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October/November 2010

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Buddy Guy
Living Proof
Silvertone Records

Buddy Guy

At last, another CD from the great Buddy Guy – I’ve been a confirmed fan since the first time that I heard him on his old Chess Records releases and then with the late Junior Wells. After two releases on Jive Records, Bring ‘em In and Skin Deep, Buddy returns to Silvertone Records (he did have a previous dabble with Jive when he released Sweet Tea) where he got three Grammys for his first three releases on the label, with his latest CD, Living Proof.

This album is mainly autobiographical, with Buddy looking back over his 74 years of life, 67 of those years spent perfecting his remarkable ability on the guitar – good enough, as we know, to be Eric Clapton’s favourite guitarist and ranked among the top 30 guitarists in the world!

The CD opens with “74 Years Young,” a confirmation that he feels that he can still cut it with the best of them, written for Buddy by drummer Tom Hambridge and Gary Nicholson. There’s some excellent slide work and some stinging guitar solo work with the master playing a ’57 Stratocaster. This is followed up with some more of the Buddy Guy story, with “Thank Me Someday,” which tells of his early life annoying the family with his loud guitar playing in Louisiana – this is a slow, heavy blues, drawing on the last generation of bluesmen like Muddy Waters, and telling a great story.

For track three, “On The Road,” the band is joined by The Memphis Horns to tell the story of life on tour with a Mercedes with a snakeskin top – Reese Wynans, who played piano on the first two tracks, switches to B3 organ and clavinet to groove along with the horns. This is followed up by some teamwork between Buddy & B.B.King on “Stay Around A Little Longer”, a lovely ballad, which does get a little self-indulgent towards the end.

Then comes what is one of my undoubted favourite tracks on the album, “Key Don’t Fit,” which is a lovely traditional sounding blues harking back to the best of the 1950s, with a story about a cheating woman and the consequences she faces from her man. The stamina of Buddy’s guitar work on this track makes him sound like a man in his 20s or 30s.

Buddy switches to a Telecaster for the title track, “Living Proof,” which features Bekka Bramlett and Wendy Moten on backing vocals, and this leads into a co-operation with Carlos Santana on “Where The Blues Begins.” Carlos Santana plays both guitar and congas, and the backing vocals are again supplied by Bramlett and Moten. The teaming up with Carlos Santana produces a distinctly different flavour to the rest of the album.

On track eight, “Too Soon,” Reese Wynans supplies some really nice piano, and shows that he really knows his stuff, backing up some great driving blues. I had been struggling to pick a favourite track until I heard this one, but this left me in no doubt, it even put a huge smile on my face with lyrics about a woman that he doesn’t want to see again .....ever! “If I was as horny as a billy goat, I’d still say woman get your ass out the door” – listen to Buddy belting out that line and tell me it doesn’t make you grin all over your face! That track has such a driving force to it that you need a rest at the end of it, and the thoughtful producer slows things right down with “Everybody’s Got To Go,” a fine mellow ballad with some of Buddy’s distinctive note picking. You don’t get to rest too long though, because the tempo picks up with “Let The Door Knob Hit Ya” which opens with what sounds to me suspiciously like the opening riff to Cream’s “Strange Brew.” This is another track in my list of favourites, Buddy at his best on electric acoustic guitar this time, and Marty Sammon playing the piano in front of Reese Wynans on B3.

The penultimate track slows down again and opens with Reese Wynans sounding like Booker T Jones on the B3 organ, supporting Buddy Guy playing his trademark polka dot guitar (no, I wasn’t at the recording session, the sleeve notes told me!). If this is another part of Buddy’s autobiography, then he’s had more trouble with women than we knew!

The album closes with the only instrumental on the CD, “Skanky,” a number penned by Buddy Guy and Tom Hambridge, who’s drumming throughout the album is faultless.

Another piece of magic from the great Buddy Guy, let’s hope he’s around to follow up track 1 with “84 Years Young” in ten years time.

--- Terry Clear

Buddy Guy’s place in music history is set. He was part of the Chicago blues scene in the ’50s that produced the West Side sound and was a vital part of Chess Records. He was a major influence on rockers like Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Jimi Hendrix and is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He’s won numerous awards, including five Grammies and 28 Blues Music Awards. If he never played another note, he would still be recognized as one of the all time greats. However, at the age of 74, he remains on the cutting edge of the genre.

Guy is approaching his 20th year with his label, Silvertone, noteworthy when you consider the difficulties he had getting an album released on the domestic market prior to 1990. Living Proof is his 11th disc in that nearly 20-year span, and is his most personal effort yet. All 12 tracks are original compositions. Producer/drummer Tom Hambridge co-wrote all of the tracks, basically sitting down with Guy and writing down things the guitarist said during their conversations, making songs in the process. In a nutshell, what you’re getting with Living Proof is The Buddy Guy Story in his own words.

The opening cut, “74 Years Young,” finds Guy recalling events from the past over an acoustic backdrop, but at the midway point, the song plugs in with a vengeance as the mercurial guitarist shows there’s still plenty left in the tank. “Thank Me Someday” also finds Guy recounting his past…..this time going back to his very beginnings as a guitarist and the grief his family gave him for playing too much racket. With his positively searing guitar break, Guy shows that his perseverance with his chosen instrument has paid big dividends for him in the long run…..and for his family as well.

“On The Road” is a brassy driving song, with assistance from the Memphis Horns. There are other guest stars on the disc, too. On previous Buddy Guy releases, the guest musicians have sometimes overwhelmed (Carlos Santana) and even puzzled a bit (Travis Tritt?), but everything fits pretty well here, with B. B. King (one of Guy’s biggest influences) making his first appearance on a Buddy Guy release on the meditative track, “Stay Around A Little Longer.” Hopefully, we will have both of these icons around for many years to come.

Carlos Santana makes a return appearance on this disc with the track, “Where The Blues Began.” Though it’s no fault of Santana’s, his guitar style is so distinctive that it sometimes places everybody else on the back burner. Thankfully, this track is more restrained than usual and he and Guy work pretty well together. “Key Don’t Fit” is a traditional blues number and the title track is an inspirational track. “Everybody’s Got To Go” addresses that eventual crossing of the River Jordan that all of us face down the road.
“Too Soon” is a spirited farewell of a scorned lover and features some of the best lyrics on the disc. “Don’t Let the Door Knob Hit Ya” is in the same mode, and “Guess What” confronts a cheating lover. The disc closes with a blistering instrumental, “Skanky,” that features Guy with his backing band (Hambridge – drums, Reese Wymans – keyboards, Michael Rhodes – bass, David Grissom – guitar), who are a rock-steady force throughout the album.

As I’ve pointed out on previous Buddy Guy disc reviews, his releases can be frustrating at times, almost as much for what’s not on them than for what is on them, but Living Proof is one of his most satisfying releases in recent years. You feel as if you get a real glimpse at what makes the guitarist tick on this album. Sure, the incredible guitar is there as always, and the impassioned, on-the-edge vocals as well, but it seems like Guy has really laid it on the line and bared his soul here, which will please his devoted assembly of fans more so than any of his recent releases.

--- Graham Clarke


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