Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

At 75, Buddy Guy Is Still Giving His All to the Blues

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

At 75, Buddy Guy Is Still Giving His All to the Blues

Article excerpt

Shake the hand of the man who shook hands with Muddy Waters. Also Howlin' Wolf, Etta James, Koko Taylor, John Lee Hooker, Memphis Slim and Sonny Boy Williamson II.

Not that blues guitarist-singer Buddy Guy isn't a legend in his own right.

His backup on the original recordings of Wolf's "Killing Floor" and Taylor's "Wang Dang Doodle" -- songs that most bar-band musicians cut their teeth on -- his later star-making collaborations with the late harmonica player Junior Wells, and albums like 1991's "Damn Right I've Got the Blues" have made him blues royalty.

But Guy, a six-time Grammy winner and Rock-and-Roll Hall of Famer who will be signing copies of his new autobiography "When I Left Home" in Ridgewood Thursday, could also be called -- in a very real sense -- the last man standing.

Virtually all the other key artists from Chess Records, the famed Chicago blues label that was the holy of holies for bluesy rockers like Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones, have passed on. Guy may be the last living link to a great era of music: the last Chess piece on the board.

"All of them are gone except me," says Guy, 75. "Chuck Berry is still around, he was with them, but he's Mr. Rock-and-Roll. Ramsey Lewis is a jazz player. He's still around. I could be the last [Chess blues player]."

In fact, he was more of a pawn than a king for much of the time he was at Chess.

Originally from Lettsworth, La., he was so country that, when he first came to Chicago at the age of 20 to make his way as a musician, he literally had trouble getting in the door: He'd never seen a doorbell. But he was lucky enough to fall in with some of the greatest musicians in the city -- people like Waters and Hooker who taught him not only about music, but about life.

"Man, I was doing so bad at one time, I would say, 'Is this worth it?' But you would run into one of them, and they would make you feel like a millionaire, the way they would laugh and talk."

Eventually, his flamboyant shows made him a star in Chicago's rough Southside blues clubs. But Chess wasn't interested in his wild- man style: They used him mostly as backup on other people's records. It was only in the 1960s, when white college students and English rockers began to discover blues -- the rougher and more "authentic" the better -- that Guy came into his own as a recording artist. …

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