When Buddy Guy first started out in the late 1950s, he helped shape the sound of Chicago blues. He is an electrifying blues player, inspiring Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix and many others. With over 50 years of experience under his belt, this Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has not slowed down a bit. Guy experienced a revival of sorts in the 1990s. Since he found his way back into the limelight, the famous guitarist has been a regular on the festival circuit in North America and Europe.
Buddy Guy was born in Louisiana and grew up on a plantation one hundred miles outside New Orleans. On weekends, the young Buddy would spend his free time with a two-stringed guitar he had self-assembled. He didn't own a real six-string - a Harmony acoustic - until a few years later.
At 21, Guy moved to Chicago. It didn't take him long to adapt to city life and take up with the local musicians. Willie Dixon produced his first two singles with Cobra Records, and when the label went under, the two moved to Chess Records. Here, Guy became a popular session musician, working with Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, among others. From 1960 to 1967, he recorded several albums on his own.
In 1968, Guy switched to the Vanguard label, where he continued in the same musical vein. He then floated from one label to another, collaborating with several different artists. In 1969, he formed a duo with harmonica player Junior Wells. The two musicians, who had often crossed paths in Chicago, joined forces in the studio and on the road - as seen most notably on Live in Montreux, a documentary that captured their performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1977.
Following a relatively quiet decade in the 1980s, Buddy Guy experienced an unexpected revival in the early 1990s. Around that time, Eric Clapton invited him on stage to play during a performance. Guy, then without a record deal, signed with Silvertone, where he launched three successful discs: Damn Right, I've Got the Blues (1991), Feels Like Rain (1993) and Slippin' In (1994), all of which earned him Grammy awards.
Taking advantage of the quantum leap in his popularity, the Festival recruited Guy to appear alongside B.B. King at the Forum for its 1995 edition. For one night only, the hockey temple was transformed into a gigantic cabaret with a rotating center stage built specially for the occasion - the perfect setting for two blues heavyweights to engage in a friendly showdown.
Two years later, Guy returned to the Festival, offering fans his trademark cutting riffs and soulful voice, supported by the powerful rhythms of his big band. In 1999, Guy delivered two more solo performances to festival-goers, sharing the bill with Jimmie Vaughan, a major musician of the Southwest blues tradition, and Steve Hill, a young blues guitar prodigy from Montreal.
A spoonful of blues
With Sweet Tea, released in 2001, Guy returned to the source of the blues. Recording the album in Mississippi, he crafted a raw sound that recalled a bygone era. Bring 'Em In, released in 2005, explores a more soul- and R&B-oriented sound. The disc also highlights guest performances by Carlos Santana and John Mayer, an avowed fan of the venerable bluesman.
As part of the 2007 Festival, another meeting took place between two great bluesmen: This time, Guy shared the bill with George Thorogood, who was flanked by his faithful Destroyers.
The artist made a brief but memorable appearance in Shine A Light, the Rolling Stones concert that was immortalized by filmmaker Martin Scorsese in 2008. Keith Richards, blown away by Guy's performance, offered him his guitar as a token of appreciation.
In 2009, Buddy Guy accepted another invitation from the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. The 72-year-old shared the stage with blueswoman Susan Tedeschi, with whom he collaborated on the album Skin Deep, released the previous year. For Living Proof (2010), the musician duets with Carlos Santana and B.B. King.