88 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2009 www.premierguitar.com
Guy has won five Grammys, 23 W.C. Handy
Awards, Billboard magazine’s Century Award,
the National Medal of Arts, awarded by
the President of the United States, and was
elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in
2005, where he was inducted by his longtime
friend, Eric Clapton. He has recorded dozens of albums, played for millions of people
around the world, and he continues to knock
out blues and rock guitar fans at age 73 when
most of his peers are playing shuffleboard in
In these days of diminished interest in blues
music, Buddy Guy is one of the very few
practitioners of the genre who continues to
sell out concert halls and outdoor “sheds.”
He is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of
the most successful blues guitarists in the
world, right behind B.B. King, with whom he
has been touring for the last several months.
With deadly tone ripped from a vintage
Fender Bassman or a new Chicago Blues
Box amp, and a voice that sounds like an
exposed nerve, Guy has never been one to
hold back. His live shows are studies in ten-
sion and release, loud and soft, sweetness
and fury, all mixed with brilliant showman-
ship. It’s not uncommon for Buddy to take a
walk through the crowd during an extended
solo. Inevitably, the audience goes crazy. This
author has seen it happen again and again.
In the early days with Chess Records, Guy
What was the spark that made you
did a lot of session work to pay the bills. As
far as his own recordings were concerned,
label president Leonard Chess considered
Guy’s playing “noise,” and forced him to
record novelty songs, R&B, instrumentals
and ballads, all outside the realm of Buddy’s
style. It wasn’t until recognition from Hendrix,
Clapton and Beck got back to Chess that
he allowed Guy to record the music in his
head and heart. After a 13-year dry spell
without a record contract, Guy secured a deal
with Silvertone Records and produced the
comeback, Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues,
which won him his first Grammy award in
1991. He hasn’t looked back since.
pick up a guitar?
It was a combination of listening to country
and western music like Hank Williams, Eddy
Arnold and Roy Rogers, plus B.B. King, Lightnin’
Hopkins and other bluesmen, and the gospel
music I heard in church. I asked my grandfather
about music in the family once, and he said
nobody before me had any musical talent. We
didn’t have a phonograph—we didn’t even have
electricity—but we had a radio and we listened
to that. They played blues in between the rain
delays of the baseball games back then. I built a
two-string diddley bow and nailed the strings to
the house. I used my mother’s hairpins. She was
wondering where they all went! I’d wear it out
in about a week or break the strings, so I kept
rebuilding it. That’s what I started on. I was influenced by T-Bone Walker, John Lee Hooker, Little
Walter and Les Paul, too.
Guitar Slim was an influence on you. How
did he shape your own style of playing?
I went to see him play in Baton Rouge, and
he came out with a gold Les Paul and long
cord so he could run all over the place. I had
never seen a solidbody guitar before. I didn’t
even think it was a guitar! He was wearing a
bright red suit. He played great and had all
these fancy stage moves and things he did.
The crowd loved him. I picked up some of
what I do from him. I wanted to look like Slim
and sound like B.B.
Muddy Waters helped you out when you
came to Chicago, didn’t he?
I had gotten to Chicago, and I was on my
third day without food when I was introduced
to Muddy. At first, I didn’t know who he was.
But he asked me if I was hungry and got me
a salami sandwich. Then he helped me get
into the Chess Studios playing on sessions.
Let’s talk about your early recordings. It
seems like the Chess Brothers held you
back in the beginning and didn’t let you
record the music you wanted to do.
Why did they do that?
Like I said, I did mostly session work for Chess
to start, but I was on Cobra Records first. It
was a little storefront operation, a small label.
Buddy shows his versatility as he test-drives the new PRS 305 during a Signature Club event at the company’s Experience
PRS open house in September. In addition to playing a set of classics, the blues legend joined Carlos Santana for a rendition
of P-Funk’s “Maggot Brain.”