Buddy Guy Reminds New Jersey Why He Was Born to Play the Guitar

Wednesday night, I saw Buddy Guy at Wellmont Theater, a lovely 2,500-seat concert venue in Montclair, N.J. My ticket had been a last-minute impulse purchase triggered by a post from a Facebook friend. Age has been kind to Guy, and it felt as if time had stood still since I had first seen him in July 2016.

If I see this correctly, the now 85-year-old is the last man standing from the old generation of Chicago blues artists, such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Elmore James and Luther Allison. Guy still proved to be an incredible guitarist, compelling vocalist and a great showman.

Key aspects of Guy’s show like hitting his guitar with a drum stick, cursing like a sailor and walking off the stage into the audience while playing were familiar from the two previous occasions I had seen him. While as such you could say there were no big surprises, I take predictability when it’s delivered at such a high caliber.

Buddy Guy with Colin James

Before getting to some of Guy’s music, I’d like to say a few words about Canadian blues-rock guitarist and singer-songwriter Colin James who opened the night. According to his website, His career has spanned over 30 years, with a track record that includes 19 studio albums, 7 Juno Awards, 27 Maple Blues Awards and multi-platinum record sales. His most recent album Miles To Go garnered worldwide attention, debuting on the Billboard Blues Charts and holding a position on the RMR Blues Chart for 24 weeks, 14 weeks in the top 10. He continues to sell out shows across Canada with over 80,000 tickets sold on tours over the past 3 years. Colin was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2014.

I was completely new to Colin James and greatly enjoyed his 45-minute set. For some of his songs, he was joined by Guy’s excellent pianist and organist Marty Sammon. Here’s one of these tunes, the title track from James’ new album Open Road, which appeared in November 2021. James came back for one song in Guy’s set.

After a short break, the time had come for Buddy Guy. And he made it damn clear right from the get-go that he meant business with Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues. The title track of his seventh studio album from July 1991 was penned by Guy.

One thing Guy likes to do is to combine songs, which can result in lengthy jam-like performances. Not only can this make it tricky to distinguish between songs, but it also becomes an endurance test for filming! 🙂 Anyway, here’s one such example from Wednesday night: The Willie Dixon standard I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man and the Muddy Waters tune She’s Nineteen Years Old. Both songs were first recorded by Waters in 1954 and 1958, respectively.

I leave you with one more clip: Skin Deep, the title track of Guy’s 14th studio album from July 2008, which I felt was one of the highlights of the night. The soulful tune was co-written by Guy and his long-time collaborators Tom Hambridge and Gary Nicholson. Such a great tune!

Other songs in Guy’s set I could recognize included Feels Like Rain (written by John Hiatt; title track of Guy’s 1993 studio album), Got My Mojo Working (written by Preston “Red” Foster; from Guy and Junior Wells’ Live in Montreux, 1978), a snippet of Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love, Someone Else Is Steppin’ In (written by Denise LaSalle; from Guy’s 1994 studio album Slippin’ In), I Go Crazy (written by James Brown; from Feels Like Rain), Drowning On Dry Land (co-written by Mickey Gregory and Allen Jones; from Guy’s 2008 live album 2008-06-28: Glastonbury Festival) and Cheaper to Keep Her (co-written by Bonny Rice, Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer; from Guy’s 2005 studio album Bring ‘Em In).

This review wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging Guy’s excellent backing group The Damn Right Blues Band. Apart from Marty Sammon, the line-up includes dynamite guitarist Ric “JazGuitar” Hall, Orlando Wright (bass) and the above-mentioned Tom Hambridge on drums.

Guy is taking his show to the Kodak Center in Rochester, N.Y. tonight. Other upcoming dates include Massey Hall, Toronto, Canada (April 9); Revolution Hall, Portland, Ore (April 21) and Moore Hall, Seattle, Wash. (April 22). The tour also includes a show scheduled for July 30, Guy’s 86th birthday, at Taft Theater in Cincinnati, Ohio. The schedule for his entire 2022 tour, which currently has gigs until September, is here.

I find Buddy Guy an amazing inspiration. If you dig electric blues Chicago-style and don’t mind cursing, I can highly recommend the man who truly was born to play the guitar and who damn right has got the blues.

Sources: Wikipedia; Colin James website; Buddy Guy website; YouTube

The Blues Comes Alive…Live – Part II

For people who have frequently visited this blog or know me otherwise, this won’t come as a big surprise: I love the blues and blues rock. I also feel it’s a type of music that’s perfect to be experienced live. This is the second part of a two-part post celebrating great live performances of blues and blues rock gems. In case you missed part I, you can check it out here. Now, come on, let’s have some more fun!

Buddy Guy/Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues

Having mentioned Buddy Guy more than once in part I, it’s about damn time that I feature the man. Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues, written by Guy, is the title track of his seventh studio album from July 1991. The video footage documents his performance of the tune in September 2018 at the Americana 17th Annual Honors, held at the storied Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn. Guy was 82 at the time – an unbelievable force of nature! I saw him in April that year in New York City at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, where he was on fire was well. Sadly, his gig marked one of the last shows at that venue before they closed it down!

Jimi Experience Experience/Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

This post wouldn’t be complete without this killer performance by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Voodoo Child (Slight Return), written by Hendrix, first appeared on the band’s third and final studio album Electric Ladyland that came out in October 1968. The clip is from a documentary titled Music, Money, Madness … Jimi Hendrix in Maui, which chronicles the Experience’s visit to the Hawaiian island in July 1970 including their two performances there. The film and a companion album were released in November 2020.

Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble/Pride and Joy

Don’t get me started on Stevie Ray Vaughan. In my book, he was the most talented non-black electric blues guitarist I can think of. Buddy Guy during the previously noted documentary said Vaughan was to the blues what Michael Jordan was to basketball – great observation! Pride and Joy, written by the guitar virtuoso, was included on his debut studio album Texas Flood released in June 1983. The clip captures a performance of Vaughan and his backing band at Montreux Jazz Festival in 1982 – not exactly a match in heaven, since the audience clearly was less than enthusiastic about the band’s performance – I guess it was simply too much for their jazz ears! The band took it with pride, perhaps less with joy, though they still put on a killer performance!

Walter Trout/Bullfrog Blues

Walter Trout perhaps is the ultimate blues survivor. At about 2:30 minutes into his 2019 rendition of Bullfrog Blues at a jazz festival in Bavaria, Germany, Trout hints at what I mean, saying, “My life was saved by an organ donor. So sign up, be an organ donor and do something good for humanity.” In 2013, Trout’s past use of drugs and alcohol had caught up with him, and he found himself with end-stage liver disease, requiring a transplant to live or die. Luckily, a donor liver was found in time, and after a lengthy recovery during which Trout needed to relearn how to speak, walk and play the guitar, he was able to resume his career. Bullfrog Blues, a traditional, became the B-side of Canned Heat’s debut single Rollin’ and Tumblin’ from 1967. At the time, Trout was a 16-year-old growing up in New Jersey. Little did he know that he would join the band’s version that existed in 1981 and become their lead guitarist until 1985.

Ana Popović/Ana’s Shuffle

Time to feature another contemporary female blues rock artist: Ana Popović who was born in Serbia and has lived in the U.S. since 2016. It was her father Milton Popović, who introduced her to the blues, and she started playing guitar in Serbia at the age of 15. Four years later in 1995, she founded R&B band Hush there. The group disband in 1998 when Popović went to The Netherlands to study jazz guitar. The following year, she launched the Ana Popović Band in the Netherlands. In 2001, her solo debut Hush! appeared. Here’s a great live version of Ana’s Shuffle, an instrumental Popović first recorded for her sixth studio album Can You Stand the Heat from March 2013. It was co-written by her and co-producer Tony Coleman who was B.B. King’s drummer for 25 years. The following clip is from a March 2017 performance at a blues festival in Bethlehem, Pa.

Tedeschi Trucks Band/Midnight in Harlem

Since this two-part post was inspired by Tedeschi Trucks Band, it feels right to end it with a tune by what I would consider to be the best contemporary blues rock band. Here’s an August 2011 performance of Midnight in Harlem recorded in Atlanta. Co-written by the band’s harmony vocalist Mike Mattison and slide guitarist extraordinaire Derek Trucks, the track first appeared on their debut album Revelator released in June of the same year. Trucks absolutely shines on slide guitar, while Susan Tedeschi demonstrates her solid vocal skills. She’s also a great guitarist. The entire army of a band is just killer – this is what perfect musicianship looks like!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube