Buddy Guy has a new album coming out on September 30 through RCA/Silvertone, titled The Blues Don’t Lie, and the doyen of Chicago blues has been good enough to share its first single.
The track, Gunsmoke Blues, is a two-hander between Guy and Jason Isbell, with each trading electric guitar licks and vocals, and a cri de cœur with a clear message against gun violence.
It opens in that late ‘80s, early ‘90s style – low key, downtempo – with piano, keys and Guy’s smokey voice singing ‘Trouble down at the high-school, somebody got the gunsmoke blues / Read it in the morning paper, I watch it on the evening news.’ Around this, the guitar punctuates the song, as it so often does in blues compositions when not providing the rhythm part or a solo.
Guy’s style is conversational, in the room with his audience. The guitar is the icebreaker. And he’s typically generous in giving Isbell some room to say his piece.
The Blues Don’t Lie is the 34th studio album of Guy’s storied career and is the follow-up to 2018’s The Blues is Alive and Well. It also features guest spots from Elvis Costello, Mavis Staples, James Taylor and others, and was produced by longtime collaborator, the esteemed songwriter and drummer Tom Hambridge.
The release date of the album is of particular significance. September 30 marks the 65th anniversary of Guy’s arrival in Chicago, via train from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a move that would be the making of Guy, the bluesman, and one of the true Chicago greats.
Speaking to Guitar World last year, Guy admitted that he didn’t think a country boy like him would fit in at first and make it alongside the Chicago players. It took a bit of time to adjusting.
“Well first of all, I didn’t think I was going to join this crowd here, because when I came, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, you had Sonny Boy Williamson, Jimmy Rogers and all those guys were making hit records at Chess Records,” he said. “You had the jazz guys… We was listening to everything! But I said, ‘Buddy, you in Chicago but sit back, listen and learn. Don’t rush out there and think you can join these guys, just sit back and hope you can learn something from them.’ And I learned a lot from them.”
The only way to fit in in a city like Chicago was to develop a blues guitar style that made people pay attention. Blues chops were hard currency in the ‘60s Chicago club scene where there was a whole generation waiting to be discovered.
“I had to learn how to play a good lick on the guitar,” Guy said. “Every once or a while I’d be in a little blues club, hoping somebody would hear me playing, and I’d look out and there was Little Walter watching me.”
Anyone who has caught Buddy Guy live, a polka-dot Fender Stratocaster draped around him, the great man in his overalls exercising the legs and using the whole venue as a stage, might not recognize that he has a reserved side to him. Indeed, back in the day he was so awed by B.B. King that he freaked out when he saw his hero in the audience.
“I looked out there one night and there was B.B. King,” explained Guy. “I said, ‘Oh my God.’ I didn’t have a record. I was playing B.B. King, trying to play B.B. King, and when I took a break I tried to avoid him. But he called [on] me and we were friends until he passed away.”
The Blues Don’t Lie (opens in new tab) is available to pre-order now and ships September 30.