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Bringing in 2013 with Buddy Guy

Posted in Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the January 4th, 2013

For Christmas I gave Satoko two tickets to the January 3 opening night of Buddy Guy’s annual homestand at his club, Buddy Guy’s Legends, here in Chicago. It was as much a present for myself as for her, of course–assuming she let me use the second ticket. Which she did.

The last time I saw Guy play live was back in the early 1980s. He and Junior Wells did a gig at Macalester College when I was an undergraduate. Macalester used to regularly bring in Chicago blues acts for its weekend dances: I remember seeing James Cotton, Luther Allison, Koko Taylor, and Albert Collins, among others. In addition, a number of local bars in the Twin Cities used to bring in big names–Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Willie Dixon…. Growing up in Minnesota in the 1970s and 80s, it was easy to get an education in blues music from the masters of the form.

Buddy Guy may be 76 years old, but he performs with the energy and speed of someone half his age. Resplendent in a bright red suit, he played some wicked, lightening-fast runs that reminded us of how much Jimi Hendrix copped from him. But he also did a nice acoustic set, and the evening provided a kind of history of R&B music, with tributes to Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, John Lee Hooker, Albert King and others. Many of Guy’s family and friends were in the house, and at various points in the evening he brought up two daughters and one son to share the stage with him.

The club was packed. Guy did all of his patented shtick, too, playing the guitar behind his back and with a drumstick, leaving the stage to walk to length of the barroom and even outside onto the street, tossing guitar picks to fans. He told stories and jokes, made funny faces, and flirted. Sometimes, his showmanship gets in the way of his performance, but last night his musical chops–both his guitar playing and his singing–were the focus. He played loud, he played quiet; he played fast, he played slow. Highlights included “74 Years Young,” “She’s Nineteen Years Old,” “Hoochie Koochie Man,” “Someone Else Is Steppin’ In (Slippin’ Out, Slippin’ In)” (the latter became an audience sing-along), “Damn Right I Got the Blues,” and a moving version of “Feels Like Rain.” He closed with a lovely rendition of his recent song, “Skin Deep.”

When he left the stage at the end of the set he walked right past us on his way to the merchandise counter. Both Satoko and I shook his hand. My 51-year-old ankles and knees were sore from standing all night, but the 76-year-old legend had been on his feet all night, too, and he looked like he could keep going for a few more hours.

It was well past midnight when we hailed a taxi and headed for home. What a nice way to begin the year.

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