Buddy is just a lucky Guy Blues guitarist hit the big time at last -- with a little help

THE BALTIMORE SUN

When Buddy Guy, a sharecropper's son, first ventured forth from his native Louisiana, he could not have foreseen the day he would be motoring through the Windy City in his beige Rolls-Royce or red Ferrari.

He marvels at that from his home in Chicago, where he gives interviews to magazines and newspapers all over the world, discussing his two Grammy Award-winning records and the coveted Century Award, presented by Billboard magazine.

But that is now. Earlier, it was Magic Sam and Otis Rush -- two older West Side blues giants -- who in the 1950s recognized Mr. Guy's talent and guided him to the record labels that would jump-start his career. From Eli Toscano's Artistic label, to the mighty Chess studios, to Vanguard Records, Buddy Guy's pilgrimage yielded an impressive and historic discography -- including the mid-'60s Delmark Records classic, "Hoodoo Man Blues."

But things cooled considerably in the mid-1970s. The successful white rock and blues guitarists who had assimilated his style had, in a sense, rendered him obsolete. Black blues artists such as Mr. Guy were going to Europe in droves to be appreciated.

Although serious blues fans sought out and feasted on Mr. Guy's efforts, present-day success didn't come until one of his admirers -- mega-star Eric Clapton -- invited him to London to perform with him at the Royal Albert Hall. That led to his signing with Silvertone Records, two Grammy winners -- and the beginning of Buddy Guy's new success story.

Today, Mr. Guy acknowledges his debt to Mr. Clapton, Bonnie Raitt and others for actively supporting him.

"You know, when they come in and say, 'I'll help . . . I'll record a record with him,' the record companies jump," he says. "And Bonnie [Raitt] came in, Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler and [Jeff] Beck, and all these people said, 'Sure, let's go bring him out of that closet they got him locked in.' And it happened. . . . Those guys have done more for me than [any] record company that I've ever known.

"And all the time I thought I could play well enough to make an album by myself. But you need the door opened. . . . It's just like the racetrack -- until the gate opens, the horse can't run."

While he's grateful for the support of industry superstars, the Louisiana-born guitar legend also laments that these same musicians dominate the American musical marketplace. He and most of his gifted contemporaries continue to glean little from their lifelong efforts in the blues.

"What did we do to deserve what we don't get?" Mr. Guy asks. "My record is not going to get in some of those stations that Eric Clapton's record gonna get in -- and he went back and played all that old stuff on 'From the Cradle' [Mr. Clapton's Grammy-nominated CD]. And his record jumped to No. 1 on Billboard, the first blues record that ever did. Now what happened to Muddy Waters, B. B. King, Bobby Bland, T-Bone Walker and Eddie Boyd -- who made the stuff Eric recorded . . . ? What happened to them? Nobody knows them. . . . That's something, isn't it?

"Now Eric deserves all the credit in the world he can get . . . and he's getting it! They pick up Eric's record and put it on every big radio station in the world. You hand them a Buddy Guy record, and they say, 'We can't play that.' Now you tell me what's wrong."

Mr. Guy's current release, "Slippin' In," features no other guitar heroes. He's backed by his regular touring band on half the tracks and Double Trouble -- the late Stevie Ray Vaughan's backup band -- on the rest. Also featured is former Chuck Berry pianist Johnnie Johnson.

His next effort -- due in the spring -- will feature Mr. Guy in a live recording fronting G. E. Smith and the Saturday Night Live Band -- recorded in New York and Chicago.

Even with his success, Mr. Guy has maintained a down-home humility.

"I'm still human. You know -- I catch cold . . . I get tired . . . I need a bath . . . I need to sleep," he says. "I'm just lucky enough to be a guitar player who finally got a little break. So what I try to do is let people know, 'OK, this is the same little old sharecropper's son, and the guitar hasn't changed my mind.' I want to stay as near normal as I possibly can.

"You know a lot of entertainers get -- John Lee Hooker calls it, kind of a big head. I don't want to hide from people. I want people to know how I appreciate [that] without them you're nobody. So let me answer all your questions . . . let me play for you . . . then say, 'OK, Buddy, see you tomorrow.' And that's the way I live."

Buddy Guy

Where: Hammerjacks Concert Hall, 1101 S. Howard St.

When: Tonight at 9

Tickets: $15

Call: (410) 481-SEAT

Buddy's blues

To hear excerpts from Buddy Guy's "Slippin' In," call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6157 after you hear the greeting.

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