This past weekend Buddy Guy began his four week, sixteen night residency at Buddy Guy’s Legends. (I guess if you’re going to reside at at club it’s probably best for it to be your own club.) I’m trying to not over-do this thing this year and will probably only go for four entire shows, but I might drop in toward the end of the night on some. I had to go the first night after getting off the air at midnight. I didn’t really expect to catch any of the show but I had great parking luck and Buddy didn’t stop playing until around 12:40am. I saw the whole show on Saturday and Sunday and that’s what I’ll talk about here. Saturday’s opener was John Primer. John played in the house band at Thresea’s Lounge on 47th St. for years when this was Junior Wells’ home club and both Buddy and Phil Guy could be found there often along with any number of other great blues players. He’s been leading his own band now for quite awhile and has two recent albums of original material. His show was an excellent, solid set of real deal Chicago Blues. On Sunday night the opener was Samantha Fish. When this young woman in a skin tight dress is on stage you almost have to close your eyes so you’re not distracted by how much she does not look like most blues artists. Her vocals were soulful and spot-on, her guitar playing fluid and expressive, her songs were good and her choice of covers, too. Her trio was rounded out by excellent musicians on bass and drums. The crowd jumped up at the end of her set and gave her a standing ovation, bringing her back on stage for an encore.
Now, about Buddy. He has received so many honors recently, but I knew that wouldn’t change him a bit. Since last January Buddy has played in an all-star band at the White House, even talking the President of the United States to join him in singing “Sweet Home Chicago,” and he returned to Washington last month as a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors, again with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in attendance. (In 2003 Buddy was a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Honor presented to him in the Oval Office of the White House by President George Bush with First Lady Laura Bush in attendance.) His shows were everything I had hoped they would be. He hasn’t released an album of new material since last year, so I suspected there wouldn’t be any new songs, but he really delivered on the old ones. He always begins his show with a hard rocking number that he just burns his guitar on. A string shredding, strong, aggressive song that sets the tone of the evening by grabbing your attention. There were great versions of Muddy Waters songs, brief tributes to other blues greats of the past, and killer versions of Buddy’s best songs. On Sunday Buddy brought out a stool and an acoustic guitar and charmed the audience with a set that included a Ray Charles song that he let his keyboard player, Marty Sammon, shine on. He left the stool and went for his “blues sitar” and we thought he was going to do one one of his favorites, “Skin Deep,” but changed his mind at the last minute thinking that at that moment the audience needed something to wake them up after the acoustic set. His playing was really stunning and exciting, his vocals are so expressive it causes his mouth to contort into all sorts of shapes, and his story telling was, as always, charming and funny.
The blues performers that I most often see attending other peoples shows, in other words, the two biggest fans among Chicago blues musicians, were both in the house on Sunday night. Shemekia Copeland was there with her mother, Sandra, and Ronnie Baker Brooks was there, too. Buddy called Shemekia up to join him on “Fever,” with Buddy pointing out that this was a Little Willie John song. Shemekia’s amazing voice proved why no one disputes her title as Queen of the Blues, but she’s as good at charming an audience as she is at singing. At the end of the show, just before walking off the stage Buddy handed his guitar to Ronnie to close out the night. Ronnie knew exactly what to do, fire off some amazingly impressive guitar playing but keep it rather brief and bring the band to a close and the night to a close.
At last check there were still some tickets left for a few of the twelve remaining Buddy shows. Check out BuddyGuy.com to find out for yourself.
All photos are by Erich Schrempp of Schrempp Studio. At the end of the evening he was kind enough to snap a picture of yours truly with Sandra Copeland, Orlando Wright, Shemekia and Ronnie.