"No one ever taught me anything. I was alone, out there in the country, with this guitar that never had enough strings on it. But one day I heard John Lee Hooker on the radio"– Buddy Guy
He's Chicago's blues king today, ruling his domain just as his idol and mentor Muddy Waters did before him. Yet there was a time and not all that long ago, when Buddy Guy couldn't even negotiate a decent record deal. Times sure have changed for the better: Guy's first three albums for Silvertone in the '90s all earned Grammys. Eric Clapton unabashedly calls Guy his favorite blues axeman and so do a great many adoring fans worldwide.
High-energy guitar histrionics and boundless on-stage energy, have always been Guy trademarks, along with a tortured vocal style that's nearly as distinctive as his incendiary rapid-fire fretwork. He's come a long way from his beginnings on the '50s Baton Rouge blues scene; at his first gigs with bandleader "Big Poppa" John Tilley, the young guitarist had to chug a stomach-jolting concoction of Dr. Tichenor's antiseptic and wine to ward off an advanced case of stage fright, but by the time he joined harpist Raful Neal's band, Guy had conquered his nervousness.
Guy journeyed to Chicago in 1957, ready to take the town by storm. Initially, times were tough, until he turned up the juice as a showman (much as another of his early idols, Guitar Slim had back home). It didn't take long after that, for the new kid in town to establish himself. He hung with the city's blues elite: Freddy King, Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, and Magic Sam, who introduced Buddy Guy to Cobra Records boss Eli Toscano. Two searing 1958 singles for Cobra's Artistic subsidiary were the result: 'This Is The End' and 'Try To Quit You Baby' exhibited more than a trace of B.B. King's influence, while "You Sure Can't Do" was an unabashed homage to Guitar Slim. Willie Dixon produced the sides.
When Cobra folded, Guy wisely followed Rush over to Chess. With the issue of his first Chess single in 1960, Guy was no longer aurally indebted to anybody. 'First Time I Met The Blues' and its follow-up, 'Broken Hearted Blues', were fiery, tortured, slow blues tracks, brilliantly showcasing Guy's whammy-bar-enriched guitar and shrieking, hellhound-on-his-trail vocals.
Although he's often complained that Leonard Chess wouldn't allow him to turn up his guitar loud enough, the claim doesn't wash: Guy's 1960-1967 Chess catalog remains his most satisfying body of work. A shuffling 'Let Me Love You Baby', the impassioned downbeat items 'Ten Years Ago', 'Stone Crazy', 'My Time After Awhile', 'Leave My Girl Alone' and a bouncy 'No Lie' rate with the hottest blues waxings of the '60s. While at Chess, Guy worked long and hard as a session guitarist, getting his licks in on sides by Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Koko Taylor (on her hit "Wang Dang Doodle").
Buddy went on to record for a whole host of labels, but it is as a live performer that he is adored by anyone with an interest in the Blues. Eric Clapton was right...
Words: Richard Havers
The historical details surrounding the recording session that became Buddy & the Juniors are almost as entertaining -- and oddly satisfying -- as the music itself. Released on Blue Thumb in 1970 on multi-colored wax, this session, were it not for a very real economic necessity due to Buddy Guy's feud with Vanguard Records, would never have happened. According to producer Michael Cuscuna's liner notes on the CD reissue, Vanguard wouldn't pick up the tab for Guy to fly to New York to mix an album he'd cut with Junior Mance and Gary Bartz -- also produced by Cuscuna. Being an ever-enterprising genius, Cuscuna pitched the idea for a recording between Guy, Mance, and Junior Wells to Blue Thumb label boss Bob Krasnow; he jumped. The all-acoustic Buddy & the Juniors was recorded on December 18 of 1969, and on December 19 they mixed this album and the Vanguard date! While an acoustic pairing between Guy and Wells is a natural one, adding jazz pianist Mance -- a Chicago native whose early influences were the boogie-woogie recordings of Meade "Lux" Lewis and Albert Ammons -- to the mix was risky in terms of interpersonal dynamics, but in retrospect, proved a brilliant idea. The proceedings are informal and raw with plenty of fireworks. The first two tracks -- "Talkin' 'Bout Women Obviously" and "Riffin' " -- were the last two recorded. They're blazing, hairy, on-the-spot improvisational duets between Wells and Guy: the former offers lyrics in a back-and-forth extemporaneous style; the latter develops in intensity as it goes on. The playing by Guy and Wells is inspirational. "Buddy's Blues," the first interplay of the trio, has Mance digging deeply into the Otis Spann tradition, just rolling inside it, accenting lines, punching chords, and offering beautiful tags to Wells' harmonica lines. Wells' vocal on "(I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man" meets Guy's six-string head-on, with Mance comping and popping a melodic fill underneath each sung phrase. He introduces "Five Long Years" as a piano blues that gets countered in exponential grit by Guy's vocal and Wells' punchy harp; he shuffles, fills, trills, and blows straight at the the keyboard, creating a forceful gale of dialogue. On the slippery boogie-woogie set closer, Wells' "Ain't No Need," the listener grasps the deep communication of this trio. Given how earthy, informal, and joyful this acoustic session is, it conveys everything right about Chicago blues.
Words: Thom Jurek
Buddy's Blues sweats Guy's multi-disc retrospective, The Complete Chess Studio Recordings down to a scintillating 15-track package and comes up with a bare-bones winner. There are loads of great guitar on classics like "First Time I Met the Blues," "Let Me Love You Baby," "Pretty Baby," "My Time After Awhile," "Stone Crazy," and Guy's voice is at its whiplash exuberant best. Unexpected bonuses pop up in the comp's kickoff track, a full-length version of "Worried Mind," issued here without the overdubbed applause and crowd noises that accompanied its original release on Folk Festival of the Blues (see Muddy Waters' entry). Also noteworthy is Junior Wells' appearance on chromatic harp on "Ten Years Ago," and Guy's stellar guitar behind Lacy Gibson's vocal on a Buddy Guy original, "My Love Is Real." And special note must also be made of the spacious stereo mixes used on this compilation, making these 30-year-old-plus tracks shine like diamonds coming off the laser beam.
We also experience all the stylistic turns toward a kinship with the burgeoning soul and rock scenes that Guy would make toward the end of his Chess tenure, along with the smoking slow burners that are his trademark, some of which clock in at four to six minutes here. With his very best tracks compiled on one disc, and with beautiful transfers of them to enhance the listening experience, this should be one of your very first stops in absorbing the sides that made Buddy Guy's reputation among blues fans and guitar aficionados the world over.
This slim yet potent sampler of Guy's excellent early 60s work for Chess will no doubt please newcomers looking for a bargain introduction to the blues guitarist/vocalist's prime sides. With his guitar tapped for maximum intensity, spiky and tremolo-heavy, and those vocals all pathos-rich screams and in-the-pocket bravado, Guy especially hits bedrock on the blues-personified narrative "The First Time I Met the Blues" and the perennial "My Time After a While"; from lean combo cuts to horn-rich swingers, the remaining tracks never stray too far from this high-quality mark. And ensuring a fine ride throughout, regal blues veterans like Junior Wells, Otis Spann, and Fred Below help provide the tasty accompaniment. A solid shot from one of Chicago blues' second-generation stars.
Words: Stephen Cook
Buddy first recorded for Chess Records in 1960 at a session on 2nd March. He did four songs that day of which three are included here –Broken Hearted Blues, I Got My Eyes On You and First Time I Met the Blues. All three tracks are representative of Buddy’s style – his single string solos and his intense, impassioned, vocals. In 1962 Buddy had his only hit on the Billboard R&B charts when Stone Crazy got to No.12. All are featured on this CD and it's a great way to introduce yourself to Buddy Guy's Chess era recordings.
In 1970, expatriate pianist Memphis Slim hooked up with fellow Chicago blues great Buddy Guy while the guitarist was touring Europe with The Rolling Stones, and recorded the tracks for South Side Reunion, originally released on Warner Bros. in 1972. Slim's rollicking piano and Guy's guitar-slinging prowess are complemented by Windy City musicians Phillip Guy, Ernest Johnson, and Roosevelt Shaw, plus saxophonists A.C. Reed and Jimmy Conley. While harpist Junior Wells (who was also part of the Stones tour) is listed as if he played a prominent role in this endeavor, he's only heard on the tracks "Good Time Charlie," "No," and "Help Me Some." Both casual listeners and collectors will want to check this out, if only for the two takes of Slim's solo harpsichord jam "Ain't Nothing But a Texas Boogie on a Harpsichord."
Words: Al Campbell
Here's everything that fleet-fingered Buddy Guy waxed for Chess from 1960 to 1966, including numerous unissued-at-the-time masters, offering the most in-depth peek at his formative years imaginable. Stone Chicago blues classics ("Ten Years Ago," "My Time After Awhile," "Let Me Love You Baby," "Stone Crazy"), rockin' oddities ("American Bandstand," "$100 Bill," "Slop Around"), even a cut that features guitarist Lacy Gibson's vocal rather than Guy's ("My Love Is Real") -- some 47 sizzling songs in all.