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Buddy Guy: Born To Play The Blues

Now the last man standing from the 50s Chicago blues scene, Buddy Guy continues to carry the torch for the music that made him...

Buddy Guy will never forget how the Chicago blues scene saved him. “I’d not eaten for three days, I was hungry, I was cold. I was carrying my guitar, walking the streets on the south side, and I was thinking I might have to beg a dime from someone so I could call my mother to ask her to send me my train fare back home,” he tells The Blues in serious tones. “But then this stranger, he took pity on me, he heard me playing some Jimmy Reed, he grabbed my hand and took me along to the 708 Club. Man, I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears. I walked in and the place was jumpin’. The music warmed my soul. I recognised the song that was playing immediately, it was Otis Rush’s I Can’t Quit You Baby. It was no copy though, it was Otis Rush himself. I knew I was in Chicago then, that this is what I'd come for."

This was winter 1957, and that night at 708 East 47th Street in Bronzeville, Chicago, the 21-year- old, born and raised in Lettsworth, Louisiana, ended up on stage, Les Paul Gibson in hand, peacock-strutting across the boards, playing Bobby Bland’s Further On Up The Road with his guitar behind his back, over his head, played with his teeth. Otis Rush lapped it up, the audience did too. Word got out and before the end of the night Muddy Waters had turned up with a salami sandwich to feed him. “I didn’t believe it was him at first, but that was Chicago though, you walked down a street and you’d come to a corner and you’d find Muddy, Wolf, Little Walter, Sonny Boy... a blues giant doing his thing.”

That night, Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters struck up a friendship that would last Muddy’s lifetime.

Throughout the fascinating half-hour conversation The Blues has with Buddy Guy, talk time and again finds its way back to Chicago, the city the musician has called home for 58 years.

“It’s where I came of age, it defined me,” he says affectionately. He arrived in the city on September 25, 1957, the date imprinted indelibly on his memory, looking for work at the university. “I was told I’d make twice as much money there than the Louisiana State university where I had been working. My mother was sick, she’d had a stroke, I was trying to support her, my plan was to work in the day then spend the evenings watching Muddy Waters play guitar at night. I never thought I’d be a professional musician, I didn’t think I was that good. I was shy but after Muddy, Wolf and BB King told me I really was good, I thought I’d better keep on playing.”

It was at the 708 Club that he also made friends with BB King. “I was on stage at the 708, playing his song, I looked out into the audience and there he was. I got stage fright, had to take a break. I went to the bathroom, when I came out, he called me over to him. He said he saw a lot of him in my playing. I couldn’t believe it, not only had he come to hear me play but he liked what he heard. He said: ‘You’re ready to take my place.’ I wasn’t sure about that but it was always an honour to be in his company.”

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