Buddy Guy


“I feel like I’m on top of the world if I’m playing and somebody looks happy””

A true living legend, Buddy Guy is more than just an originator of the Chicago-style blues, a Kennedy Center honoree and a six-time Grammy winner. The music of Buddy Guy, as a guitarist and singer/songwriter, transcends any era or geography and has influenced countless artists the world over.

The story of Buddy Guy starts simply enough, long before he was known for his signature Fender® Stratocaster®. “Every Christmas, there was one guy out there in Lettsworth, La. They would go get him and he would go from house to house Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and that was it until next year … they would drink a gallon of wine and case of beer at each house they went to. The guitar player would take a nap and I would pick up his guitar and just bang away at it until I ran everybody out of the house.” As Guy explains, “Most of the kids, if they could afford a toy, they was out playing with their toys on Christmas morning.”

Fortunately, the young Guy would get a guitar of his very own. “That same guy would come by every Christmas and he loved to drink. My dad was sawing logs—you know, Albert King made a record about the crosscut saw. Two people have to pull that saw. You didn’t have the little power saws you’ve got now. My dad was doing that from sunup to sundown and he gave this guy two dollars for one of those guitars he used to bring by the house. It had two strings on it. I was the happiest guy in the world.”

Many players may say they knew from the first minute they touched a guitar that it would be their career. In a much different time and place, it wasn’t the first thought for Buddy Guy as he was growing up. “I wasn’t saying, ‘I’m doing this to be a professional guitar player one day,’ because at that time, you didn’t have guitar players. We didn’t have a radio or whatever where I could say, ‘Oh, man, if I would learn how to play, I could go places.’ I just felt if I learn to play the guitar, I’m going to be the only one doing something that can’t nobody else do, other than that guy that they would go get [on] Christmas. And I just was in love with what I heard. I just followed my mind.”

After a bit of practice, Guy got his first real six-string guitar. “I used to sit on my sister’s porch, ‘cause I was like a bunch of bumblebees, don’t know how to play, and I knew I was annoying them.” He says, “And a stranger walked by one evening [and said], ‘Son, I see you sits there every evening with that guitar. I bet if you had a good guitar, you would learn how to play.’ I said, ‘I guess I will.’ I didn’t know who he was. And the next week, he came by and said, ‘You ready?’ I said, ‘Ready for what?’And he said, ‘I’m going to buy you a guitar.’ And he took me downtown and bought me this Harmony, with the real six strings on it … and they had an old Chrysler. I said, ‘Well, it’s Friday night. Let’s go out in the country with my dad.’ So we went to my parents. And we got to the door, and this guy walks in my dad’s house and he didn’t even say, ‘Good evening.’ And my dad says, ‘Ain’t you Mitchell?’ He says, ‘Yeah.’ They had [grown] up together. That’s true.”

Most musicians will remember their first performance on stage, and Buddy Guy is no exception, although he was far from the showman he would eventually become. “How could I forget that? I cried all night because I was too shy to sing.” As he explains, “This guy came and got me. I was pumping gas at a service station … my mother had had a stroke. And he said he found out how much I was making. He said, ‘I can double that if you just come play Friday, Saturday and Sunday in my band.’ And I said okay. And I went to the club that first Friday night and he plugged me up. And I said, ‘Well, I’m going to have to turn my back to the audience.’ And the guy said, ‘No way.’ … I couldn’t face those people, man. It must have been about 18 or 25 people there at the little, small club.” And that concluded Guy’s first paying gig. “He fired me.”

In a short time, Guy became comfortable on stage and became the confident performer people see today. “I feel like I’m on top of the world if I’m playing and somebody looks happy. And when I go to the stage now, I don’t worry about myself. It’s like I wrote a song once about, you know, you can tell somebody you love them, and you be lying. But if you show them, you can’t lie. So I said, ‘Let me go out there and see can I make someone happy,’ … Because, if you live in this life, I think we all have a problem one way or the other. ‘Cause there’s not a job, if it’s love, life, or whatever. A lot of people say the blues are sad … all blues are not sad. But if you got a little problem and come to me, and I can make you forget it for a couple hours, I’ll be the happiest man that ever woke up that morning.”

Buddy Guy’s guitar of choice during most of his career was often a Fender® Stratocaster®, and due to his stature as a player he was offered a signature model, although it didn’t happen immediately. “You know, it took them a while to make the polka dot. My mother, I promised her … I lied to her … and told her I was going to move to Chicago and get a job at a university and drive back to Louisiana in a polka dot Cadillac. And I knew I was lying. And she passed away and I said, ‘you know, I owe her something.’ And I went to them, and I said, ‘I want a polka dot guitar if I endorse for you.’ And they said they couldn’t do it … And finally, I guess it was 10, 12, 15 years, they called back and said, ‘We found a guy can put those polka dots on that guitar for you.’ The funny thing about it, the first, what, year or so they put them on there, they had the NAMM Show … And they said, ‘Well, I don’t know about the polka dot guitar. We’re going to make a couple, and put it in.’ I think they made about 100 and they said they sold them out before they sold everybody else’s. And I see quite a few kids popping up now with polka dots.”

Guy’s amplifier has remained the same for many years. “The Fender came out … Bassman, for a bass. We guitar players turned that thing into a guitar amp … You didn’t have to plug no special effects or nothing on it.” He still has one of his first models, as he explains. “If you got a car don’t ever quit running . . . Back in the early days, every time a new car came out, you wanted a new style. I remember I loaned Otis Rush my amplifier once, the Bassman. And Gary, Indiana, is about 30 miles away from here, and he was on his way back here and he had an accident in the car. I said, ‘Oh, my amp.’ And when they broke the trunk open, all smashed up, I plugged it up, and it’s at my house now, still playing.”

Guy’s latest release, a two-disc album titled Rhythm & Blues, was produced by Grammy-winning producer/songwriter and longtime collaborator Tom Hambridge, and features artists as diverse as Kid Rock, Keith Urban, Gary Clark Jr., Beth Hart and Aerosmith members Steven Tyler, Joe Perry and Brad Whitford. “My record company called me up in New York and I said, ‘Well, let me go up there and get this pink slip,’ And they said, ‘No, we want you to do an album.’ So we went to Nashville and started recording the album.” Guy humbly acknowledges the success of his album so far. “It came out, and we had pretty good reviews. I think it made it to number 26 on Billboard. So, I don’t … I’m afraid to ask what it’s like now. I’m from Louisiana. That’s the only superstition I got, is about my records. If I sold a few, if I didn’t … I don’t want to know …”

Written by Troy Richardson / Photography by Ryan Hunter

  • Linked In
  • Google

Tags: , , , , ,