Buddy Guy: A Man and His Blues
RECORD/ARTIST “Mustang Sally”/Buddy Guy
WHY IT COUNTS Historic pairing of Buddy and his fellow guitar legend Jeff Beck on Buddy’s “comeback” album, Damn Right I Got the Blues.
STUDIO Battery Studios, 14/16 Chaplin Rd., London
BACKSTORY The Seventies and Eighties were lean years for Buddy Guy. With no American recording contract, he barely got by reprising his past triumphs for various European labels. His luck changed when Eric Clapton invited him to take part in the all-star 24 Nights concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 1990 and ’91. This led to a contract with Silvertone Records—still Buddy’s label today—and a major comeback.
“This British guy comes up to me backstage at the Royal Albert Hall and says, ‘I wanna sign you to do this album.’ I’m sayin’, ‘Okay Buddy, this is British guys now. Here’s your Johnny-come-later Jimi Hendrix chance. You can do your own thing now.’ I went to Battery Studios in England, cut Damn Right I Got the Blues, and that was the biggest record I ever had.”
THE TRACK A stomping, uptown rendition of the R&B classic made famous by Wilson Pickett. Buddy Guy’s “Mustang” boasts a big horn section, soul-sister backing vocals and, of course, the over-the-top guitar stylings of Jeff Beck, whose electrifying leads go line for line with Buddy’s brash vocal. Beck is another Strat-bearing British rock guitar god who got major inspiration when Buddy landed in England in ’65. Here he returns the favor.
PRODUCTION NOTES “Beck and I are the best of friends,” says Buddy. “He come in the studio after we cut the basic track and they plugged his guitar through the engineer room [i.e. control room]. I was in the engineer room when he put that guitar track on there. Man, that guy can play.”
BUDDY’S GEAR For most of the Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues sessions, Buddy played an Eric Clapton Signature Model Fender Strat, procured from a London music shop. He liked the guitar so much that it became the basis for Fender’s Buddy Guy Signature Model Strat, first released commercially in 1995.
KEY PLAYERS Beck and Buddy are more than enough talent for any track, but the massively solid backbeat on this recording was provided by Little Feat drummer Richie Hayward.
POSTSCRIPT According to Buddy’s guitar tech Mark Messner, the guitarist currently owns seven polka-dot Strats, many of them equipped with the same built-in preamp found in the Eric Clapton signature Strat. Four of Buddy’s polkadot Strats were made by the Fender Custom Shop, with pickups ranging from Lace sensors to Texas Specials. The remaining three are production- line Buddy Guy Signature models from Fender’s manufacturing facility in Mexico. One of these instruments is equipped with ’59 humbuckers and another has vintage noiseless pickups. Buddy often uses the latter guitar when he plays at his Legends club, which has significant buzz issues, according to Messner.
Most recently, Buddy has taken to playing a ’72 Telecaster Deluxe onstage. His live amp rig consists of a Fender ’59 reissue Bassman LTD, a Vibraverb and an Eighties Marshall JCM800 head through a Tone Tubby 1x12 cube. The latter is isolated and miked offstage.
RECORD/ARTIST “Baby Please Don’t Leave Me”/Buddy Guy
WHY IT COUNTS Buddy Guy finds the missing link between blues and punk.
STUDIO Sweet Tea, Oxford, Mississippi
BACKSTORY By the start of the 21st Century, Buddy Guy was ready to reinvent himself once again. For his 2001 album, Sweet Tea, record producer Dennis Herring teamed him up with a coterie of younger players from the world of post-punk and alternative rock, including Squirrel Nut Zippers/Knockdown Society guitarist Jimbo Mathus and Elvis Costello’s rhythm section: bassist Davey Faragher and drummer Pete Thomas. In the cozy confines of Herring’s Sweet Tea studio, located in the picturesque small town of Oxford, Mississippi, Buddy and his new backup musicians dug into a selection of songs drawn principally from the repertoires of North Mississippi bluesmen Junior Kimbrough and T-Model Ford. Both artists record for Fat Possum Records. The maverick raw-blues imprint, distributed by L.A. punk label Epitaph, has been responsible for turning a whole new generation of punk rockers on to the blues.
“When I first came to Chicago, I found the Wolf, Otis Rush, Otis Span and all those guys,” says Buddy. “I thought I done dug up everything there is. But when I went down there [to Mississippi], Dennis Herring started bringing up this Junior Kimbrough stuff. He’s a guy never hardly did leave Mississippi. I said, ‘Wow, man. I didn’t dig deep enough.’ It goes to show, you never get too old to learn.”
THE TRACK A slow, brooding, seven-minute excursion in C, built off a Hendrix-like guitar riff and a grainy, subsonic bass that never ventures too far from the tonic. Liberated from the 12-bar grid, Buddy soars into the stratosphere. Fanciful, full-blown rock production values—flangy, echoed vocals and a soaking wet, sustaining lead tone—bring out aspects of Buddy’s prodigious talent never quite captured by the more documentary approach of his recordings from the Nineties and earlier.
PRODUCTION NOTES “I cut that record in the hall of Sweet Tea,” says Buddy. “The band was set up in the studio. I could see ’em through a glass door. But I was in the hall with all these amps. Dennis Herring has a lot of these great old amps. A lot of those guitar sounds you hear on that record had something to do with him. He’s got one of them old [mixing] boards that he got out of L.A. somewhere. It’s as close as you can get to the old studios.”
KEY PLAYER Also on the sessions was the drummer Spam, veteran of many Fat Possum recordings. Although he had suffered a mild stroke, Spam managed to impress Buddy, who told him, “Shit, if I woulda saw you before you had the stroke, I probably woulda moved down here to Mississippi just to play with you.”
POSTSCRIPT Touring in the aftermath of Sweet Tea’s release, Buddy used a Fender Cyber- Twin and Bassman Reissue, a Gibson Gold Tone and a Bogner to recreate some of the vintage bass amps heard on the album.
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