In a recent article in roots music journal No Depression, nine-time Grammy Award winner and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Buddy Guddy talked about retiring from touring while he’s still at the top of the game. He said he didn’t want to follow in the footsteps of BB King, who, at the end, had to come out in a wheelchair. “I’m going to turn 87 this year,” he told the crowd at Wolf Trap on June 11.
If this was his last appearance in our area (he has talked about playing the odd festival as a one-off), Buddy certainly went out in style, at the top of his game, on his own terms. He still can do trick playing, including his signature spot of playing with his teeth. And he’s still mobile: He left stage to make his way through the crowd in a signature spot.
A few years ago, the New Yorker had a piece on Buddy as the last scion of the great Southern blues tradition. I had the chance to ask Susan Tedeschi (of Tedeschi Trucks Band) if she agreed with this assessment. She did, saying, “We didn’t grow up picking cotton.”
Born in Lettsworth, Louisiana to a family of sharecroppers in 1936, Buddy grew up in a very different world. From a young age, he worked the fields with his family. ‘We didn’t put on that sunscreen shit,” he said. (The term “redneck,” incidentally, comes from the sunburns on the back of the necks of white sharecroppers.) “We didn’t have machinery.”
Eventually, Guy’s family relocated to Baton Rouge, where he was exposed to music, especially the blues. In the 1950s, he moved to Chicago, which, with labels like Chess Records, had become a major center for the blues. He’s been working in music ever since, starting with session work as a guitarist.
Buddy went on to make his own records, beginning in the ’60s, but it took him a while to break through. He’s always placed a focus on live performance, and he’s taken extensive hiatuses, in the ’80s in particular, from recording. His guitar work inspired numerous artists, like the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton, who called him the best guitarist of all time. Recognition from other artists who’ve followed in Buddy’s footsteps helped him break through and achieve the recognition he so richly deserves.
Buddy is a character and doesn’t mince words. He comes from a more rough-and-tumble time, a time when crowds were rowdy and it took a certain directness to command them. At one point, facing a mixed response to an invitation for the crowd to participate, he said “I didn’t come here tonight for you to fuck this song up.”
Reviewing a Buddy Guy performance works a little differently than my typical article. The show is less about the songs, though there were certainly great songs — “Hoochie Coochie Man,” “Somebody Else Is Slippin’ In,” and “Skin Deep” were a few of them — and more about the engagement with the audience and the guitar fireworks.
Watch Buddy Guy perform “Skin Deep” live with Playing for Change via YouTube:
In his long career, Buddy has championed and mentored a number of younger blues guitarists, ranging from Stevie Ray Vaughan to Jonny Lang to Christone “Kingfish” Ingram. Another is Kansas City native Samantha Fish, who’s emerged in the last decade as one of the most exciting blues players on the scene. Jesse Dayton, a guitarist and singer-songwriter who’s worked with everyone from Waylon Jennings to Rob Zombie, was featured in her set.
Samantha and Jesse recently released the album Death Wish Blues. They opened their set with the title cut and played several more songs from the album: “Down In the Mud,” “Lay It Down,” “No Apology,” and “Settle for Me.” Samantha’s set also included some of her older originals — “Hello Stranger,” “Don’t Say You Love Me,” “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Lovin’ You,” “You’ll Never Change,” and “I Feel So Good” — as well as an amazing cover of the classic “I Put A Spell On You” that won her a standing ovation.
Watch the official music video for “Deathwish” by Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton on YouTube:
Before Samantha and Jesse took the stage, Robert Randolph and the Family Band played a 30-minute opening set. A native of New Jersey, Randolph grew up attending the House of God church, a Pentecostal denomination that has a tradition called “sacred steel.” Since the 1930s, the steel guitar — first, the lap steel, and, later, the pedal steel — has been an integral part of the worship service. Randolph combines both secular and sacred influences, playing a mix of blues and gospel that, with its emphasis on instrumental skill and improvisation, also appeals to fans of jam bands.
Randolph opened his set with “Second Generations,” which featured his younger sister on vocals, followed by “Find Me A Woman.” Between songs, he said, “look at somebody on the other side of you and say, ‘Love!'” The next song,”I Need More Love,” encapsulated the joy and positivity of Randolph’s music, which has a real groove. (If synagogues had this kind of music, I might still go!) The band did an instrumental, and then they covered the Elmore James classic, “The Sky Is Crying,” with his sister on vocals again. The set also included a number which featured his guitar player singing.
Watch the official music video for “I Need More Love” by Robert Randolph and the Family Band on YouTube:
I’ve wanted to see Randolph for a while, and his live set didn’t disappoint. It was energetic and uplifting, and I’d love to see more of him. All three artists were great, and I hadn’t see Jesse in about five years. Buddy is a true legend, and I’m glad I got to see him one more time before he hangs it up.
Here are some photos of Robert Randolph and the Family Band performing at Wolf Trap on June 11, 2023. All pictures copyright and courtesy of Ari Strauss.
Here are some photos of Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton performing at Wolf Trap on June 11, 2023. All pictures copyright and courtesy of Ari Strauss.
And here of course are some photos of Buddy Guy performing at Wolf Trap on June 11, 2023. All pictures copyright and courtesy of Ari Strauss.