Buddy Guy talks legacy, BB King and more: 'I am trying to keep the Blues alive, and I can’t do it by myself'
Back in India to headline the Mahindra Blues Festival at the Mehboob Studio in Bandra, Buddy Guy spoke with Firstpost about the relevance of the Blues today and the pressure to keep the music alive after BB King’s demise
Buddy Guy is 83, but there's not a speck of rust on his storytelling, performance or in the guitar licks. Rather, on stage the artist has gained a new dimension. He is on a quest to save traditional Blues in the era of electronic music and social media distractions. Inside a studio, he is even better. Born To Play Guitar (2015) and The Blues Is Alive and Well (2018) — his last two albums over the past five years — are Grammy winners.
Back in India to headline the Mahindra Blues Festival at the Mehboob Studio in Bandra, Guy spoke with Firstpost about the relevance of the Blues today and the pressure to keep the music alive after BB King’s demise and more.
You’ve been coming to India for some time now. What are the changes that you see, and overall, how do you relate the Blues to the current world scenario?
I travel around the world and I try to keep up with everything. I try to watch the people and I try to watch the music. As a Blues player, we sing about everyday life around the world. I don’t need to sing only about Chicago or Texas or New York, I will sing about India, Africa, Brazil. Anything. I love people, man. If everybody was like me, there wouldn’t be misunderstanding in the world. I don’t want you to be what ‘I’ want you to be. I want you to be what ‘you’ want to be and we can get around like that. I was brought up to love people whoever they are.
What keeps you going at 83? What inspires you to keep releasing records?
To keep going? All you need to do is look at young women around the world, and you will have a smile on your face [laughs]. I have a new album coming out, and my good friend [Blues legend] Bobby Rush wrote a song called ‘If You Are In Love With A Woman or Man Twice As Young As Your Age, What’s Wrong In That?’ You can write songs about what you see and it need not happen to you. All over America, they see people older than the other one and they are doing fine. If two people are happy, leave them alone and let them be happy. This is the Blues!
There is a lot of electronic music and hip hop today. Your daughter, Shawnna, is also a rapper. How challenging is it to keep the Blues alive?
It’s kind of scary. If I hadn’t heard Muddy Waters or BB King, I don’t know if I would be playing. Back in my days, this is the stuff you heard in radio stations. Now, they don’t play Blues on TV or radio. My children didn’t know who I was for a long time. One of them came to my club [Buddy Guy’s Legends] and the first thing he said, “Oh my god! I didn’t know you could do that.”
You have an eye for scouting young musicians too, like you introduced Quinn Sullivan to the world…
I found another one called Kingfish. He was nominated for a Grammy last month. He didn’t win but he is doing well. I found him in the Mississippi. He is a young player, must be 21 or 22. Even if I see one good Blues player here, I will tell him ‘Hey, let me see what I can do for you’.
You plan to record with these young artistes?
Yes. I did one with Kingfish. My eyes and ears are open. I just put in a lot of money at a radio station called ‘Buddy Guy’s Radio’ in Chicago because I want them to play jazz, gospel, Blues. And not just Buddy Guy’s blues, I want to hear Blues from others too. If you start singing Blues, I will get you there too. This is how I am trying to keep the Blues alive, and I can’t do it by myself.
What are the changes that you feel about your guitar playing?
The fire in the belly comes from the audience. If people think that I am good and they have come to watch me play, I give them everything I got. I can’t hold back. I can’t give it to you how I did at 22 but hopefully, I can make someone happy by performing because I always give my 100 percent. I don’t want someone to go back home and feel that I cheated them. Don’t ever be the best in town but be the best till the best come around.
What are the new additions to the Legends Club? You once told me about how you got Jimi Hendrix’s sister to give you his shoes and shirts. Did you get his guitar?
I couldn’t get the guitar. The shoes and shirts are up on the wall. My club is like a museum. I recently got Jimmy Page’s guitar. I got to know Jimi very well two-and-a-half years before he died, [before] he got into drugs. I used to tell him that man, you know, every time I think about you I feel if I did any wrong, my parents would not accept it.
Do you meet Eric Clapton often these days?
Eric Clapton can’t come to the Blues club because he can't drink whiskey anymore. He is trying to quit drinking for a while, and if he sees whiskey, he will feel like drinking it. He is in rehab.
We lost BB King five years ago. How much do you feel his loss?
There is more pressure on me now. I used to have a little more time off. The places he would be playing did not need me. And now, that place is vacant and they call me.
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