CHICAGO—If there's such a sound as "authentic" Chicago blues, there's one player, one man, one artist who still delivers that musical genre like no one else. Buddy Guy is now the nation's most influential blues guitarist. He's won six Grammys, he's in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and he owns a blues club that has become a top Chicago tourist attraction. As Steve Sanders reports, at the age of 75, this is Buddy Guy.
"One drink of wine... two drinks of gin," Guy said. Every January, Buddy Guy comes home to his namesake Chicago blues club. Fans come from all over the world, and there's never an empty seat. In a city whose blues legends are forever rooted in the history of American music, Buddy Guy has become one of those legends. At the age of 75, he's at the top of his game.
Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon. But in those days, it was the young upstart, punching too loud for some purists, until a generation of British rockers, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck legitimized loud. "They opened the door and let the world know who we was." Buddy Guy grew up on a cotton plantation near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. As a child, any object he could make vibrate, he could make music.
"I used to take rubber bands and stretch 'em up against my ear. Then I would take a string and tie it to nails in the wall tight enough for you to hear," Guy said.
He'd also strip wire from window screens leaving his mother wondering why bugs were getting in the house. A friend of his father's bought him his first guitar, and he taught himself how to play. Guy moved to Chicago at the age of 21with a guitar and not much else. Back then there were plenty of blues clubs on the south and west sides. But Buddy was often on the outside looking in.
"I would walk these clubs up and down 47th, 43rd street, and I would hear Muddy and Wolf coming out the door and wasn't no air conditioning or nothing they just open the door, no cover charge and they would make you buy a beer. So I would have to stand outside cause I didn't have a dime and stand out front the door and listen to em play," he said.
Within a few years, Buddy himself was playing those same clubs and gaining a reputation not only as a polished guitarist and singer, but also as a first rate showman. This is an act he learned from 1950's era bluesman, Guitar Slim. "And he walks in the door with a 150 feet cord, I said my god, I want to play like BB King, but I'm gonna act like Guitar Slim." His long journey, from rubber bands to an incendiary Strat is now focused on keeping the art form alive, even if it means jamming with guitarists who don't quite measure up.
His south loop club - Buddy Guy's Legends - is a living memorial to the legends of the blues filled with photographs and guitars owned by the icons. One of his favorite vintage instruments is this one, the guitar John Lee Hooker played in his last gig.
"Who knows where the blues is gonna go now, the clubs are disappearing, the jazz clubs, the blues clubs," Guy said. Make no mistake, they still play the blues in Chicago, and nobody plays it like Buddy Guy.
As he does every January- Buddy Guy is the star of his show at Legends., now at 700 South Wabash. Many shows are sold out, but he'll be there 'til the end of the month.
Find the calendar at www.buddyguy.com