Having just celebrated my third year of blogging I spent some time recently going back through my older posts. I wanted to see the evolution and see what I am doing right and wrong. I also evaluated the types of music I have written about since the start. Unsurprisingly there has been a lot of folk, rock, country, soul and world music, with occasional nods to jazz and classical music. I realized that other than one or two brief mentions of the blues, I have not really delved into it much. Which is a surprise, because there is nothing quite so enjoyable as some down and dirty blues music, oozing out from a well worn guitar, and a singer pouring out pain with every word.
I’m not exactly sure how or what the first blues I heard was, but I am pretty sure it came by way of guys like Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page talking about their own exposure to the music. I find the best way to find new music is to listen to what the people making music say, and what has influenced them. The answer that those four guys would have all said early in their careers was the blues. Now the blues has always had lots of different styles and types-from its roots in the Mississippi Delta, to the southeastern Piedmont style, up to the electric sounds from Chicago and beyond. What they all share is a gritty, no-holds barred attitude to subject matter. There is nothing tender or genteel in the blues. Instead it is about the pain of being wronged, the frustration of love, feeling low and broken down with not a dime to spare or a roof over your head. It all gets laid out on the line in a blues song.
As my knowledge of the music increased, so too did my collection of blues albums. Only giving you a short list of my favorites would include names like Mamie Smith, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Sippie Wallace, Blind Willie McTell, Lightnin’ Hopkins, T-Bone Walker, Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown, Johnny ‘Clyde’ Copeland, Shemekia Copeland, Albert Collins, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Robert Cray, Guitar Shorty. It would also include such seminal performances as Bessie Smith (The Empress Of The Blues) singing Downhearted Blues. The great Muddy Waters belting Mannish Boy and the refrain I’M A MAN. The badass John Lee Hooker doing Boogie Chillen’ and Boom Boom. Then would come ‘The Three Kings’-Albert, Freddie, and B.B. Albert’s soul flavored grooves on songs like Born Under A Bad Sign. Freddie for the guitar wizardry of The Stumble and Hideaway, tunes still challenging guitarists to this day. B.B. and his guitar Lucille for all these elements combined into a dynamic showman revered around the world.
The name missing from that list is who this post is about however. Not just because he represents a direct link to most of the names listed above, but also because he is just so incredibly talented. One of the fiercest guitarists out there, who can do more with one single note compared to thousands of would be guitar shredders. And when he opens his mouth to sing, its like a freight train barreling through, as every hair on the back of your neck stands up. He is of course the sublime Buddy Guy, still going strong at 80 years old as I write this. Carlos Santana once said of him- “He plays one note and you can forget about the rent.” Like a lot of blues musicians his guitar sound can straddle several different styles-straight on Chicago style blues, soul, rock, and even tinges of jazz. Unlike most blues singers, he sings with a rolling sort of style-one moment a full on force of nature, the next tender and heartfelt. His singing and playing always compliment the song, and in a career dating back to the late 1950’s that is really saying something. Most people learn how to do that. For Buddy Guy, it was always there.
Buddy Guy has also influenced a slew of rock guitarists, including the names mentioned above. I can hear Buddy Guy in almost all of the rock guitar ‘gods’. For the song I have chosen here, ‘Damn Right, I’ve Got The Blues’ you can really understand why. More than that though, you are really getting to that down and dirty blues type of feeling. I know when people poke fun at the blues it usually starts off with someone improvising something pissing them off like, ‘My car died this morning, nuh nuh nuh nuh-nuh, Gonna cost 1000 grand, nuh nuh nuh nuh-nuh, or something to that effect. And its true, some blues songs do come across that way. But when you hear Buddy Guy scream, “YOU’RE DAMN RIGHT I’VE GOT THE BLUES” well dammit…you believe him!
He also keeps you in the song, adding subtle little fills with the guitar, building up force slowly until an explosion of a second solo takes off somewhere into the stratosphere. Then, when most people would play that solo out to the end, Buddy leads them back to the main riff and descends down towards earth with more of a soft plea and a whisper now- ‘damn right, I’ve got the blues. It reminds me of those times when you feel so angry you argue with yourself. First a shout, then maybe a stomp of the feet, and then subtle realization as you wind up muttering to yourself and skulking away. And that is what the blues does. It musically expresses emotion the way no other music really can. Yes, other music can get the aggression and adrenaline out (punk, metal, etc), but they don’t tap into the nuance the way only blues music can. That is why I listen to it. Well that, and because it frankly just makes you feel cool listening to it!
The photographic equivalent to blues music must surely be a photo taken at night. After all so many blues songs are about night time. From ‘Blues Before Sunrise’ to the title for this post-‘Blues In The Night’, it is a key ingredient. So I wanted to use something that was taken at night time, yet also had that down and dirty kind of feel to it. And of course it had to be in monochrome too! I hope you agree with the photo choice and the song. Now here’s a bonus clip of Buddy doing his thing with a little known outfit called The Rolling Stones. Remember what I said about what happens when he starts singing? Watch this clip and hear for yourself!
Damn Right, I’ve Got The Blues-Written By Buddy Guy
Champagne & Reefer-Written By Muddy Waters
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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle
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