The past century has brought about a world of change in music history – notably the blues and its significant influence on modern rock and roll – and when you consider that Buddy Guy has lived 81 years of this development, you can only imagine how broad a spectrum his live shows cover. He is history in motion, his life and experiences projected in his music, bridging a gap from the early traditions into the contemporary innovations.
Eighteen year old Quinn Sullivan opened the show backed by the majority of Buddy Guy’s band. At over 60 years Guys’ junior, he proved that the blues is an innate talent, rooted in the soul only left to intensify with time. Quinn’s talents were discovered at a very young age by Buddy Guy himself, and have been nurtured and primed by him, along with other contemporary blues greats, on stage ever since. Sullivan undoubtedly plays beyond his years – this being apparent with his current album at #7 on Billboard’s charts – and his flawless live performance and impressive improvisational playing, proves he carries on an essence of those who have played before him all the while adding in his own modern flavor. A reflection of the same spirit Buddy Guy has had in passing on the rites of the blues proving great expectations for the future of the genre.
As Buddy Guy entered onstage he received an instant standing ovation, as should an individual who is so influential and synonymous with the blues. He performed a rather autobiographical set list, playing songs by early blues artists who influenced him to later ones he influenced through his own music, with a few of his own peppered in. He opened strong with his single “Damn Right I Got the Blues” from his album of the same name and with his signature guitar playing proved that indeed speak the language with his expressive vocals and guitar.
He showcased his fluency in a few blues standards– Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help Me,” Muddy Waters’ “Hootchie Cootchie Man,” and John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom. “ Heavily influenced by Waters, he articulated the genre with his own signature flair yet maintained that innate core of the blues channeling his early years as a session guitarist for many of these primaries. He flaunted his aggressive playing, jesting the audience as to whether he was playing too loud, then proceeded to “break it down so funky you could smell it.” This is where the signature Buddy Guy sound dominated with emotive shifts of textures and unpredictability in his performance that showcased his role in trailblazing rock and roll.
The emotion and impulse in which he played, paired with eight decades of life in his voice and hands (and sometimes elbows and whatever other body part he’d use to play with) was astonishing to watch. He relayed many anecdotes throughout his set as well – from how he learned guitar to stories of his late mother to rhetoric about how society has strayed from the root of so many things– and all were imparted with a great deal of wisdom behind them. For someone who sings and plays a genre so rooted in the visceral as well as someone who lived a time of such rapid, drastic and sometimes turbulent social change, the freedoms not had early in his career, and in that of his predecessors, came out with glory. One may not expect to have such wisdom and life lessons imparted upon them at a live show, but after 81 years of singing and living the blues Buddy Guy has more than earned the right to stop the music and say whatever he wants to on stage. And that he did – profanities and all – and you just don’t correct a legend on anything like that. You listen.
At one point early on in the show he walked off stage into the crowd as he performed and lit up the room with an inexplicable energy. It became almost a processional walk – the crowd overcome with reverence as he passed through and spread that same life and vitality to them as he played with on stage.
He brought Quinn Sullivan back up stage to play “Strange Brew” just as he did upon discovering this protégé at the age of 7, only now with a decade of guidance under his belt from Buddy which shone through with a great deal of confidence in his performance. Sullivan remained on stage with him for “Skin Deep,” translating its own depth in the music and nailing the very essence of the restorative nature of the blues. Austin’s own singer/songwriter Jackie Venson joined the duo on stage for a reprise of “Strange Brew” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile.” A blues guitar virtuoso herself, Venson took center stage with Sullivan turning out the licks as Buddy Guy looked on in admiration of a this generation of artists descending out of all he aided in building.
Buddy Guy’s performance at The Moody Theater featured his very essence as a catalyst of the blues – his channel of tradition, the influence he’s had on his contemporaries, & the mentorship of the future. Guy is truly a signature act on stage – and in history – and the music capital of Texas was lucky enough to witness that in all his glory.
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© 2017 Stan Martin, all rights reserved
- Lifting Off
- Getting There
- Little Wing
- Midnight Highway
- She Gets Me
- Let It Rain
- Damn Right I Got the Blues
- Five Long Years
- Help Me (Sonny Boy Williamson cover)
- Hoochie Coochie Man (Muddy Waters cover)
- Slip It In
- Sisters Milking the Bull
- Boom Boom (John Lee Hooker cover)
- Sweet 16 (BB King cover)
- Blues Running Through my Veins
- Fever (Little Willie John cover)
- Strange Brew (Cream cover w/Quinn Sullivan)
- Skin Deep
- Ain’t That Peculiar (Marvin Gaye cover/excerpt)
- Strange Brew – reprise (w/Quinn Sullivan & Jackie Venson)
- Voodoo Chile (Jimi Hendrix cover w/Quinn Sullivan & Jackie Venson)
- See You in Chicago