Can't Quit The Blues

Buddy Guy

Over the course of the past 50 years, few artists serve as a better bridge between the classic Chicago Blues sounds of the 50s and 60s and modern rock and roll than Buddy Guy. Beginning his recording career in 1957, Guy recorded and performed live with three generations of artists; starting with blues legends such as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and Little Walter and continuing through the British invasion of the 60's all the way through the Blues revival of the 1990s. Oddly, it wasn't until the later stage of his career that the 2005 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee began to receive the recognition that he deserved.

Possessing a style that is equal parts Muddy Waters, Guitar Slim, and Jimi Hendrix, he has profoundly influenced the sounds of players ranging from Eric Clapton, to Stevie Ray Vaughan, to John Mayer, and serves as a de facto ambassador for a genre that is, sadly, but inevitably, losing many of its founding fathers.

He has shared the stage and studio with just about everybody: The aforementioned Clapton, Carlos Santana, David Bowie, and Keith Richards, to name a few. And then there are the Blues legends: Sonny Boy Williamson, Otis Rush, Willie Dixon, Albert Collins, B.B. King, and, of course, Junior Wells, with whom Guy partnered during the 60s to record Hoodoo Man Blues, a landmark recording and one of the best Blues records of the era.

And so it is that, five decades into a stellar career and no less than 15 years since the inception of the retrospective "boxed set" phenomenon, someone -- namely, Silvertone records -- finally got around to compiling Guy's body of work into a concise, bookshelf-worthy collection. Fortunately for music fans, they did it right. Described as "Buddy Guy's 70th birthday gift" (Guy turned 70 on July 30th of this year), the handsomely packaged Can't Quit The Blues offers the hardcore and casual fan alike with an impressive and comprehensive collection of Guy's work.

Comprising three CDs and a DVD, the collection starts with his first recording, "The Way You Been Treating Me," captured in Baton Rouge Louisiana in May, 1957; not far from his home town of Lettsworth, where he was born 21 years earlier. From there it takes us to Chicago, and the legendary Chess Records, where Guy worked as a sideman for the architects of the Chicago Blues, including Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon. While Chess executives didn't approve of Guy's wild approach to playing and singing -- a style inspired by his hero, Guitar Slim, and foreshadowing the music of the 60s -- they did grant him a handful of sides, which are presented here, and show him paying homage to the men that he idolized.

By the mid-1960s, Guy was growing restless and, seeking the opportunity to express his own unique voice, jumped to Vanguard records and began recording his own material, in addition to performing on Wells' milestone Hoodooman Blues. This collection includes two tracks from that recording, the title track and "In the Wee Hours," in addition to seven other gems from the late 60s through the 80s -- a period during which Guy toured extensively (both solo and with the Junior Wells band), but produced comparatively few studio releases.

By the 1990s, the blues genre was experiencing a full-blown revival, thanks in large part a renewed interest in the recordings of Robert Johnson and the commercial success of Texas bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan. Vaughan made it no secret that he owed a great deal of his success to the influences of players like Buddy Guy, and Guy showed the world why with his 1991 album Damn Right I Got The Blues. The record featured Guy's playing at its best and featured some high-profile guest artists, including Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, and Mark Knopfler. The record pushed Guy out of the shadows and into the spotlight, finally giving him the recognition that he had long deserved as one of the premier purveyors of the blues. The record sold more than 500,000 copies and won Guy his first Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album.

Discs two and three of the set features three tracks from Damn Right I Got the Blues, including the Mack Rice staple, "Mustang Sally," with Beck sharing guitar duties. In addition to these tracks, the disc contains tracks from his followup Grammy-winning recording Feels Like Rain (including the title track, which features Bonnie Raitt), and a mix of excellent material from his other offerings from the decade, including tracks from Buddy's underrated 2001 release, Sweet Tea.

Mixed in with all of these are a handful of previously unreleased tracks, including the Mose Allison tune "Your Mind Is On Vacation," and an excellent rendition of Muddy Waters' "Honey Bee." The companion DVD provides an excellent documentary, in which Guy tells the story of Chicago Blues, through his own history, humorous anecdotes, and insights. You can't help but love the man after watching it, as he is warm, intelligent, and possessed of a undeniable charisma.

That charisma is most evident, however, in his performances, where his magnetism and showmanship are evident, even in early recordings as a sideman with Junior Wells. His playing during the 80s and 90s performances is electrifying, and his fearlessness on stage (and off, as he is often seen strolling through crowd, playing blistering leads while audience members look on in wonderment) are hard evidence of the impact that Buddy Guy has had on popular music over the past 50 years. Luckily, Silvertone Records finally came to that realization itself and, though we had to wait a long time, gave us a collection that is, ultimately, worth the wait.

~ Andrew Todd

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