November 13, 2014
Good luck trying to chronicle the set list of a Buddy Guy show. Sure, the song he starts is generally the song he finishes. It’s the in-between, however, that gets complicated. Nearly every song is a roller coaster ride, featuring quick references to other artists, riffs he’s inspired, riffs that have inspired him, stories from the road, and side trips into other songs, all hammed up with Buddy Guy charm and wit. The uncertainty of what is coming next makes for a thrilling ride.
The audience at Charlotte’s Knight Theater experienced such a ride last Saturday evening. Most of the audience arrives early to hear Guy’s 15-year-old protégé Quinn Sullivan. Those that miss him will get a chance to hear him during the last third of Guy’s set. With the house lights still up, Guy’s band walks onto the stage and start playing before you realize the show is starting. Once they have the crowd’s attention, the lights go down and Guy walks onto the stage bring everyone to their feet, with “Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues.” What you don’t expect from a Guy show is the laughs. Guy keeps the audience entertained throughout the night with jokes, facial expressions and perfectly timed pelvic thrusts.
Muddy Waters, who Guy met upon his arrival to Chicago in 1957, becoming a key component of his house band, is referenced many times during the performance. “Hoochie Coochie Man” is the first. “I’m gonna play you some shit they don’t play on the radio no more. So funky, you smell it.” Guy gives the audience one chance to finish a lyric. “The gypsy woman told my mother before I was born / I got a boy child’s comin’…” There is a faint “he’s gonna be a son of a gun!” from the crowd, but not enough for Buddy. “I was in Tokyo three weeks ago and they knew this song!” After the crowd’s laughter subsides they are awarded another shot and nail the response. His fondness for Waters is exhibited in a story he tells of meeting later day legends of the 60s like Eric Clapton, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. “They all asked me what is was like to play with him. I said, ‘I was on top of the world!’”
Sometime before the show, Guy got word that a couple in the audience had gotten married to one of his songs. A faint “thank you” is heard from a woman and Guy asks, “Oh, is that you?” “Feels Like Rain” is played for the couple, the only song of the evening played from start to finish without diversion into other songs or pauses for stories.
During the course of the evening, Guy puts on a blues clinic, featuring Hendrix, Albert King, Clapton’s Cream and John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom,” among many others. At one point he disappears off stage while playing his guitar, and he pops out a side door into the crowd. He spends a good five minutes walking up and down the aisles of the theater playing a long solo through out. The direction of the delighted crowd’s gaze turns whichever way Guy heads, along with many phones documenting his guitar work from as close as inches away.
Near the end of the evening, Guy brings Sullivan back onstage to play with his mentor. He talks affectionately of meeting Sullivan when he was seven years old. They venture together into an assortment of songs and riffs, seemingly going with whatever pops into Guy’s head.
Towards the end of the evening, Guy rips into appropriately-titled “74 Years Young.” “I’ve been all around the world, everywhere is home / Drink wine with kings and the Rolling Stones / I got a few scars from all the battles I won / I’m 74 years young,” Guy howls, then interjects, “Wait a minute. Wait a fuckin’ minute. I recorded this song four years ago! I’m 78 now!” It can certainly be debated how much of Guy’s performance is as spontaneous as it comes across. There are gags and one-liners that have surely been used before. But the performance by this 78-year-old blues legend feels fresh to the audience, and as he has done throughout his fifty-plus-year career, Guy gave the Knight Theater crowd quite a thrilling ride.
Listen to the album Rhythm & Blues by Buddy Guy
Listen to the album Getting There by Quinn Sullivan