B.B. King Blues Club New York, NY - 3/23/05
by Brian McAlley
Blues legend Buddy Guy, who was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, gave an awe-inspiring performance in front of a packed house at the B.B. King Blues Club in New York City on Wednesday evening, March 23, 2005.
Dressed in a casual red, white, and blue shirt resembling the American flag, blue denim jeans, white sneakers, and a funky Humphrey Bogart-style hat, the 69-year-old Guy proved without a doubt that he is one of the greatest blues guitarists of all time. Eric Clapton has been quoted as saying that Buddy Guy is the greatest living guitarist around today, and after seeing Mr. Guy's performance, I would have to agree with him wholeheartedly.
Backed by a solid band made up of seasoned musicians (bass, drums, guitar, sax, electric piano), Guy kicked off the set with a solid blues rocker that featured extended piano and sax solos, then mellowed things down with bluesy renditions of classics like Fever, Change In The Weather, and It Feels Like Rain, the latter made popular by the great Aaron Neville.
When Mr. Guy sings the blues, it's the real deal. He knows about hardship, tough times, struggling to make ends meet, and his facial expressions and body gestures tell a story all their own. He dredges deep down into his soul and sings with heartfelt conviction and has this uncanny way of conveying his deep-rooted feelings to his audience. He has the ability to make this amazing connection because through his squeals and tight-fisted gyrations, we feel the pain, and we feel what he's feeling because we've all been there too. This man is not only a master guitar player, but also a remarkable vocalist and showman.
As a tribute to the late Jimi Hendrix, Guy played a blistering version of Voodoo Chile (Slight Return), during which he exquisitely mimicked Hendrix's performance style by playing his guitar upside down, over his head and even with his teeth, all without missing a single beat. He even took a drumstick and played a perfect melody using it as a bow. He could do it all and with astounding musical precision. No, he didn't set his guitar on fire like Hendrix used to do, but he did set the place ablaze with electricity from this exhilarating performance.
Not one to hog the spotlight, Mr. Guy would occasionally step to the side of the stage and give his incredibly gifted band members the opportunity to shine, and each one was given the chance to showcase their respective musical skills. I was especially impressed by his keyboard player, whose hands were flying across those eighty-eight's like I've never seen before. My apologies for not knowing his name, but his keyboard skills were astonishing. He and Mr. Guy were trading licks during one number in an amazing display of musical virtuosity. Guy would play a lick on the guitar and the keyboardist would replicate it exactly on piano. There is no question that these gentlemen are musicians of the highest order.
In tribute to some of the early masters, Guy treated the audience to an outstanding medley of classic numbers like I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man, Boom Boom, and I Can't Quit You Baby, followed by a version of Cream's Strange Brew in tribute to his old friend Eric Clapton.
The performance was outstanding from beginning to end, but the highlight was definitely when Mr. Guy, in the middle of a lengthy blues jam, left the stage and started meandering his way through the standing-room-only crowd, singing and playing the entire time. He covered the length of the club, from one end to the other, squeezing his way through the crowd, even stopping occasionally to sign a few autographs. He continued to sing and play a blistering guitar solo during his journey through this exhilarated sea of humanity, then returned to the stage to finish the number. What more can I say? Standing ovation!
Mr. Guy and his band provided an amazing display of musical excellence combined with raw emotion and a feeling of exhuberance that was felt by every member of his audience. He touched everyone in the room with his enormous talent, his musical virtuosity, his soulfulness and his connection to the human spirit. Hey, it's the blues baby, and it just doesn't get any better than this.