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

Advertisement

James Taylor Releases American Songbook Cover Album

I suppose if you’re a cynic you could point out that when an artist releases a cover album of American standards or Christmas tunes for that matter, it’s a sign they’ve run out of ideas and may consider retirement, or they simply are trying make a quick buck. While in some cases this notion may not be unfounded, I feel differently when it comes to James Taylor. To me, his just-released new album American Standard is a legitimate undertaking by an artist who wants to highlight songs that have played an important role in his musical journey.

I’ve admired James Taylor for many years for his warm and soothing vocals and his impressive acoustic guitar chops. I wish I could play like that! His cover of Carole King’s You’ve Got a Friend is one of my all-time favorite tunes. And, yes, Taylor has also written beautiful songs like Carolina in My Mind, Sweet Baby James and of course the amazing Fire and Rain. I realize this may make me a bit biased when it comes to his latest release.

So why come out with a cover album of American standards? Do we really need another version of Moon River and God Bless the Child? Here’s what the album’s liner notes say, as reported by American Songwriter: “These are songs I have always known. Most of them were part of my family’s record collection, the first music I heard as a kid growing up in North Carolina…Before I started writing my own stuff, I learned to play these tunes, working out chord changes for my favorite melodies. And those guitar arrangements became the basis for this album.”

James Taylor in this studio
James Taylor in his barn studio in Western Mass.

“My collaborator, John Pizzarelli, is a living encyclopedia of the best popular music that the West has ever produced. Like his father, Bucky, he is a master guitarist and a casual, matter-of-fact genius. I asked John to come out to Western Massachusetts, where I live and do my recording in a big barn in the middle of the forest, to help me put down some tracks. I’d show him what changes I had found for a handful of songs and we’d work up the arrangements.”

Call me naive, but to me Taylor doesn’t sound like some artist who is just out there to cash in on his big name late in his recording career. I won’t pretend I’m an expert on the American songbook. I’m not. It’s simply not the kind of music I typically listen to. I also doubt this will change all for a sudden. What I do know is that I love how Taylor and Pizzarelli arranged these tunes. I think it’s time to let the music do some of the talking or writing.

Teach Me Tonight was written in 1953 by pianist Gene De Paul with lyrics by Sammy Cahn. This jazz standard has been covered by Dinah Washington, Count Basie, Sammy Davis Jr., Aretha Franklin, Al Jarreau and Stevie Wonder, among other countless artists. I dig the beautiful arrangement, including the trumpet solo and percussion played by Walt Fowler and Luis Conte, respectively. Here’s the official video.

Another beautiful tune is Almost Like Being in Love. The music and the lyrics were written by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner, respectively, for the score of their 1947 musical Brigadoon. The song was first performed on Broadway by David Brooks. Gene Kelly sang the 1954 film version. The tune was also recorded by Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and Shirley Bassey. As a fan of old James Bond movies, she entered my radar screen with Goldfinger, perhaps the best 007 tune.

My Heart Stood Still was composed by Richard Rodgers in 1927, with lyrics by Lorenz Hart. It was written for a British musical revue by Charles Cochran, which opened in London in May 1927. It was also featured later that same year in the American Broadway musical A Connecticut Yankee. Like with most other tracks on the album, it’s a tune that was recorded by many artists over the decades, including Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. The lovely violin part is played by Stuart Duncan.

The last tune I’d like to call out is It’s Only a Paper Moon, which I previously only knew from the 1973 motion picture Paper Moon. But the song’s origin dates all the way back to 1932, when it was titled If You Believed in Me and first performed by Claire Carleton during a Broadway play called The Great Magoo. The music was composed by Harold Arlen, with lyrics by Yip Harburg and Billy Rose. According to Wikipedia, the song’s lasting fame stems from its revival by popular artists during the last years of World War II, with hit recordings being made by Nat King ColeElla Fitzgerald, and Benny Goodman.

American Standard, which was released yesterday (Feb 28), is Taylor’s 20th studio album. It was co-produced by Dave O’Donnell, Taylor and Pizzarelli. O’Donnell has worked in different capacities (engineering, mixing, producing) with an impressive array of artists, who in addition to Taylor include Sheryl Crow, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and John Mayer, among others. Pizzarelli, a jazz guitarist and vocalist, isn’t exactly obscure either. According to Wikipedia, apart from recording more than 20 solo albums, he has appeared on more than 40 albums, including Paul McCartney, Rickie Lee Jones and Natalie Cole.

Taylor will be touring Canada and the U.S., starting in mid-April and featuring special guests. In Canada, it is going to be Bonnie Raitt, while for most U.S. gigs Jackson Browne will be his special guest. This surely does sound tempting to me. If Raitt would be the special guest in the U.S., I’d probably get a ticket right away. Don’t get me wrong, I dig Jackson Browne as well but saw him relatively recently in May 2018. My previous and so far only Bonnie Raitt show, on the other hand, dates back to August 2016. And, yes, I admit it, I do have a weak spot for her – she’s just an amazing lady!

Sources: Wikipedia; American Songwriter; James Taylor website; Dave O’Donnell website; YouTube