Buddy Guy: A Man and His Blues
RECORD/ARTIST “My Home Is in the Delta”/Muddy Waters
DATE Recorded in September, 1963
WHY IT COUNTS Historic pairing of Buddy Guy with blues icon Muddy Waters on a track that marks Muddy’s return to his Mississippi Delta folk blues Roots
STUDIO Chess Records, 2120 S. Michigan Ave.
BACKSTORY The mid-Sixties folk boom created an enthusiastic interest in rural blues among predominantly white college youths. Eager to reach this new audience, the Chess brothers decided to “reposition” Muddy Waters—then the quintessential sharp-dressed, smoothtalking urban bluesman—as a humble Delta sharecropper. Thus, the classic Muddy Waters Folk Singer album was born.
“Chess heard about the college kids buying folk music,” Buddy recalls, “so they called Muddy in and they wanted to rush one of those records out on him. They gave him a train ticket and told him to go down South and find some of those older guys who play that kind of stuff. And Muddy said, ‘Set the fuckin’ session up for tomorrow. I got it.’ They thought Muddy was gonna call some old-time guy and put him on a train. When Leonard Chess came in that morning and saw me sitting there, that guy called me a ‘motherf**ker’ so many times, I almost cried and left the studio. But Muddy told him, ‘Shut the fuck up and listen.’ After we got done playing, they stood there with their mouth wide open. All they could say to me was, ‘Motherf**ker, how’d you know that?’”
THE TRACK With Clifton James on the drum kit, this is hardly authentic Delta folk blues. But Waters’ composition receives an eloquently understated acoustic reading, sensitively supported by Willie Dixon’s supple standup bass. With Muddy playing mostly single-note leads and embellishments on slide, Buddy is essentially the main guitarist on the track. He proves a confident and resourceful interpreter of the acoustic blues idiom. Check that graceful riff—somewhat in the manner of Robert. Jr. Lockwood— on the V chord of the second verse. As Buddy himself says, “I know how to back Muddy up on that shit, man.”
PRODUCTION NOTES Session photos depict a very minimal recording setup, with just one mic for Waters, Guy and Dixon. As a result, the track has a very open, ambient feel—the sound of that hallowed room at 2120 S. Michigan Avenue.
BUDDY’S GEAR At the time of this recording, Buddy didn’t even own an acoustic guitar. Muddy Waters lent him one of his archtops for the date.
KEY PLAYER McKinley Morganfield, a.k.a. Muddy Waters (1915–1983), really did grow up in rural Mississippi. He worked on a plantation and was recorded by folklorist Alan Lomax before he traveled north in 1943 and became the principal architect and undisputed king of Chicago blues. Muddy had a huge influence on the Rolling Stones, who took their name from one of his songs, and countless other rock and rollers who have found their hearts in the blues.
POSTSCRIPT The folk blues craze was not confined to bookish white kids in America; their European counterparts were arguably even more fanatical. And so Buddy first toured Europe in 1965 as part of the American Folk Blues Festival, a package tour organized by German promoters Horst Lippmann and Fritz Rau and featuring greats like Mississippi Fred McDowell, Big Mama Thornton, Eddie Boyd and Roosevelt Sykes. It was on German soil, ironically, that Buddy first met one of his greatest blues heroes: John Lee Hooker. Growing up in Lettsworth, Louisiana, Buddy had just about worn out a copy of Hooker’s classic “Boogie Chillin’.” When Buddy’s parents confiscated the phonograph needle, he’d take a stickpin—a piece of jewelry for securing a necktie—hold it in his teeth and place it on the record, letting Hooker’s driving rhythms resonate in his skull. And on one fateful morning in Baden Baden in 1965, Buddy Guy finally came face to face with his hero—although he didn’t realize it was Hooker at first.
“Everybody was heavy drinkers back then,” Buddy says. “And when I went down to breakfast in the morning they had whiskey eggs. I sat in the corner with an acoustic guitar and started playin’ ‘Boogie Chillin’,’ which was the first thing I’d learned how to play by myself. And this guy comes up, he was drinkin’ and stutterin’ bad. ‘Y-y-y-you t-t-t-tryin’ to play J-J-J-ohnny…’ I say, ‘Yeah, I guess so. I’m just trying to figure out who the fuck you are, stutterin’ so.’ Finally Fred Below said, ‘That’s John Lee Hooker right there!’ And Hooker just started to laugh. Boy, he laughed so hard he cried. We became best friends from that day till the day he died. I was at his funeral.”
RECORD/ARTIST “Man of Many Words”/Buddy Guy and Junior Wells
DATE Recorded in October, 1970
WHY IT COUNTS A staple of the Buddy Guy repertoire and one of Buddy’s own compositions. His first significant collaboration with Eric Clapton.
STUDIO Criteria Recording, 1755 NE 149th St., Miami
BACKSTORY Buddy first teamed up with harmonica ace Junior Wells in the mid Sixties. They became a popular live act and by 1970 had landed a highvisibility opening spot on the Rolling Stones tour. During this period, Eric Clapton was just finishing off his classic Derek and the Dominoes album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, while getting deeper and deeper into what would become a debilitating heroin addiction. Clapton was an avid Buddy Guy fan, and back in ’65 had slept in a van with other members of the Yardbirds to be among the first in a venue where Buddy was playing on his aforementioned maiden voyage to Europe. Five years later, as final mixes of Layla were underway, Eric Clapton decided he wanted to make a record with Buddy Guy.
“Ahmet Ertegun [head of Derek and the Dominoes’ label, Atlantic Records] was hangin’ out with Clapton,” Buddy explains. “At this time [Atlantic recording artist] Aretha Franklin was poppin’ and everything Ertegun touched was turning to gold. Clapton told him, ‘I don’t know why you want to record me. The best guitar player in the world is touring with the Rolling Stones right now.’ So they grabbed a plane, flew to Paris and watched me and Junior Wells open the show for the Stones that night. Afterward [Ertegun] just walks up and says, ‘I’ll make a fuckin’ hit record on you. When you get off this tour with the Stones, come straight to Miami and record an album for Atlantic Records.’ We went down there, and Eric told me later on he hardly even remembers making that record. He was high all the time.”
THE TRACK An uptempo funk soul workout that marries an insistent G7 guitar riff to a wicked, syncopated bass line. Buddy busts loose as a soul-preachin’ loverman. “I was listening to a lot of Otis Redding and those guys, who were selling a lot of records then,” he recalls of his inspiration for writing the tune. “ ’Cause back then, just like now, you can make the best blues record in the world, but it won’t get no airplay.”
The slippery, open-ended groove provides an ideal vehicle for some of the most fast-paced, manic soloing ever to issue from the fingers and guitar of Buddy Guy. Yeah, he flubs a few notes, but the whole thing beautifully encapsulates the breezy wild energy of that hastily organized date down in Miami.
PRODUCTION NOTES There were no rehearsals or preproduction. What you hear is pretty much what Buddy and the band threw down in the studio. The whole thing was a little too nonchalant for Atlantic, who initially shelved the project. It wasn’t until two years later, when Buddy recorded two extra songs with the J. Geils Band, that the label finally had what it deemed was an entire album of releaseworthy material. “Man of Many Words” became the lead track on 1972’s Buddy Guy and Junior Wells Play the Blues.
BUDDY’S GEAR His ’57 Strat and Bassman amp.
KEY PLAYERS Eric Clapton is on second guitar. New Orleans keyboard legend Dr. John (Mac Rebennack) is on piano. The rhythm section features Derek and the Dominoes’ bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jim Gordon—an all-star cast captured on tape by engineering legend Tom Dowd.
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