Buddy Guy- Living Proof
"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 either, 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 Buddy 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 1950s 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. But times were tough initially, 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 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 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," and "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").
Upon leaving Chess in 1967, Guy went to Vanguard. His first LP for the firm, A Man and the Blues, followed in the same immaculate vein as his Chess work and contained the rocking "Mary Had a Little Lamb," but This Is Buddy Guy and Hold That Plane! proved somewhat less consistent. Guy and harpist Junior Wells had long been friends and played around Chicago together (Guy supplied the guitar work on Wells' seminal 1965 Delmark set Hoodoo Man Blues, initially billed as "Friendly Chap" because of his Chess contract); they recorded together for Blue Thumb in 1969 as Buddy and the Juniors (pianist Junior Mance being the other Junior) and Atlantic in 1970 (sessions co-produced by Eric Clapton and Tom Dowd), and 1972 for the solid album Buddy Guy & Junior Wells Play the Blues. Buddy and Junior toured together throughout the '70s, their playful repartee immortalized on Drinkin' TNT 'n' Smokin' Dynamite, a live set cut at the 1974 Montreux Jazz Festival.
Guy's reputation among rock guitar gods such as Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Ray Vaughan was unsurpassed, but prior to his Grammy-winning 1991 Silvertone disc Damn Right, I've Got the Blues, he amazingly hadn't issued a domestic album in a decade. That's when the Buddy Guy bandwagon really picked up steam -- he began selling out auditoriums and turning up on network television (David Letterman, Jay Leno, etc.). Feels Like Rain, his 1993 encore, was a huge letdown artistically, unless one enjoys the twisted concept of having one of the world's top bluesmen duet with country hat act Travis Tritt and hopelessly overwrought rock singer Paul Rodgers. By comparison, 1994's Slippin' In, produced by Eddie Kramer, was a major step back in the right direction, with no hideous duets and a preponderance of genuine blues excursions. Last Time Around: Live at Legends, an acoustic outing with longtime partner Junior Wells followed in 1998. In 2001, Guy switched gears and went to Mississippi for a recording of the type of modal juke-joint blues favored by Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside, and the Fat Possum crew. The result was Sweet Tea: arguably one of his finest albums and yet a complete anomaly in his catalog. Oddly enough, he chose to follow that up with Blues Singer in 2003, another completely acoustic effort that won a Grammy. For 2005's Bring 'Em In, it was back to the same template as his first albums for Silvertone, with polished production and a handful of guest stars. Skin Deep appeared in 2008 and featured guest spots by Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, Eric Clapton, and Robert Randolph. Snakebite was released in 2009, followed by Living Proof a year later in 2010.
A Buddy Guy concert can sometimes be a frustrating experience. He'll be in the middle of something downright hair-raising, only to break it off abruptly in midsong, or he'll ignore his own massive songbook in order to offer imitations of Clapton, Vaughan, and Hendrix. But Guy, whose club remains the most successful blues joint in Chicago (you'll likely find him sitting at the bar whenever he's in town), is without a doubt the Windy City's reigning blues artist -- and he rules benevolently."
"On Buddy Guy's 2010 release, "Living Proof", Buddy does, indeed, prove many things. He shows that when he's not goofing off at a small arena, refusing to finish his own songs at a concert mostly populated by middle-aged whites who are Classic Rock and Stevie Ray Vaughan fans, his hysterical, violent guitar is still up to par. The 74 year old Buddy Guy's incendiary guitar is present throughout the album. In fact, this is the best his guitar playing has been since his legendary "Stone Crazy" album. With that being said, there is a great sameyness to a couple of the songs on the first half of the disc.
Buddy's vocals are still there. His voice sounds just as good as it did on 1993's "Feels Like Rain", though I'm not sure how his voice holds up in concert after he's been on stage for an hour.
One thing that's evidently missing on this album is lyrics. "Living Proof" has some awfully corny lines, just as the duet with B.B. King does. The difference between the two is that B.B.'s guitar, which has an angelic presence that can bring a person to tears with one note, makes the lyrics in "Stay Around A Little Longer" rise above their otherwise mediocre level. It's extremely obvious that many of the lyrics on this album were touched up or, in some cases, written entirely, by Buddy's drummer or professional lyricists who did not come up with Buddy back in Louisiana. For a veteran Blues-listener, it takes only one listen to hear that an outside source has tampered with the lyric writing process. This doesn't mean that whites can't write Blues lyrics, but it does mean that songwriters take the grit and urgency out of what could possibly be more "authentic" lyrics. We all know that the great Muddy Waters performed and recorded a plethora of songs that were written by Willie Dixon, but Dixon was a man who had a connection- a vital connection- to the people, places and situations which he wrote about, even if the lyrics were sometimes light and humorous.
Luckily, Carlos Santana, in all his noisy grandiosity, does not destory "Where The Blues Begins", as I had feared he would. If there were ever a case of a guy who played too many notes on an electric guitar, to the point of making electrified Blues sound like Ritchie Blackmore-era Deep Purple, this is it. Carlos really ought to focus more on composing music, as opposed to creating obnoxiously loud solos that all sound identical. When the song is over, one remembers Buddy's fine vocals, but not Santana's guitar madness.
"Too Soon", in terms of its beat and lyrics, sounds like a track that Otis Rush could have recorded in the 1950s for Cobra Records. It's a fun song that just rises above being filler.
"Everybody's Got To Go" could do without the backing vocalists, or at least the backing vocalists' excessive presence. The solo at around 2:00 is just sort of, well, there. This song would have faired much better if it were just Buddy, his guitar, and the Hammond Organ. That certainly would have sounded a lot different than this "Feels Like Rain" knock-off.
If Buddy would have never recorded "Damn Right, I've Got The Blues", then perhaps there would have been a reason to record "Let The Door Knob Hit Ya". Is there frenetic guitar work? Yes. Does the frenetic guitar work sound any different from what's played during Guy's live version(s) of "Damn Right, I've Got The Blues"? No!
Guess what! What? "Guess What", which has a final verse resesmbling Hendrix's "Red House", is a very, very good song that would have sounded even better if so many tunes on the album didn't sound similar to it. Still, this one has more intensity to it than anything Eric Clapton has done since...
"Skanky" is a tour de force that is well deserving of its name. As the songs come to a close, you realize that tracks 11 and 12 are, along with the infamous "Stone Crazy", the finest examples of Buddy Guy's influence on, or at least association with, Hendrix."
-Hard Luck Child
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