Over the years there have been many good performers who played the blues. But even among those artists, there are a handful of true giants who have elevated the genre to greater heights. Buddy Guy is one such giant, and in an electrifying performance in Charlottesville’s historic Paramount Theatre, Guy used the healing power of music to soothe a community that was recently rocked by violence.
The audience was already on its feet when Guy casually strolled out onto the stage in a white shirt with black polka dots, loose pants, and the kind of sneakers your grandfather might wear. Even at the tender young age of 81, Guy moved around the stage with grace and style, and damn, can that man still play a guitar. Over the next couple of hours, Guy gave a clinic, not only on how to handle a six-string, but how to connect with an audience that was starved for a great show.
He opened his set with his classic, Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues, and to say the audience was enthusiastic would be a vast understatement. Throughout the evening, Guy was more than generous sharing his spotlight with members of his band, especially keyboardist Marty Sammon and guitarist Ric Hall. Each would take extended solos during the jams. Also with Guy, he would often switch from song to song or throw something in seemingly on the fly, only to come back and comment on it, often with some salty language tossed in.
After that great opening, he moved into some blues “they don’t play on the radio anymore,” Five Long Years. As a radio producer, I must take slight umbrage, but only slight, as some of us are playing those blues, but we’re a dying breed. If you have a local blues show in your area, be sure to support it! Sermon over…
He added a snippet of My Momma Done Told Me to Five Long Years before moving into Willie Dixon’s classic, I Just Want To Make Love To You, featuring the audience as his sing along partner for the chorus. After that was a blistering version of Hoochie Coochie Man where the audience tried to sing with him, but had a hard time getting it right. Guy laughed and took command of the situation.
From there he delivered Close To You and a smoking version of Fever. Up to this point there was one member of the audience who was undoubtedly more enthusiastic than the rest – perhaps fueled by some liquid courage – and after he chose a quiet moment in the song to yell out “I love you Buddy,” Guy actually brought the song to a close and remarked, “Every time someone says, ‘I love you man,’ I wish the whole world would say, ‘I love you too.’”
The audience, no doubt still feeling the effects of the recent riot that took place nearby, erupted into spontaneous cheers and applause. There was a memorial of flowers less than a block away from the theatre, and no one escaped the feeling of dread that had hung over the area.
Guy then gave us a little lesson of how he learned to play by listening to the radio. He played a little of John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom and a little of BB King’s Sweet 16. The overly enthusiastic audience member kept up his running commentary until Guy asked him to be quiet so everyone could enjoy the show. (That’s not his actual quote, but this is a family blog…)
Guy then played Slipping In, by slipping into the audience and walking through the crowd. Of course, everyone was one their feet hoping to get near the legend himself. He took his time on the stroll,
jamming and playing with a few members of the audience as he made his way back to the stage. Still in a playful mood, he continued to play with his guitar utilizing a drumstick and a tea towel.
After working the audience into yet another frenzy, he playfully asked, “Do they have a curfew here? ‘Cause I feel like playing longer…” He then proceeded to go into what he referred to as a “G Minor Slow Jam” and a hot version of Drowning On Dry Land and a great version of the title track from his latest album I Was Born To Play Guitar.
At that point, he brought back out his producer, Tom Hambridge, who had also played drums for opening performer Quinn Sullivan, who also came back out. Guy told the story of his mother teaching him that beauty was only “skin deep” and how later that story was turned into a great song. Hambridge added vocals and percussion while Sullivan added his own amazing guitar.
Guy heaped plenty of praise on Sullivan, who had really opened up the audience with a great performance – more on that in a minute – and gave the 18-year old a chance to shine with some over the top playing. Guy showed off his abilities by dropping in some Marvin Gaye and Ray Charles to show what he used to play while he was learning the ropes.
He closed out the show with versions of Strange Brew and Chicago, before exiting the stage and having the band jam for a while.
Quinn Sullivan opened the show with 6-7 songs, tearing into Ain’t No Stopping Us, before moving into a slow jam, almost progressive blues number. Sorry, I didn’t catch the title of it. From there he played Cyclone, the title track from an earlier album before playing Midnight Highway, the title track from his latest album.
If you haven’t heard Midnight Highway yet, do yourself a favor and check it out. Or, better still, get a copy and play it. I love the album, and the title song is a beautiful number that takes Sullivan’s music in a new and exciting direction.
He closed with two more songs, She Gets Me and Let It Rain. The audience was almost as excited by his performance as they were with Guy’s. The two are great friends and they combined to create an unforgettable evening of spirited blues.
Guy is a giant of the blues. There’s no denying the force behind him and it quickly becomes obvious why he is the favorite guitarist of so many elite players. Catch him if you can, it’s an experience you may never forget.
(All photos taken by Mrs. Professor and used by permission. Or threat, hard to tell sometimes...)