Buddy Guy / Jonny Lang
August 7, 2012
Los Angeles, CA
Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Alex Kluft
If you have any doubt about the blues transcending generations, just ask Buddy Guy. The Grammy-winning Rock and Roll Hall of Famer whose influence has touched the likes of every one from Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton to Steve Ray Vaughn and Kenny Wayne Shepherd is doing as much as he can to keep the flame burning.
For 2012, he’s on the road with Jonny Lang, the 31-year-old blues wunderkind whose unique voice and wide vibratos have helped take the blues into the 21st century. Guy hasn’t stopped there — he’s made room on this tour for Quinn Sullivan, a 13-year-old blues guitarist and singer with an old-school attack that defies his youth.
It was nearly a full house at the Greek for this blues summit of young and old as Lang kicked in around 7:30 with his unique blend of blues, gospel and rock. If you came expecting over-the-top Stevie Ray Vaughn style licks, you were sorely disappointed as the guitarist seemed to give as much time and space to his vocals as he did his playing. Dressed down in jeans and an orange T-shirt, Lang and his five-piece band served up mostly slower blues numbers like “Turn Around,” the title track from his 2006 studio album. In between soulful scats, Lang laid down his leads in angular, authoritative sparks of energy that barked like a wildcat on steroids.
He politely thanked the crowd, cooing at one point that “I love you so much…I’m so appreciative..” He grabbed a Stratocaster for a soulful and intense read of “Redlight.” During the song's break, Lang brought it way down and the Greek became so quiet, you could hear a mouse fart. A funky take on Stevie Wonder’s “Livin’ For The City,” featuring a few verses from singer Missy Hale, was enough to stir the crowd from their slumber. After the last number, Lang received a standing ovation for a willful set steaming with emotion.
By the time Buddy Guy and his band made their entrance, the audience was more or less tenderized and ready to roast. At 76, Guy’s no nonsense approach is at once abrasive and charming — attributes that give rise to his legend. So after lifting off with “Going Down,” the rollicking blues rocker Freddie King and Jeff Beck brought to the masses, Guy, outfitted in a colorful, oversized shirt, a white beret and a cream-colored Strat, hedged his bets with Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man.”
The song stopped as quickly as it started with Guy admonishing his band. “We just did this same fucking song in Tokyo,” he explained, “And we didn’t fuck it up there.” It just goes to show that once you get to be over 70, you can pretty much say whatever you want, and no one’s going to take offense. Good thing because as the show moved along, Guy had no reservations whatsoever about telling the audience to “shut the fuck up” whenever he started talking.
Like Jeff Beck, Guy handles the guitar like an extension of his body, a pliable tool to ferret his expressive personality. He plays high on the neck and rubs the strings gainst his chest. At the same time, he has no problem stepping back and handing off the spotlight to his nimble-fingered keyboardist Marty Sammon or second guitarist Ric Hall. Once Quinn Sullivan came up, Guy simply took a place at the back of the line.
But before that happened, Guy carried on, punctuating themes on age (“She’s 19-Years-Old” and “76 Years Young”) and strolling through the audience before surrendering the stage to his protégés. Maybe it’s all part of Guy’s “all ages” policy when it comes to the blues.
He’s had this tendency to blend well with those of different generations and temperaments — whether it was on the party train with Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and the Band for the Festival Express tour in 1970; joining Muddy Waters, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ron Wood and Junior Wells 11 years later on the stage of his own Checkerboard Lounge in Chicago; or more recently, participating in the all-star Experience Hendrix tour as the lone master paying tribute to his star pupil.
Sullivan’s fret-burning prowess certainly conjured the expected “oohs” and “awes” from the audience. His own “Buddy’s Blues” and “My Sweet Guitar” furthered his commitment to both his mentor and his instrument. But now that the kid has his own solo album out, it was time to make way for yet another youngster with an itch for the blues. Local 12-year-old Ray Goren should no signs of intimidation as he joined Guy and Sullivan, imploring the crowd before him to bring it on and let his ax do the talking. His leads have a nasty bite that will undoubtedly take him places.
Lang rounded out the front line for a stellar rendition of Cream’s “Strange Brew.” Guy spoke fondly of Eric Clapton, and it seems as if he had been here tonight, a good 50 years of the blues would have been firmly represented. No matter who's there, when Buddy Guy holds court with a stage full of world-class players, he still reigns over them all. A true original, a showman and instrumentalist like no other — 76 years young and Buddy Guy has never been better.