first Strat in 1977, the whole thing changed, though the lyrics remained the same. It just came alive as soon as I played it on that ’61 Strat.”

Stevie Ray Vaughan is another great guitarist who is closely associated with the Strat. In January 1992, Fender introduced the Stevie Ray Vaughan Stratocaster, a signature model based on his favorite guitar, “Number One.” Here is a clip of Pride And Joy, together with Double Trouble.

David Gilmour is considered to be one of the more influential Stratocaster players since the instrument’s invention, according to Wikipedia. He has played the Strat during his time with Pink Floyd and as a solo artist. Here is a clip of Comfortably Numb, which includes an epic Strat solo.

Buddy Guy has played a Strat throughout his career. There has been a Buddy Guy Signature Stratocaster since the early 1990s. Here’s a clip of one of my favorite Guy tunes, Whiskey, Beer & Wine. It rocks like a Hendrix reincarnation!

Bonnie Raitt has owned a Stratocaster since 1969 and told Guitar Player she hasn’t missed one concert with that guitar since then. She also owns various Bonnie Raitt signature Strats. Here is a clip of Gypsy In Me from her last album.

In 1965, poor health made Leo Fender sell the company to CBS. While Fender significantly grew over the next 20 years, there was a lack of commitment and true understanding of musicianship at CBS. In 1981, it brought in new management to “re-invent” Fender. Eventually, CBS sold the company in 1985 to a group of Fender employees and investors. That transaction started a turnaround of the company and may well be reason why it’s still alive today and hopefully will be around for many years to come.

Sources: Wikipedia; Jeff Owens: The History of the Fender Stratocaster: The 1950s, Fender website; Mental Floss; Guitar Player; Vintage Guitar Magazine; Guitar World; YouTube



What I’ve Been Listening to: Buddy Guy/ Born to Play Guitar

Buddy Guy couldn’t have chosen a better title for his 17th studio album, which is full of electrifying energy.

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.

Buddy Guy_Born to Play Guitar_Sleeve

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.

Buddy Guy_Born to Play Guitar_Cover Backside

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