Buddy Guy at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury
NYCB Theatre at Westbury
October 3, 2013
Legendary Chicago guitarist Buddy Guy has seen and done it all. He is one of the greatest guitarists of his generation. The Louisiana-born, Guy was exposed to the blues at a young age, soaking up the guitar styles and influences of Lightnin' Hopkins, T-Bone Walker, B.B. King, Lightnin' Slim and John Lee Hooker. After relocating to Chicago in the late '50s, Guy forged friendships with Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, Junior Wells, Magic Sam and Willie Dixon as well as many other members of blues royalty while playing gigs at the 708 Club and doing session work. The life of a struggling musician is hard. Although, Guy was signed to a number of record deals through the '60s, notably to Chess Records, he released only a handful of singles. Chess didn't release his first full length albums until 1967 when I Left My Blues in San Francisco finally saw the light of day.
As the end '70s dawned, Guy found himself without a recording contract. He released albums in Europe and Japan and in 1981 Alligator Records released Alone And Acoustic with Junior Wells and the solo offering Stone Crazy. During these years Guy did extensive touringmost often appearing in Europe. In the early '90s he released a series of albums beginning with Damn Right, I've Got the Blues (Silvertone Records, 1991) that finally brought him the recognition that he deserved. Today he is recognized as one of the biggest blues acts of all time. Today this guitarist's guitarist is acknowledged as a titan in his field having influenced and/or earned the respect of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Keith Richards, Mark Knopfler and Stevie Ray Vaughan (who have all gone on record as saying that Guy is a personal favorite).
On this night he has brought along 14-year old blues prodigy Quinn Sullivan as his opening act. For those who are unaware of Sullivan's talent, it won't be long before he's a household word. At the tender age of three, Sullivan's parents gave him a First Act acoustic guitar and the rest is history. He made an appearance on Ellen DeGeneres' TV show at six. At seven, a family friend brought Sullivan to see Guy play a gig in New Bedford, MA. After the show, Sullivan was brought backstage to get his guitar signed. As Sullivan recalls it, "I just did a few licks and Buddy told me, 'You be ready when I call you.'" Guy, who regularly mentors young players was blown away. He explained in a Rolling Stone interview that "I had to unplug his amplifier to make sure it was him. I'm like, 'There's no way in the world you can play these notes.' He was hitting Eric Clapton, he was hitting me, Stevie, Jimi Hendrix. I couldn't even play a radio when I was seven or eight years old! Players like him come along once in a lifetime. I said, 'I need to let the world know about you.'" The rest, as they say is history, or at least history in the making.
Sullivan hit the stage running, playing tracks from his two releases Cyclone (Orafin Records, 2011) and Getting There (Superstar Records, 2013). Musically and emotionally mature beyond his years, Sullivan's tasty licks and stage presence had members of the audience stunned, gasping and smiling as he roared through a set that included Jimi Hendrix' "Little Wing," Eric Clapton's "Got To get Better In A Little While," covers of classic blues songs and originals (including "Buddy's Blues," "Mr. Gloom," and "My Sweet Guitar") either co-written with his producer and drummer Tom Hambridge or penned by Hambridge specifically for Sullivan.
Other highlights of his set were: "Things I Won't Forget" and the instrumental, "Cyclone" that brought the mostly forty-something crowd to its feet. At the end of his set, Sullivan said that he'd be at the merchandise table signing copies of his CDs and that the audience members should stop by to say hello. As soon as he left the stage, the crowd reacted like sharks at a feeding frenzy and Sullivan sold many copies of both of his CDs as well as quite a few t-shirts.
After a brief intermission, the charming, six-time Grammy-winning blues man appeared on the stage brandishing a white Stratocaster. He announced, "Whenever I come to a town, I like to play something so funky you can smell it and it goes like this." He and his band (Tim Austin on drums, Marty Sammon on keyboards, Orlando Wright on bass and Ric Hall on guitar) dove headfirst into "Damn Right I've Got the Blues" and then "Five Long Years." He stood at the microphone singing while his fingers effortlessly danced across the strings delivering soaring and awe-inspiring leads. Buddy's playing showcased that sometimes less is more. His hands and fingers flew across the freeboard in a subtle way that proved once-and-for-all that fantastic guitar playing is not defined by how well the guitarist can shred.
As the evening unfolded, Guy told a number of stories, bantering with audience members who requested songs, asked him to play Stevie Ray Vaughan and constantly yelled "We love you!" at the 77-year-old icon. One of the many highlights of the evening came when Guy asked the audience what they thought about Sullivan. He said, "How about this young man just before me? And, how about his drummer? You know he produced my last three albums. This song is from one of those albums." He then sang "74 Years Young," (a song written three years prior and on this night updated to 77). The lyrics say it all:
"I'm 74 years young, there ain't nothing I haven't doneWhen audience members continued to request Stevie Ray Vaughan songs, Guy responded, "What if I just play some Buddy Guy." The audience almost lost its collective mind when Guy broke out some of Vaughan's most famous guitar licks, quickly followed by a touch of Jimi Hendrix and then John Lee Hooker's "Boom, Boom."
I've been a dog and I've been a tomcat
I chased some tails and I left some tracks
I still know how to have my fun 'cause I'm 74 years young"
"Messing With The Kid" was greeted with wild applause and then as he weaved in some Albert King, Guy stunned the audience by leaving the stage. He ventured into the audience, walked and played his way through the crowd. As he navigated his way through the rows and into the aisles, he briefly stopped and regaled fans with personal one-on-one performances. He then stood in the aisle and continued playing. Eventually, the grinning bluesman took a seat about fifteen rows back and played the rest of the song leaning back in the seat while amazed audience members took out their smartphones and snapped away.
When he returned to the stage he called his producer and collaborator Tom Hambridge (a Grammy, ASCAP and BMI award winner) out on stage for "Meet Me in Chicago" and an amazingly soulful rendition of "Skin Deep" (from 2008's Zomba/Jive album of the same name). It was at this point that the roadies brought out a stool and an acoustic guitar. he plugged in the guitar and led the band through short snippets of Ray Charles' "What'd I Say" and Marvin Gaye's "Ain't It Peculiar."
As the set wound down, Guy invited Quinn Sullivan back to the stage to further showcase his talents. Guy and Sullivan riffed on Cream's "Strange Brew," traded Hendrix riffs and jammed together as the Chicago blues legend ushered in the next generation of blues guitar gods. Guy, who is old enough to be Sullivan's grandfather, has been mentoring the young guitar slinger for half of Sullivan's young life. He has clearly been preparing Sullivan for bigger things and, in essence, preparing to pass the baton.
When the lights came up, the audience members ran to the merchandise table to indulge in some retail therapy and to meet Quinn Sullivan who had promised that he'd make another appearance after the show and to buy memorabilia from both artists. The table was surrounded as fans purchased Sullivan's CDs and shirts as well as signed copies of Guy's Rhythm And Blues LP (RCA, 2013), various t-shirts and hoodies, CDs, signed guitar straps and other collectibles. In the parking lot, as the fans made way to their cars, many were heard to utter "I can't believe that he's just 14." Those same people were also heard saying, "Buddy Guy sure doesn't play like a 77-year-old" while they retreated to their cars with the look of abject amazement and sublimely satisfied smiles on their faces.
[Additional article contributions by Christine Connallon].