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For the week of July 12 through July 18, 2000

King of the Chicago Blues Guitar

Buddy Guy brings a taste of old Chicago to River Run

Express Staff Writer

Even a musical neophyte can say about the Blues what Supreme Court Justice Potter once said about another subject entirely, "I know it when I see it." It is a genre as distinctive and expressive as any America has to offer.

And anyone who has heard Buddy Guy perform knows that when he plays the Blues he means it. Just listening to one of Guy’s recordings—the stinging electric guitar and plaintive voice reverberating in the air--one can imagine what it would be like to be in one of the famed Chicago blues joints during the 50’s.

It turns out that just because we live in a bucolic place like the Wood River Valley doesn’t mean we can’t get a taste of the blues. For this Sunday, July 16 at 6:30 p.m., the four-time Grammy award winner will play at the River Run Lodge as part of the Twilight Blues Series presented by the Sun Valley Center for the Arts and First Bank of Idaho.

When Guy started his career back in 1957, Muddy Waters was the elder statesman of the Blues world. After over 40 years of late nights in the clubs, Guy has taken over that role. It is well documented that Guy deeply influenced some of the brightest stars of the guitar world including Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Eric Clapton. Clapton has even gone so far as to dub Guy the best electric blues guitarist alive.

In a 1993 interview with "Billboard" newspaper, Guy told a story of meeting Hendrix. "I first met Jimi in 1967, but the time that sticks in my mind is in 1968, on the night Martin Luther King died. I was playing a little place in Greenwich Village called the Generation. I was up there with my guitar behind my head and people started hollering, ‘Hendrix! Hendrix!’ He came right up to me and said, ‘Pay them no mind. Can I tape what you play?’"

With his 1998 release of "Heavy Love," Guy shed some light on his view of the Blues. In a statement Guy said, "The Blues ain’t the Blues unless there’s real feeling, real… mileage behind the notes being played."

No one can doubt that Guy has those miles under his belt, the feeling in his heart.

The road Buddy Guy has traveled to Sun Valley, Idaho at the start of a new millennium has been a long one, peopled by the legendary characters of the world of the Blues. Born to a Louisiana sharecropping family, in 1936, Guy was, as a small child, taken by the deep Blues he heard on the radio. Playing on a crude, homemade instrument, Guy did his best to imitate the music coming over the airwaves. Soon the young teenager was playing in roadhouses between Lettsworth and Baton Rouge.

But it wasn’t until 1957 and a move to Chicago that Guy’s career begin to take form. It was not an easy road in Chicago. Guy spent a lot of days walking the streets in search of work. He didn’t eat much. Then a chance meeting with a stranger on the street resulted in Guy landing at the 708 Club, the nexus of the Chicago Blues scene at the time.

As the story goes, Guy was confronted on the stage by a stocky man who said, "I’m Mud." The man offered Guy a sandwich and said to him, ‘You ain’t gonna go home. You’re gonna stay here and play with me."

The starving Guy replied, "I don’t need a sandwich if you’re Muddy Waters."

Not long thereafter, Guy began to play in the West-Side clubs. He even entered a club-sponsored "Battle of the Blues" contest. In it Guy managed to beat out two legendary Blues musicians, Otis Rush and Magic Sam. It led to his signing with Artistic Labels and the release of two singles, "Sit and Cry" and "This is the End."

Guy’s time on the West Side eventually led to his being credited as the architect of the "West Side sound": a blend of the Chicago rhythm, elements of gospel, and the guitar style of B.B. King.

In 1960 Guy signed with Chess Records and worked as a session artist backing the likes of Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Little Walter, and Koko Miller. He released his own record in 1962, "Stone Crazy." It quickly climbed to number 12 on the R&B charts.

Five years later Guy moved to the Vanguard label and released a string of albums: "A Man and the Blues," "This is Buddy Guy," and "Hold That Plane!" This is also when Guy teamed up with harp player Junior Wells to form one of the more popular duos of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

During the ‘80s, Guy continued to be a fixture of the club scene in the U.S. and blues festivals in Europe. In 1989, he opened his own blues club in Chicago called "Legends," which quickly became a hot spot for visiting musicians. Then in 1991, Guy joined Eric Clapton to play at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Guy’s performances astounded everyone, including the heads of Silvertone Records. It led to the release of "Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues" and "Feels Like Rain."

Thankfully, the elder statesman of the Blues continues to perform and record 43 years after stepping off a bus in downtown Chicago. Those who couldn’t be there for the heyday of the Chicago blues scene, might just get a glimpse of it this Sunday. The River Run Lodge may not have the same ambiance as a late-night Chicago club, nonetheless, Buddy Guy will do his best to bring us back to a glorious time.


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