“The Blues Is Alive And Well,” Sings Buddy Guy On New Release

After listening to the blues legend’s smoking hot 18h studio album, you actually believe the title

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“Is your album wishful thinking or reality,” Billboard asked Buddy Guy about his new record. “Both,” replied Guy. “Truth is, I’m worried about the blues. When B.B. King was still alive, we had long talks about why, outside of satellite, the radio don’t play no blues. On the other hand, I got me some youngsters. My protégé Quinn Sullivan is 19, but I discovered him when he was 8. Cat named Kingfish Ingram from the [Mississippi] Delta, just out of high school, is also playing serious blues.” Frankly, the way Guy sings and plays guitar on his new album doesn’t make you feel he needs any young dude to keep the blues alive, since he won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

The Blues Is Alive And Well, which appeared yesterday about three years after his last Grammy-awarded release Born To Play The Guitar, is nothing less but breathtaking. On his 18th studio album, the 81-year-old blues maestro sounds as great as ever. And with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Jeff Beck, he has some pretty cool guests. There is also 27-year-old English singer-songwriter and guitarist James Bay.

Buddy Guy, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards & Jeff Beck

Why the “Glimmer Twins” and Beck when Guy could have invited anyone to join him, asked Billboard. D’uh, why not? But Guy actually had answer that reflects his longtime sentiments. “Feel like I owed the British the respect they gave Muddy. In the ’60s, when our music was dying, the Stones and their English buddies woke up the world to the blues. They wouldn’t play if Muddy wasn’t on their show. They were shocked America was ignorant of the geniuses living right here in our own backyard. They saw where the gold was buried and they dug it up.”  Well, enough said for the upfront and time to get to some of that blues!

Frankly, I could highlight pretty much any of the record’s 15 tracks, since they are all terrific. Let’s kick if off with one called Guilty As Charged, which shuffles along nicely. According to Blues Blast Magazine, on this tune Guy is joined by producer and longtime collaborator Tom Hambridge (drums), Rob McNelley (rhythm guitar), Kevin MdKendree (keyboards) and Willie Weeks (bass). As also was the case on Guy’s more recent albums, Hambridge was also instrumental in the writing.

Cognac is one of the three tracks that had come out prior to the album. Featuring Richards and Beck, it’s definitely one of the album’s highlights. And even though I already wrote about it in my previous post, with these three dynamite guitarists trading solos, I just couldn’t resist including the song here as well – it’s just priceless!

Here’s the dynamite title track, which was co-written by Hambridge and Gary Nicholson. When I walked through the front door/I swear I heard the back door slam/I got a sneaky suspicion/You got another man/you’re doin’ me wrong, our love is dead and gone/But as far as I can tell/The blues is alive and well. One of tune’s distinct features are the great accents set by The Muscle Shoals Horns, including Charles Rose (trombone & horn arrangements), Steve Herrman (trumpet), Doug Moffet (tenor sax) and Jim Hoke (baritone sax) – gives me goose bumps!

Bad Day is another terrific mid-tempo blues shuffle that makes you want to grab a guitar and groove right along – not that I’m trying to imply that I could contribute anything meaningful here – just daydreaming a little! Blues Blast Magazine notes that the great blues harp fills are provided by Emil Justian, who once was the frontman for Matt “Guitar” Murphy’s band – good company!

On the next track I’d like to call out, Whiskey For Sale, things get funky – yeah, baby! I can hear a little bit of a Stevie Wonder groove in here. I can also picture James Brown shouting out a few ‘uh’s’ as you listen to the track. The beautiful backing vocals by Regina & Ann McCrary of the gospel music quartet The McCrary Sisters add a nice soul touch. I really dig that tune. Check it out!

The last track I’d like to highlight, You Did The Crime, is the song featuring Jagger. Intriguingly, you don’t hear him on vocals, but instead Jagger reminds us that he is a pretty decent blues harpist – something that was also vividly on display on Blue & Lonesome, the Stones’ all blues cover album from December 2016.

I’m really excited about this record – in fact, I predict it’s going to win Guy another Grammy in the blues category. I mean, seriously, how could you top this? In addition to being an ace guitarist, who still plays 150 shows a year, Guy once again shows us that music in order to be truly great needs one critical ingredient: the love to perform it!

Prompted by Billboard’s observation that throughout the album Guy’s joy seems to outweigh his worry about the future of the blues, he said: “Hell yes, the music is shot through with joy. Always has been. When I left the Louisiana farm on Sept. 27, 1957, for Chicago, I was looking for joy. And I found it. Joy went by the name of Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy [Williamson], Howlin’ Wolf. One thing those guys told me never left my mind: ‘Keep these blues, alive, Buddy. Don’t you ever let them die.'”

 

Sources: Wikipedia, Billboard, Blues Blast Magazine, YouTube

Buddy Guy To Release New Studio Album

“The Blues Is Alive And Well” features guest appearances from Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Jeff Beck and James Bay

A Facebook post from Buddy Guy’s page I spotted earlier made my day, or I should better say my evening. The 81-year-old blues legend will release The Blues Is Alive And Well, his 18th studio album this Friday. With his late fellow artists B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Junior Wells all having passed away, some may consider the title as optimistic, but when it comes to this record, the music surely is still cooking, based on the three tracks that are already out.

The album includes guest appearances by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Jeff Beck and James Bay, a 27-year-old English singer-songwriter and guitarist. Guy has known and been friends with Jagger, Richards and Beck for decades. While other black blues artists at times have resented that white guys took their material and oftentimes became more successful than they did, Guy has a different view. He appreciates many of these white artists, especially British blues rockers, since they helped popularize the blues among white audiences, which he feels has also benefited black artists like him.

Here’s a clip of the most recently released track from the forthcoming  album.  Cognac features Richards and Beck. I just love how Guy calls them out. Plus the music and his singing are awesome. Guy still has a great soulful voice!

The album was produced by Guy’s longtime collaborator Tom Hambridge, who has worked with him since his 14th studio album Skin Deep from July 2008. Like on previous records, Hambridge was also involved in the writing.

“Every time I go into the studio my hope is that I give my best and come out with something good enough to try to keep the blues alive,” Guy told music journalist and Forbes contributor Derek Scancarelli. “But that’s not the case always. I don’t even think the Stones made a hit every time they went into the studio.”Added Hambridge: “It’s an important piece of music that’s coming out. He puts his blood and sweat in this stuff. This is a statement about his life. This is everything he has.”

I surely look forward to listen to the entire album this Friday.

Sources: Wikipedia, Forbes.com, YouTube

Damn Right, Buddy Guy Still Got The Blues

81-year-old Chicago blues legend shined at New York’s B.B. King Blues Club & Grill

Boy, had I been full of anticipation of this show, and Wednesday night it finally happened – Buddy Guy at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in the heart of New York City. It was just as amazing if not even better as the first time I had seen the Chicago blues legend at New Jersey’s PNC Bank Arts Center in July 2016. Undoubtedly, one factor was the more intimate club setting where I was seated much closer to the stage. And then, of course, there was the man himself, who at age 81 still delivers the blues with a Jimi Hendrix-like intensity.

From the very beginning with the excellent opener Damn Right, I Got The Blues, Guy left no doubt why he had come to the Big Apple. As I usually do, I didn’t take any videos with my smart phone. Instead, I’m relying on YouTube clips to recreate some of the show’s highlights with the caveat that the footage was captured at different gigs. Written by Guy, Damn Right, I Got The Blues is the title track of his seventh studio album from 1991. Here’s a nice clip of the blues rocker from 2016.

Guy followed up his set’s fiery start with a 12-minute-plus version of the classic I’m A Hoochie Coochie Man combined with She’s Nineteen Years Old. Both tunes were recorded by Muddy Waters, who became a major influence on Guy after he had moved from his native Louisiana to the windy city of Chicago in 1957. The following clip from a concert earlier this month nicely illustrates the onstage persona of Guy who likes to tease his audience by cursing like a sailor. It also showcases his killer piano player Marty Sammon.

Another highlight of the set was Five Long Years, which Guy also recorded for his Damn Right, I Got The Blues album. The tune was written and first recorded by blues pianist Eddie Boyd, who scored a no. 1 hit with it on the Billboard R&B Chart in 1952. Guy’s rendition featured more hilarious cursing and a crazy solo by his guitarist Ric Jaz Hall, who mostly played rhythm but proved he can shred as well, if given the opportunity. The following clip from July 2017 nicely illustrates all of that. Check out Hall’s solo starting at about 2:25 minutes into the tune.

Yet another great moment occurred when Guy performed Skin Deep, the title track of his 14th studio album from 2008. He was joined on stage by his long-time producer Tom Hambridge who co-wrote the beautiful ballad with Guy and Gary Nicholson. I just loved Guy’s soulful singing in that tune.

Apart from singing and playing great blues tracks like the above, Guy also credited white British blues artists, especially his friend Eric Clapton, with introducing black blues artists to broader, white audiences. He also threw in a bit of Hendrix. Here’s a cool clip of a medley including Voodoo Chile and Cream’s Sunshine Of Your Love.

A few words about Guy’s excellent backing musicians, The Damn Right Blues Band. In addition to Sammon and Hall, the members include Orlando Wright (bass) and Tim Awesome Austin (drums). All of these artists are veterans of the Chicago blues scene and have been touring with Guy for more than a decade.

Also, the show had an excellent opening act, The Ben Miller Band. I had never heard of these guys before, who have been around since 2005. They play a dynamite mix of blues, country and bluegrass, using homemade instruments and other unusual equipment. Among others, this includes a one-string washtub bass played by Scott Leeper who is also the band’s drummer. In addition to a standard microphone, lead vocalist and guitarist Ben Miller uses a microphone from an old telephone that creates a unique distorted sound. Rachel Ammons (violin, cello, guitar) and Bob Lewis (bass, guitar, percussion) are also part of the current line-up.

I was very intrigued by this band and plan to check them out more closely. One of the tunes they played last night was a cool cover of Black Betty. Probably the best known version of this traditional African-American work song was released in 1977 by American one-hit rock band Ram Jam.

Finally, this post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the sad fact that Wednesday night’s concert was one of the final shows at the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill. After 18 years, the place is closing down at the end of the month. Guy will return to headline the final show on April 29. A note “To Our Valued Patrons” stated, “As a result of escalating rent, we are being forced to close our doors at the end of April” – what a shame! It was added the club is in the process to select a new location in Manhattan, so at least there appears to be a silver lining here.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Buddy Guy/Left My Blues in San Francisco

Guy’s fantastic debut could have been called ‘Left My Blues In Memphis’

When it comes to Buddy Guy, I’ve yet to hear a bad song, so I feel you pretty much can’t go wrong. After Apple Music served up Left My Blues In San Francisco as a suggestion, I said to myself, ‘sure, why not.’ Other than I Suffer With The Blues and Leave My Girl Alone, which I had previously included in my iTunes Guy playlist, I don’t recall having listened to his debut in its entirely. When I did so this morning, my first spontaneous thought was, ‘boy, not only do I dig his guitar playing, but I also like his soulful voice.’ In fact, this whole album has a Wilson Pickett/Stax feel to it. As it turns out, this wasn’t accidental.

Remarkably, by the time Guy released Left My Blues In San Francisco, he already had been a professional guitarist for more than 15 years. According to Wikipedia, Guy, who was born and raised in Louisiana, had been performing with different bands in Baton Rouge since the early 1950s. In 1957, he moved to Chicago and met Muddy Waters. Soon thereafter, he became a session guitarist for Waters and other local blues artists, such as Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson. They were all under contract with Chess or that label’s subsidiary Checker.

Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters & Buddy Guy
Willie Dixon (l), Muddy Water (m) and Buddy Guy (r) at Chess Records, 1964

Apparently, company founder Leonard Chess felt Guy’s blues guitar playing sounded like “noise.” So Chess told Guy to play R&B ballads, jazz instrumentals and soul tunes and recorded him, but none of this material was released. In fact, Left My Blues In San Francisco became the only Guy record that appeared on the Chess label. I suppose, Leonard’s attitude explains the soulful sound of the record. While it pains me to think the album probably wasn’t the one Guy would have cut had Chess given him full artistic freedom, it’s a true gem, in my opinion.

As for Leonard Chess, according to an interview Guy gave to Rolling Stone in November 2015, he eventually realized how wrong he had been about Guy. “The first thing he said was, ‘I want you to kick me in my ass.’ And I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Because you’ve been trying to show us this shit ever since you came here and we was too goddamn dumb to listen. So now this shit is selling and I want you to come in here — you can have your way in the studio.’ But by then I was gone.” Well, Chess had their chance and they blew it – tough luck! Time for some music.

The album kicks off with Keep It To Myself, a terrific opener that sets the soul mood for the record. The tune was written by Williamson who recorded it in 1956.

Next up: Crazy Love, another excellent song, which was written by Dixon. Guy’s take was the first recorded version of the track.

I Suffer With The Blues is one of three tunes on the album, which are credited to Guy.

Buddy’s Groove is another gem on the record. The song is credited to Gene Barge, who also produced the album and played the tenor saxophone on various songs, though not this one.

She Suits Me To A Tee is another original Guy tune. I really dig the groove and Guy’s vocal on this track.

The last song I’d like to call out is Every Girl I See, the album’s closer. The tune was co-written by Dixon and Michael M.P. Murphy.

To date, Guy has recorded sixteen additional solo albums. His most recent studio release is Born To Play Guitar, another fantastic record that appeared in July 2015. It won Guy the Grammy Award for Best Blues Album in 2016, his seventh. While Guy has been admired by many other guitar greats like Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Jeff Beck and Carlos Santana early on, it took until the early 1990s until those Grammy awards started coming.

Today, Guy can rightly be called the last man standing from the great Chicago blues artists. I’m thrilled I’m going to see him on April 18 at B.B. King Blues Club in New York City, which will be my second time after July 2016. Given ticket prices these days, there aren’t many artists I see more than once. When I learned Guy was coming to New York, it didn’t take long to convince me.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

 

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