Reporter's Notebook / "Buddy Guy: A class act"
Blues legend Buddy Guy is little more than a year away from turning 75, but you wouldn't know it by the show he put on at the Klein Memorial Auditorium last week, one night after doing a more intimate affair at StageOne in downtown Fairfield on May 18.
Guy was a ball of energy. This is not a blues man who needs a seat or stays in one spot. He worked every inch of the stage. In fact, the stage couldn't contain him. He was playing Albert King's "Drowning on Dry Land" when he went out of view at stage right. A minute later, he was among the audience, at the side of the auditorium. The people in the first two rows were the last to realize he was in their midst.
Guy -- who has been called the greatest living guitar player by no less than Eric Clapton, and who once gave Jimi Hendrix the OK to tape record one of his concerts -- then made his way up the aisle and over to the center orchestra seats. A few minutes later, he briefly left the auditorium. Some thought he'd make his way to the balcony. Heads looked above -- anticipating his next move. They were fooled. Guy went as far as the bar out in the lobby and then made his way back inside the auditorium at floor level. He hung out by rows "P" and "Q" for some time while singing and playing. It was classic Buddy Guy, who used to pull similar stunts in blues clubs many years ago with extra long guitar cords, before there were such things as cordless microphones.
Guy gives his all when he performs. Anyone who gets bored at a Buddy Guy concert must have something wrong with them. Guy often takes his voice and his guitar from a scream down to a whisper. From body gyrations meant to elicit a laugh to expressive hand motions when he's not attacking the strings, younger guitar players can learn a thing or two about charisma and performance from Buddy Guy, whose smile could probably make a racist woman fall in love with him.
Early on in the concert, Guy encouraged the crowd to help him with the chorus of "Slippin' In," the title track off of his 1994 album of the same name. When he first sought the audience's assistance to complete the latter half of the line, "While you were slipping out, someone else was slipping in," he didn't get the response he was hoping for. A short time later, they made sure not to let him down anymore. When the song ended, Guy was clearly pleased with the audience participation.
"I don't have to fuss at you tonight," he said.
He also, as is typical with his shows, showed he can rock out when he wants to, proving that he's more than just a blues guy.
"Eric Clapton had a group called Cream when he was playing those hard blues," Guy said before going into a searing version of "Strange Brew." He briefly went into one of his own cuts -- "The Things That I Used to Do" -- before getting back into more Cream, this time doing "Sunshine of Your Love." He would finish off his imitation of various guitar greats with the Jimi Hendrix tune "Voodoo Chile." The crowd ate it up. Adding to Guy's already impressive version of "Voodoo Chile" was the fact he repeatedly whipped a hand towel against the strings of his guitar, all while staying on point with the band.
Guy, who backed Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters, among others, on wax as a session musician for Chess Records early in his career, is one of the last of the older generation of bluesmen still taking the music to the masses. B.B. King -- an idol of Guy's -- is another.
"You just really feel the history," she said. "There's nothing commercial about this guy. He's just authenticity personified. You could see him singing on somebody's back porch off some dusty road."
Perhaps that's why I became a fan of the blues, a fan of Buddy Guy, as a teen. There was more emotion in the music than the rock and rap other people my age were listening to. It just seemed more real. Buddy Guy is to me what Kurt Kobain is to others. Don't get me wrong, I love contemporary rock and pop bands, but I've always said, if I was only allowed to have albums of an artist or two to listen to, I'd have to go with Buddy Guy and Otis Redding, or Buddy Guy and soul duo Sam & Dave.
So it was a real treat last week to have a front row seat for Guy at The Klein. Well, technically, my ticket wasn't for the front row. It was for seat K-101 up in the balcony. However, as I was allowed to take some photos at the foot of the stage, I plopped down in a front row seat in the center section of the auditorium when I was done taking a few pictures of the opening act.
A woman came by and dared to say I was in her seat. OK. So I moved over to the front left section of the auditorium and grabbed another front row seat. Much to my luck and happiness, no one ever came by to steal it from me. Front row for Buddy Guy in a large auditorium. It doesn't get any better than that.
Guy is a large part of the reason I was inspired to take guitar lessons in the early 1990s. I never practiced like I should have but I still have all of the lessons that were written out for me. I also have many guitar books on the blues that I bought that I can always dust off any time I want to. In fact, this past weekend, after cleaning the computer room of my home, I once again had my hands on the music book for Guy's "Damn Right, I've Got The Blues" album, released in 1994, one year before I saw Guy for the first time, at Toad's Place.
If being front row and getting some great photos wasn't enough, I also finally secured a picture with the night's headliner. When Guy first came off the stage he was maybe six feet behind me, but I wasn't sure if I could walk up to him. Later, as he made his way to the cheaper seats, and hung around for some time, I decided to make my march towards the back of the auditorium and hopefully secure a photo alongside the Grammy-winning blues great. No security person cut my walk short. Thank God. I was now standing next to Buddy Guy while he was singing and playing. After a guy who looked like a rock or heavy metal musician snapped a few photos with his iPhone, I politely asked him if he could take a shot of me standing next to Guy. He told me his hands were full. Fortunately, Jimmy Higgins from Brooklyn obliged my request. When I got the camera back from Jimmy and saw it came out decent, I was on cloud 9. I've heard stories of boxers sleeping with their championship belts after winning them.
I almost slept with my camera that night. Well, not really, but I kept looking at the photo once I got home. I had attempted to give Jimmy a $5 bill for being kind enough to snap a shot of me next to Guy, but he refused the money. He said he was just glad to see there's younger guys out there who love the blues I like do.
Shortly before the hour-and-a-half show came to an end 10:37 p.m., Guy handed me one of his guitar picks just prior to leaving the stage. I think it might be time to take my Fender Squier out of its case and get to practicing.