The rule that says guitar amps and beverages should be kept apart is one to live by. No matter how cold, refreshing and convivial the drink, any liquid is not going to play well with electronic circuitry, and it’s game over with a hot vacuum tube.
Putting some distance between the amp and the bottle is a good idea. But there are exceptions to the rules, and maybe it takes some of Buddy Guy’s character to make them.
The world’s greatest living blues guitar player, the Little Wild Man from Louisiana, has just launched his farewell tour and this time, aged 86, he really means it. To mark this occasion, Buddy Guy sat down with online music retail giant Reverb to discuss his life in guitar, and he revealed that some of his gear has enjoyed a life that’s nearly as colorful as his, like his long-serving, long-suffering Fender Bassman combo, which he says was a great place to stash your hooch should the authorities take an interest.
“We couldn’t afford a good drink,” Guy explains. “We had wine. So the policeman would come in and you would have that bottle of wine in the back of the amp, saying, ‘Don’t go back there fooling around – the police are gonna come and pour it out.’ Because you weren’t suppose to bring your bottle into the club.”
File this under useful life hack, wisdom from a great, but as Guy admits, all those years serving as a make-do fridge, bearing witness as the good times rolled, did not leave the Bassman unscathed. In effect, it froze his settings into a de facto Buddy Guy preset.
“The knobs on it, the volume and all that, we had wine and whiskey on it, they were frozen,” he complains. “That damn thing [goes] on and off; I can’t set different tones on it. It had the same tone.”
It could be worse. This beat-up old Bassman has seen better days, sure. Its Tweed covering has been recovered in contact paper, the sort of adhesive vinyl you might line your store cupboard with. The handle is gone. Those chicken-head knobs don’t turn like they used to. Maybe you wouldn’t want to turn them anyway. As Guy explains, there is magic in that amp that even Fender can’t explain, and not for the want of trying.
“It had that sound that Leo left us with,” he says. “They took this amp into their factory, tried to reproduce what Leo had, and for two years. And they brought this amp back and said, ‘Don’t every get rid of that because whatever Leo had in that transformer he took it to the grave.’ But I had kept it so long; it was getting worn out, and I wasn’t making enough money to make another one. I just got some contact paper. People were looking at it going, ‘Man! Where did you get that one from?’”
Elsewhere, Guy talks Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck, and his early beginnings, playing on a $2 guitar, and sounding “like a bunch ‘o bees”, getting shooed out of the house by his parents driven mad from an out-of-tune guitar. It was out on sitting by the levees in Louisiana where he made his first big breakthrough, learning the lick to John Lee Hooker’s Boogie Chillen. Worried he’d forget it, he kept on playing it.
“I clamped my fingers on the fretboard, and when I found it I thought I’d never find it again,” he says. “I played it for an hour, and then I went walking, trying to find somebody to see what it sound like. Everybody I found, one by one, said ‘That’s good, man! You gonna play that again?’ I said, ‘I can’t stop now because if I stop I don’t know if I can find this again.’ So I played that for about two-and-a-half hours before I stopped. And I found it again.”
Buddy Guy is stopping this time, however. The 2023 Damn Right Farewell Tour is just that. Maybe he’ll play in his club, Buddy Guy’s Legends, in Chicago, or the New Orleans Jazz Festival, but that’s it. He is through with the road. He has lined up some top support acts for his last hurrah on the bus.
Depending on the date, you could rock up and see him supported by Samantha Fish, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Eric Gales, the Robert Randolph Band, and more. For full dates and support details, head over to Buddy Guy.
Buddy Guy's new album, The Blues Don't Lie, is out now via RCA. And check out the interview at the top of the page. That man can tell a story.