The Legend Within The Legend: A Polka Dot What?
by Aaron Porter
Buddy Guy has traveled around the world and put smiles on the faces of millions with his soothing voice and soulful melodies but one thing has always stood out more than the rest when seeing Buddy play live.
Aside from fashion statements by certain artists and Slash’s top hat, there are few things in the musical world as identifiable as the polka dot guitar Buddy Guy has been using to thrill audiences for two decades. The polka dot theme doesn’t really seem to fit a man of Buddy’s character, who is as cool as they come, but the dots tell a story of Buddy’s past, one that he makes sure to always carry with him.
Growing up in Louisiana, Buddy longed to move to Chicago where Muddy Waters and others were quickly making Chicago the Blues capital of the world. His mother, however, was not so fond of the idea. Nearly a thousand miles away, Chicago was not the most forgiving of cities and Buddy had little more than aspirations. But besides being driven and musically gifted, he was creative. Although he had no employment lined up, he fibbed to his worried mother that he had a great job waiting for him in Chicago and that when he was rich and successful he would buy her a polka dot Cadillac. It was just enough to get her blessing and off to Chicago Buddy went.
Buddy’s mother passed away before she ever got see him play live, but he never forgot his promise. He knew he couldn’t find a polka dot Cadillac, so instead he had Fender make a polka dot guitar so he would always have the memory of his mother with him, no matter where his touring took him.
The guitar is especially significant to Buddy, for whom it took several transitions until he could play the Blues-style electric guitar he’s perfected now. Starting off on a two-string diddley bow, he began his career on an acoustic harmony guitar.
“When I was 8 or 9 I couldn’t even play the radio,” jokes Buddy.
The guitar itself took nearly five years to make but was such a wild success Fender made 200. Buddy still owns and plays the original polka dot guitar from 20 years ago and doesn’t plan on letting it out of his sight any time soon.
“I’ve kept every single guitar I’ve ever owned,” says Buddy, “Ask me for a guitar and I’ll buy you one, but I keep all my guitars.”
He has donated a couple to museums over the years but he’s no prima donna, not opting for constant upgrades or new guitars. He respects and cherishes each one of his guitars, but his polka dot guitar means more to him than any of the others.
As much of a Chicago staple as the building formerly known as the Sears Tower, Buddy has made sure Chicago remains the home of the Blues, but with his polka dot emblazoned guitar always at his side he’s always sure to remember the southern hospitality he grew up with.
Now if Cadillac only learned there’s a market for polka dots.