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Buddy Guy Biography

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George "Buddy" Guy (born July 30, 1936) is an American blues and rock guitarist and singer. Known as an inspiration to Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and other 1960s blues and rock legends, Guy is considered an important exponent of Chicago blues. He is the father of female rapper Shawnna.

Guy is known for his showmanship; for example, he plays his guitar with drumsticks, or strolls into the audience while jamming and trailing a long guitar chord. (Joining or leaping into the audience has long been common in both American popular and gospel music, as in the earlier work of Big Jay McNeely or the Dixie Hummingbirds).

Born in Lettsworth, Louisiana, Guy grew up in Louisiana where he learned to play guitar. In the early 1950s he began performing with bands in Baton Rouge. Soon after moving to Chicago in 1957, Guy fell under the influence of Muddy Waters. In 1958, a competition with West Side guitarists Magic Sam and Otis Rush gave Guy a record contract. Soon afterwards he recorded for the Cobra label. He recorded sessions with Junior Wells for Delmark Records under the pseudonym Friendly Chap in 1965 and 1966.

Guy’s early career was supposedly held back by both conservative business choices made by his record company (Chess Records)and “the scorn, diminishments and petty subterfuge from a few jealous rivals.” Chess, Guy’s record label from 1959 to 1968, refused to record Buddy Guy’s novel style that was similar to his live shows. Leonard Chess (Chess founder and 1987 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee) denounced Guy’s playing as “motherfucking noise”. In the early 1960s, Chess tried recording Guy as a solo artist with R&B ballads, jazz instrumentals, soul and novelty dance tunes, but none were released as singles. Guy’s only Chess album, “Left My Blues in San Francisco,” was finally issued in 1967. Most of the songs belong stylistically to the era's soul boom, with orchestrations by Gene Barge and Charlie Stepney. Chess used Guy mainly as a session guitarist to back Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Koko Taylor and others. Image: Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters and a young Buddy Guy.

Guy's reputation spread to Great Britain with the American Folk Blues Festival in the 1960s, where young rockers like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and the Rolling Stones were seeking out the roots of American blues. His first trip to the UK was in February 1965, during which Rod Stewart acted as his valet and Guy shared a bill with the Yardbirds. Guy’s tour exposed his music to a whole new generation of British musicians eager to soak it up. He was surprised to see how influential his music had become to English guitarists.

Guy later recalled:

While Buddy Guy's music is often labeled Chicago blues, his style is unique and separate. His music can vary from the most traditional, deepest blues to a creative, unpredictable and radical gumbo of the blues, avant rock, soul and free jazz that morphs at each night’s performance.

As New York Times pop music critic Jon Pareles noted in 2004:

Guy is a showman who influenced how Jimi Hendrix and other musicians entertain on stage. Hendrix sometimes cancelled his own concerts to attend Guy’s club shows, which he filmed or audio taped. In Martin Scorsese's blues concert DVD, Lightning In A Bottle, footage shows an enchanted Hendrix in the audience watching a wild Buddy Guy performance.

Guy’s dramatic live shows used to involve much leaping off amplifiers; playing guitar with his feet, teeth, a handkerchief or a drumstick; playing guitar behind his back; playing guitar while hanging from the rafters by his ankles; and going on a walkabout into the audience on the end of a 150 foot guitar cord. Guy would sometimes begin his sets from inside the men’s washroom, all the while shaking up the house with his wild multi-fret bends and piercing, string snapping attack. He would then get on stage and dive into his solos, maybe capping a run by flipping his axe backwards and sliding the pickups over his T-shirt, laughing all the way.

One trick Guy has perfected in recent years is pulling someone out of the audience—often an attractive woman—and having her paw the strings on his guitar, as Guy fingers the frets with his left hand. At one concert in the early '90s, playing to a huge hometown audience at Chicago's Ravinia Festival, Guy actually grabbed a nine-year-old boy by the wrist, pulled him on stage, and had him play the right-hand part of a robust and drawn-out solo.

Tom Lavin remembers the first time he saw Buddy Guy at a college concert. “Buddy was wearing a leopard skin blazer and when he soloed with one hand while he removed his jacket and then switched to soloing with the other hand while he took off the other sleeve, never missing a note. I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. Right there I knew that's what I wanted to do.”

Guy recalls, "The first guitar player I saw putting on a show was Guitar Slim—I must've been 13 years old—he came out riding that guitar, wearing a bright red suit. I thought; 'I wanna sound like B.B. King, but I wanna play guitar like that.' " "Buddy's act was not premeditated or contrived," Donald Wilcox said in his biography of Guy. "His style was merely a natural by-product of being self-taught, having a compulsion to play, and being insecure enough to feel that if he didn't dazzle and hypnotize his audience with the flamboyant techniques he'd seen work for Guitar Slim, he'd be buried by competition from guitarists who were better technicians."

For almost 50 years, Guy performed flamboyant live concerts of energetic blues and blues rock, predating the 1960s blues rockers. As a musician’s musician, he had a fundamental impact on the blues and on rock and roll, influencing a new generation of artists.

As DJRadiohead once observed: “Rock and roll just could not be the same without Buddy Guy.” Buddy Guy helped modernize the blues, “moving the blues forward without losing sight of its roots.”

Buddy Guy has been called the bridge between the blues and rock and roll. He is one of the historic links between Chicago electric blues pioneers Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf and popular musicians like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page as well as later revivalists like Stevie Ray Vaughan. This was what Stevie Ray Vaughan meant when he said, "Without Buddy Guy, there would be no Stevie Ray Vaughan." Even Guitarist magazine observed:

In addition to being an inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Guy has previously served on the Hall of Fame’s nominating committee. Guy has won five Grammy awards both for his work on his electric and acoustic guitars, and for contemporary and traditional forms of blues music. By 2004, Buddy Guy had also earned 23 W.C. Handy Awards (the most any one blues artist has received), Billboard Magazine's prestigious The Century Award (Guy was its second recipient) for “distinguished artistic achievement,” the title of Greatest Living Electric Blues Guitarist, and the Congressional Medal of Arts (awarded by the President to those who have made extraordinary contributions to the creation, growth and support in the arts in the United States).

Muddy Waters passed the torch to Buddy shortly before his death when he said, "Don't let them goddam blues die on me." Guy has kept that promise by passing on reverence to the blues to the next generation. The Buddy Guy Foundation helps pay for the tombstones of long forgotten blues musicians, giving them the respect Guy feels they deserved in life. Guy is also the proprietor of Buddy Guy's Legends, the premier blues nightclub in Chicago.
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