I didn't have a camera in 1992 but ohhhh, how I wish I did! On a crisp spring evening that year, I took a ride up to the Richfield Coliseum outside of Cleveland for what was sure to be a hell of a show: BB King, Buddy Guy, Fabulous Thunderbirds, and Dr. John. I had loved the T-Birds since high school (which was only, like 6 years prior at that time, now that I think about it) and saw them live a couple of times, but I hadn't seen Dr. John or BB King, of whom I had been a fan since age 6, and was largely unfamiliar with Buddy Guy. Lemme tellya, my jaw was on the floor his whole set! He was in his prime, bubbling with an enthusiasm that was carried on every note that he hit--and he hit them all--with both his voice and his guitar. His performance of Five Long Years is burned in my brain as the quintessential Buddy Guy, a privilege to witness; Buddy in his denim overalls, polka dot button-down shirt underneath perfectly coordinated with his signature polka dot Fender Strat, standing at the mic flashing a million-dollar smile with a literal glimmer of the stage lights and a twinkle in his eye, singing it low, high, quiet, loud, smooth, gritty, and everything in between, dotting the i's and crossing the t's with the strings and an occasional, "Aw, shucks!" (and other words).
I was hooked. I bought every magazine with his picture on the cover, went to every show that I could, and bought his first biography in 1994. I brought it to the Metropol in Pittsburgh in 1995, along with a Sharpie, and stood very conspicuously up front the whole show in the hopes of getting it autographed; so conspicuously that others in the crowd got behind the cause and cheered it on. At one point it looked like he was going to come over and sign it, but then he backed up; there was a collective, "Awwwww, noooo!" and shoulder slump and I must have looked very deflated because Buddy looked down at me, gestured for me to look up, and tossed me his guitar pick (he signed the book, too, right after the last song as he was walking off the stage). Since then, I have rarely missed an opportunity to see Buddy Guy live, although never at his club, Legends, in Chicago; when I was there, he wasn't, but it was still a thrill to be on the premises and take pictures of everything, including one of myself holding up the menu and grinning in full-on geek mode, which my friends may or may not have found cringe-worthy. I made it my business to internalize just about all of his recordings. His earlier 1960s stuff, such as Stone Crazy and Watch Yourself, is a little less refined, gritty in a good way, his vocals more tentative and technology that had not yet caught up to his style of playing; unpolished perfection. Fast-forward to his 1990s stuff and beyond, such as Feels Like Rain and Slippin' In, and you can hear that Buddy's music evolved but didn't stray from the blues that he has been built by; polished perfection. He also made some forays into flavors of modern blues with Midnight Train, I've Got a Problem, and What Kind of Woman is This and back around to some basics, too, with Skin Deep and Done Got Old, and a hybrid of the two with songs such as The Blues is Alive and Well.
His catalog consists of the fascinating and fabulous evolution of a sharecropper's son in the tiny town of Lettsworth, Louisiana, who set a foot on the blues-beaten path by plucking an errant screen wire that he nailed to a post on his front porch. He walked that path all the the way to Chicago where it took him from from driving a tow truck driver to sharing a salami sandwich with Muddy Waters, getting on the club circuit there, then teaming up with Junior Wells, thereby Messin' With the Kid, and meandering over to Chess Records, collaborating with many, unknowingly inspiring Jimi Hendrix (who he hadn't even heard of at the time and who came to his attention by a fan asking him if HE was inspired by Jimi), opening up the Checkerboard Lounge, then continuously honing his craft all around the world and back again, ultimately as a Living Legend of the Blues. Last night that Legend came to the beautiful Robins Theater in Warren, Ohio, along with the spectacular Tom Hambridge, to an enthusiastic and appreciative crowd who was slap happy to have him there; damn right, we had the blues and we loved every minute of it!