BG’s Mission to Keep the Blues Alive Brings Him Back to Australia in 2017
Buddy at The House 2014
Here’s a story of Buddy Guy Preaching the Blues at the Sydney Opera House in 2014, then all the way up the coast to Bluesfest, at beautiful Byron Bay.
You’re venturing into the Sydney Opera House, on your way to photograph the legendary Buddy Guy, waiting at security, waiting for the ‘no’ because you’re not big commercial media. Such sweet words to be privileged to say: “I have a direct arrangement with Buddy Guy’s team.”, “Ohhh, well that’s different!”. Damn right it’s different.
Milling about in the foyer of the Sydney Opera House, where the usual crowd are opera goers in their Sunday best, were a crowd of mostly older, and wiser, silver haired (visible and masked) gentry, with a sprinkling of dedicated, educated, musical youth. These people are predominantly music aficionados.
All seemed jittery with anticipation, chatty with excitement and giving each other a familiar, knowing look. They were all there for the same reason: to see their blues idol, the legendary Mr Buddy Guy. Sooner than you can say ‘polka-dot gui-tar’ in a Louisiana accent, the opera bells chime, the doors have opened, and the flock can now enter the auditorium. Music lovers move like a murmuration into the famous Concert Hall at The House. The famous Sydney landmark with her white sails will be recoloured, and transformed into a House of Blues for the next few hours.
Shortly prior to this, I had been upstairs in the Green Room. Just outside it, actually, waiting to meet Max Maxson, Buddy’s tour manager, to make sure I knew what I could and couldn’t do as an invited photographer for this show. I saw Buddy move into the Green Room past me. It was pre-show, he was in the zone. I was just thrilled to see him walk past the door, almost demure. Yes, like a demure, floating, music god. That’s right! Just like that. (Well, that’s how it seemed for this particular storyteller. And I’m sharing the experience with you good people, who are reading BG Blues and Music News because you probably love him too, and I want you to experience a little of that night.)
I look at my phone, it’s time to get downstairs, five minutes to Show Time. I take my leave and move swiftly into position at side of stage, pit area, right in front. I take a few shots of the Hall, before the lights go down.
“PLEASE WELCOME, MR BUDDY GUY!”
The Hall gets to its feet. He’s a legend. They know it.
They show him the respect he’s earned. That’s the difference with civilised settings such as the Opera House, over say, a festival: the love and admiration is more focused, more concentrated, less ‘free’. There’s nothing wrong with festival love, but this man is old school, and a little civilised respect and attention is well deserved, and equally well received.
He fills the Hall with his song. The guitar starts singing, the siren starts sirening, in tones of Blue. Royal Blue. It’s happening.
Dominating the stage. Commanding and bewitching the crowd, this man has people wrapped around his plucking fingers, and he knows it.
And, because THAT isn’t satisfying enough, he needs to immerse himself IN the crowd. The Keeper of the Blues does this at Legends all the time, and indeed at most shows, where he’s physically able to get down into the crowd. But at the Sydney Opera House, in the Concert Hall, it was certainly a sight to behold.
I’m in the aisle, he’s coming straight for me. Hold up, hold up, hold up!
I have to refocus, in the dark. I have seconds to reframe, refocus, get into position as this incredible musician, passionate storyteller, makes his dominant, yet somehow unassuming and down to Earth way into the sea of devotees.
Buddy Guy navigating young foreigners taking selfies in front of him, as he’s trying to get down to his admirers.
Another youngster hails him, arms raised, bowing down, almost prostrated on the floor.
Buddy makes his way up the side stairs to immerse himself into the crowd. As he enters the rows of seats, people clamber to make room for the great man and his guitar.
While some fumble for their phones (and yes, there’s a sea
of them out by now, all around and above Buddy’s head) there are still plenty of people just soaking up the moment, thrilled with joy and awe of having this legend standing right beside them.
He’s talking to his people.
In Aussie slang Buddy is a lair: a sharp dressed man, who’s just a little bit showy. He’s a passionate, expressive, raw and emotionally honest musical conduit. A conduit for the blues.
There are no prompters. He does what he likes, and everyone loves what he does.
The Damn Right Blues Band keeping the pulse at every turn and in total synchronisation with the man. They never miss a beat. They’re all one body these musicians, so much in the groove with each other now, after years of playing. Look for them on the videos from years ago, you’ll see. Each of them a musical star in their own right.
What a joy. What an honour. Then afterwards I was privileged to meet half of the Damn Right Blues Band at The House bar. What a fine, first class group of gentlemen.
An elite group of musicians. Again, an absolute honour. Special shout out and Thanks to Ric Hall, for helping me with an arrangement assignment I was doing at the time for my BMus! So many layers, of so much cool.
This was the first time Buddy had performed at the Opera House. It’d been the infamous Enmore Theatre a few years before that, where he ventured up into the balcony (and encountered a young 8 year old aspiring guitarist, who he brought up on stage for a jam), and swam in the hot sweaty crowd that is typical of this venue. The show was incredible, and is a story in itself, for another day.
Buddy at Bluesfest
When Buddy left Sydney in 2014, after this Sydney Opera House performance, he ventured with the Damn Right Blues Band up Australia’s famous surf coast area to Byron Bay, where he performed with his musical team at the iconic Australian Blues festival, Bluesfest. This stretch of the Australian coastline is famous for an Australian beach lifestyle, surfbreaks, and being the nursery ground for Australian rock groups from the late 50s through to the current day (all of which have been touched by the blues.) Buddy’s performances at Bluesfest are still being talked about over 2 years on. The story of his performance there will have to wait for another day.
The founder of Byron Bay Bluesfest is a fellow musician and blues lover, Peter Noble. Peter is also passionate about indigenous culture, and has recently created an addition to the Byron Bay Bluesfest called Boomerang, which is dedicated to indigenous music and culture and coincides with the Bluesfest, on the same Tea Tree farm in Tyagarah, just outside Byron Bay. The festival will celebrate its 28th year in 2017. Buddy will be joining in that celebration.
The influence of Buddy Guy on other musicians is often told in a sentence or two. But for the author, not nearly enough detail is written or spoken about the impact Buddy Guy has had, is having, and will forever have. Not only on blues music and history, but every single genre that stems from the blues, which is just about everything.
For those people who choose to not delve deeper into this man and his legacy, don’t go writing pages and pages of commercial marketing spin about Hendrix or any other top 10 hit maker. Hendrix, Clapton, Page, even Stevie Ray Vaughan, are all musical children of Buddy Guy.
And those of you who admire Mr Guy, or maybe even ‘borrowed’ from him, go ahead, feel the love. Stop and think about it, feel it. Then share it.
Share the love. Maybe that’s how you can ‘keep the Blues alive’ and honour him in the ultimate way.
In that spirit, I spoke to some Australian blues musicians about the impact he’s had on their lives and music.
Phil Manning on Buddy Guy
Phil Manning has idolised Buddy Guy since he was 17 years old. The Australian blues guitarist, singer-songwriter and co-founder of legendary Australian blues bands Chain and Bay City Union first heard Buddy as a freshman in art school in Tasmania. A good friend (now a mathematics professor), had a record containing ‘The First Time I Met The Blues.’ Upon hearing Buddy, his style and this particular song, Phil says, “it blew my mind… it just totally blew my mind.” Phil still performs it live on stage today 50 years later, and it remains one of his favourite blues songs.
Phil spoke with me about other Australian bands that were influenced by the Chicago scene, including his own earlier band Bay City Union, which morphed into Chain, who used to essentially play Chicago Blues covers.
Other Australian bands from the 60s that played Chicago Blues were The Purple Hearts, Lobby Lloyde and The Running Jumping Standing Still Band. Many Australian blues musicians in the 60s and 70s were listening to bands that hailed from the British blues scene, and like Phil, they grew up on these bands. Bands like The Yardbirds, The Pretty Things, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
Like many others who become enchanted by the blues, they followed the path to find out where these bands that captured them got the songs in the first place. The blues acts they discovered were in far, far away America. They didn’t tour Australia. The American acts, however, would tour England, and people like Graham Bond would go down and see them, and so the filter and waterfall effect began.
It wasn’t until the very early 70’s that Buddy Guy first came to Australia. Phil Manning and his partner in music Matt Taylor were there at the first show, naturally. Buddy’s avant-garde solos and crazy yet disciplined playing style, coupled with an incredible amount of emotion, make Buddy Guy the electric guitar hero for this Australian blues guitar player.
Phil recalled a conversation he had with Muddy Waters (who he toured with twice!) about Buddy Guy: “Muddy just shook his head and said, ‘Man, he is the best one… he is the greatest.’” Does it get more ratified than that? Maybe Hendrix sneaking up as close as he can to Buddy’s feet as he performs gets a close second, but ain’t nothin’ gonna top what Mr Morganfield had to say. Nothing.
Phil idolises Buddy, even to this day. You can hear it in his voice, you can hear it in his playing. That’s probably the highest accolade a guitarist could give, but these words in particular he spoke, and I wanted to ensure made it into this story. On Buddy, Phil Manning said: “He’s probably the most influential blues [electric] guitar player that has ever existed.” and “If it hadn’t been for Buddy Guy, there may not have been a Jimi Hendrix.”
Dom Turner on Buddy Guy
Dom Turner is an Australian blues historian and a veteran blues musician himself, of the legendary Australian blues act Backsliders. Dom told us, “Buddy is one of the last links in the chain of great Chicago Blues artists coming up through the boom period, alongside artists associated with the dawn of Chicago Blues: Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Magic Sam, Little Walter and so many more. Buddy is a walking piece of history – yet has never stagnated. He’s continued to evolve as a musician. Nothing stands still with Buddy Guy. He’s a catalyst, bringing out the best in any musicians he works with. At times, you can hear other artists, for example Hendrix, in his playing – but it was Buddy who was first. So, this is a completely unique sound. It’s Buddy Guy.”
Dom Turner has spent years researching the history of blues. He went on to speak about the change in location for Buddy and the impact this had on the way his music was sounding:
“Buddy was such a young guy in the early Chicago Blues scene, settling there in the late 1950’s, moving up from Louisiana. The post war work opportunities in the northern cities resulted in what is known as ‘The Great Migration’ – a mass movement of workers, including musicians, from the southern states from 1915 up until 1960. Buddy arrived in Chicago near the end of this period, to what was a burgeoning ‘urban’ blues scene, already labeled ‘Chicago Blues’. This was (and is) an urban sound, versus a rural one. Buddy was right in there – a younger guy, soaking it up from the older artists as well as his coevals. He kept reinventing himself, however he always sounded like Buddy Guy, but experimenting over time.
Michael Charles on Buddy Guy
The blues also travelled from Australia to Chicago. Mr Michael Charles is an Australian blues musician now based in Chicago, and was inducted into the Chicago Blues Hall Of Fame in 2015. Michael had a very good reason for relocating to the States, and that reason goes back nearly 30 years, when he was invited to perform at Buddy Guy’s Legends.
Michael performed at the original Legends (754 S Wabash) and recalls that he met Buddy Guy and, within an hour, he was up on stage with the man himself. He’d been invited up there to jam, however, shortly after plugging in his guitar to the amplifier, deciphering the key the band were playing in, he soon heard the words ‘take it .. take it Michael’. Michael tells us the story, “as soon as I heard ‘take it Michael,’ I just went into automatic pilot, and just did my thing.. and before I knew it, I could hear the audience applauding and Buddy just turned around, with a smile on his face and I looked at the band, and they were all smiling, and I thought, ‘wow, I pulled it off!’”. Michael is still a regular performer at Buddy Guy’s Legends.
Watch Michael talk on camera in the Legend’s Artist Series, interviewed by Legend’s own Aaron Porter back in 2013 on their YouTube channel, and in part 2 you can hear the lick he created after that historic night in his career, when he went back to the Blackstone Hotel after the show, after he first performed with Buddy Guy.
Buddy’s 2017 Return to Australia
Buddy’s coming back down to Australia in 2017. However, this time, there won’t be any other shows except for Bluesfest. He will be performing exclusively at the Byron Bay Bluesfest (unless they add something after we go to print). The author will hopefully be capturing the moments once again and will be putting together the inside story for you to read, dear BG: Blues and Music News readers. Keep an eye out on the next editions. You can also find the author behind her music centric Twitter channel, @TheLightInLife. Buddy Guy’s got The Light In Life, ain’t no question of that. We wish it would shine eternally.
Blue-eyed readers, did you notice we spell Blues with a capital B? We think it deserves it! It deserves to be a proper noun. More than that, it’s a way of life, a way of music in itself. If Blues was a country, it’d have a massive population, and who’d be in the highest seat in the land? It’s a man who’s keeping the Blues alive. Honour him, whenever you can. Use the comment box! Keeping the Blues alive is probably the second best way to honour him, second to communicating it straight to the man himself. That’s the benefit of 21st Century technology! We can write to our heroes! Sure, they might not get to see it, but there’s a lot more chance than there used to be, in the days of postage stamps and letters, going via so many gatekeepers. Why not reach out, and tell it like you mean it? How are you keeping the Blues alive?
If you can, get your Blues loving self to Bluesfest in Australia. The people who run the festival are pure music loving, non-commercial types, and, even though Buddy is not headlining (unfathomable why), he’ll be causing chaos in the minds of the punters, who will have to decide between dividing their time between the man and his legendness, and the likes of Santana, Roy Ayers and The Doobie Brothers. Neil Young was supposed to be performing too, but you know, these young kids, they just can’t keep up with the likes of the well-oiled, well-seasoned, funkified Blues machines, the true Blues veterans, like Mr Buddy Guy. There’s only one Buddy Guy. He may well be the only big Blues legend left now. He’s keeping the Blues alive, in every corner of the world he can reach. Reach back out to him, while you can. We love you Buddy! Love. Music. Blues.