The Definitive Buddy Guy
First Appeared in The Music Box, May 2009, Volume 16, #5
Written by John Metzger
Tue May 26, 2009, 06:30 AM CDT
Buddy Guy is a superstar, as least as far blues artists are concerned. He has played his celebrity status to the hilt, too. As a result, he often garners more attention for the folks with whom he happens to be associated — Eric Clapton, John Mayer, and the like — than he does for the music he has made. Even at his own concerts, he favors well-known material over riskier fare, allowing his flashy showmanship to provide the illusion of danger to his performances. Not surprisingly, then, it is sometimes difficult to remember how much Guy has accomplished over the past 50 years. The Definitive Buddy Guy is the latest retrospective to be devoted to his work, and despite the impossibly high standards that its title creates, the album serves as a solid reminder of Guy’s merits as a recording artist. Indeed, when one is pressed to assemble a single-disc collection of material from his canon, while also touching upon the entirety of his career, it’s hard to dispute any of the selections that appear on the set.
The individual tracks that were used to compose The Definitive Buddy Guy are presented almost entirely in chronological order. They largely were chosen based on their ability to chart Guy’s growth while also showcasing the different sides of his persona. Undeniably, there are some songs on the endeavor that are inferior to selections that didn’t make the final cut. Overall, however, it’s easy to hear how Guy not only used his influences to formulate his own style but also remained open to the ever-changing music market.
The Definitive Buddy Guy begins with a handful of Guy’s most important early singles. At the time that these tracks were recorded, he had yet to gain complete confidence in his abilities. He was vocally immature, and although his guitar accompaniments were impeccable, they also, for the most part, were relatively subdued. In a sense, Guy was still searching for direction by emulating the stars of Chicago’s rich blues scene. Although he was accompanied by a horn section on many of his recording sessions, the arrangements were largely nondescript and forgettable. Yet, even here, within songs like Stone Crazy and Sit and Cry (The Blues), it was obvious that Guy not only was destined for greatness but also had bigger plans. He was a quick learner who absorbed everything with which he came into contact while he was supporting the likes of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. To this, he added a fiery presence, which he borrowed from his personal hero Guitar Slim.
Although he forged relationships with all of the major artists working in Chicago’s clubs, Guy was particularly drawn to harmonica player Junior Wells. By the mid-1960s, the duo had become frequent collaborators, appearing on each others’ albums as well as uniting on stage. The Definitive Buddy Guy kicks into high gear during Hoodoo Man Blues, a tune that was recorded for Delmark by one of Wells’ outfits, and never looks back. Guy quickly took ownership over his work, stamping it with his distinctive style. In particular, every time that Guy and Wells crossed paths — whether it was on the bare-bones duet Give Me My Coat and Shoes, his chilling cover of Five Long Years, or the incendiary, full-band onslaught of Checkin’ on My Baby — the sparks would fly. Guy also fed off Eric Clapton’s bottleneck slide during the funky, Otis Redding-inspired A Man of Many Words, and spurred by the anguish exhibited in Otis Spann’s intricate piano playing, he poured his heart and soul into A Man and the Blues. More recently, the wickedly ominous rumble of Baby Please Don’t Leave Me indicates that Guy isn’t yet ready to slip into a formulaic routine.
Much like Can’t Quit the Blues, the expansive boxed set that was issued a few years ago, The Definitive Buddy Guy cuts a wide swath across Guy’s canon. Unfortunately, although there are points where the two outings follow parallel paths to reach the same destination, there also is too much overlap to view them as complementary collections. Nevertheless, in its own ways, The Definitive Buddy Guy provides an engaging, if not entirely complete, overview of his work. It not only should satisfy casual observers, but it also ought to encourage them to dig deeper into his catalogue.
Of Further Interest...
The Definitive Buddy Guy is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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