At his sold-out concert at UCSB's Campbell Hall last Tuesday night, Buddy Guy exploded out of the gate with a fiery version of his signature song "Damn Right, I've Got the Blues," including belted out lyrics, a bit of falsetto singing and some pelvic undulations. And of course, there was his impassioned guitar playing, a force of nature that once led Eric Clapton to praise Guy as the "best guitar player alive."
Guy is on a mission to help keep the blues alive, and in that spirit he sprinkled his set with songs from some of the greatest artists of the genre, including Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King, Albert King and Willie Dixon.
Particular emphasis was on Chicago blues, the urban, electric style that Guy helped to bring to prominence back in the 1960s.
Guy also paid tribute to two of the guitarists who he heavily influenced — Clapton with covers of Cream's "Strange Brew" and "Sunshine of Your Love," and Jimi Hendrix with a cover of "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)."
These songs included contributions from 14-year-old blues guitar phenom Quinn Sullivan, who Guy has been mentoring for nearly half of Sullivan's life. Sullivan had himself played a cool opening set of blues rock, which included a thrilling cover of Hendrix's "Little Wing."
But there is more to Guy than the music; he is also quite the showman, including the aforementioned pelvic undulations, plus playing guitar with his teeth, behind his back, with a drum stick hitting the strings, and flipped backwards so the strings rub against his shirt. As a special treat, during "Down Don't Bother Me" he came out into the audience for an extended period, which allowed us to see him up close and personal.
Guy also playfully joked with the audience, such as when we feebly sang the title phrase of "I Just Want to Make Love to You." After being berated, we did nail it on a redo. He also sang some of Billy Boy Arnold's "Dirty Mother Fuyer," and when the lyrics got too raunchy he yelled, "Hey, I didn't right the f***ing song!"
Two newer songs on the program were "I'm 74 Years Young," updated at the end to his current age of 77, and "Meet Me in Chicago" from his double album Rhythm & Blues released this year.
Damn right, Buddy Guy's still got the blues.
Damn Right, I've Got the Blues
Five Long Years (Eddie Boyd cover)
Dirty Mother Fuyer excerpt (Billy Boy Arnold cover)
I Just Want to Make Love to You (Muddy Waters cover)
Down Don't Bother Me (Albert King cover)
Rock Me Baby excerpt (B.B. King cover)
Boom Boom excerpt (John Lee Hooker cover)
Hoochie Coochie Man excerpt (Willie Dixon cover)
I'm 74 Years Young
Meet Me in Chicago
Strange Brew (Cream cover)
Voodoo Child (Slight Return) (Jimi Hendrix cover)
Sunshine of Your Love (Cream cover)
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.