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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan

Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, June 24th 2008

Buddy Guy
There’s a lot of excitement in the environs of Shepherd’s Bush tonight. The Thai restaurant is full of over-weight ageing rockers exchanging Buddy Guy stories, yarning over plates of Pad Thai about gigs long since attended. I could have joined in – I saw Guy about 15 years ago just after he had released Damn Right I’ve Got the Blues – but didn’t feel quite that old. Outside the theatre, the same huge queue and it’s only 7.15. And the queue tells its own story of passing years: like the artist, now a sprightly 73-year-old and once famous for his permed hair, almost everyone is folically challenged.
Guy’s in the UK for five very busy nights, including the Jazz Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, after which he’s heading to the Continent, and then back home to the USA. A hectic schedule for the last surviving master of the Chicago blues – there’s barely a blues body he didn’t play with during his career as a session man with Chess Records. Once unleashed as a solo performer, he became, along with Albert King, one of the seminal influences in terms of style and technique on a generation of musicians who would redefine the face of blues and rock, from Stevie Ray Vaughan to Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton to Jimi Hendrix.
Buddy Guy
I remember feeling slightly dissatisfied when I first saw him that he seemed to prefer showboating to full-on playing, spending much of the night mimicking his great forbears, and some of his disciples. Well, that’s the Buddy Guy show, and I swear, apart from a different band and a few new songs, it hasn’t changed much in well over a decade. Okay, Mr Guy needs a few more breaks during which in step his accomplished band: Ric ‘Jaz Guitar’ Hall on guitar; Orlando Wright on electric bass; Tim Austin on drums and, on electric keyboards, Marty Sammon, with whom he exchanges some very nice licks. I should add that he is dressed in the height of fashion with carefully-chosen odd shoes. Guy’s guitar style, like the man himself, is flamboyant and sometimes hysterical. Lightning fast riffs leading into long-held single notes with incredible sustain, piercing volume followed by hushed whispering breaks of immense subtlety. And what made it different in the sixties was that it was played without the restraint that you can sometimes hear on, for example, Muddy Waters’ recordings. He’s got all the stuff for sure, even though he struggles a little with his wild falsetto singing (he’s sipping some sort of throat concoction all night).
But it feels as though it’s being thrown away as he rambles through songs, ‘Feels like rain’, ‘Damn right’, ‘Mojo hand’, Hoochie Coochie man’, none ever quite finished to anyone’s satisfaction.
Buddy Guy
Buddy Guy (L) with Ric 'Jazz Guitar' Hall (R)
Buddy Guy And then there’s the real showboating: playing his guitar with only his left hand on the fret board; strumming with a drum stick; strumming with his shirt; playing the guitar behind his head. In fact, a lot of that old-time stuff that the earliest blues players used to have to do to earn a living at a Saturday night plantation dance. And of course, he not plays not only to the audience, but in the audience, leaving the stage to emerge in the middle of the mosh, where he spent almost ten minutes shooting off riffs before (and this was a first) appearing in the balcony and playing for us there. Oh, the joys of cordless guitars! He also does his impersonations: John Lee Hooker; Eric Clapton and, inevitably, Hendrix.
It’s a good show and the audience are in raptures, but a shame that the formulaic structure prevents us from hearing the best of Mr Guy’s considerable and apparently undiminished talents. Certainly good enough to move me to go out and buy a few of his albums, and I understand there’s a new one, Skin Deep, on the way. So go out and buy some too – and if you hurry you can also catch Mr Guy’s Glastonbury performance on the wonderful BBC iPlayer - if your lucky enough to live in the UK. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)

Kate's photo album Kate's photographs
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