By Michael Katz
Hollywood, CA. “I’m 74 years young,” sings Buddy Guy, “and there ain’t nothin’ I haven’t done.” After a few verses, Buddy admits to being 77, but the extra few years haven’t diminished anything, most importantly his ability to engage an audience. Dressed in his trademark polka dot shirt, Guy’s voice is clear and his tone assured. His fingers are nimble, whether picking out Delta blues or raging through fiery Chicago licks. Most of all, he is a great story teller, modulating his performance to suit his mood, carefully controlling the thermostat. While so many other players start out at a high volume and never let up, Buddy Guy has moments when you can hear a pin drop. He stands at the front of the stage, the blues guitar resonating, at first quietly, then insistently, growling out some of the classic lines:
“Got a few good tricks up my sleeve
I know everything that a good woman needs
I show respect and I treat ’em right
They all keep coming back night after night
When it come to loving, I ain’t never done
I’m 74 years young.”
Buddy had lots of help Wednesday night at the Hollywood Bowl. His band featured Marty Sammon on keyboards, parlaying a strong right hand into some wonderful honky-tonk rhythms. Tim Austin commanded the drums and Orlando Wright provided a steady pulse on base, while veteran Chicago bluesman Ric Hall added a terrific second blues axe. There was plenty of familiar material, beginning with “I Got The Blues,” after which Guy proceeded to march into the crowd, to the delight of the box seat patrons. If there was any justice in the world he would have made it into the Bowl’s upper reaches, but I suppose if there was justice, we wouldn’t have the blues.
There was an extended version of “Five Long Years,” with Guy alternating lightning blues licks with the plaintive lyrics. (“Lord I work five long years for one woman, And she had the nerve to kick me out…Lord, have you ever been mistreated?”)
Somewhere in that scenario was a segue to “Someone Else Is Steppin’ In,” which seemed completely appropriate. Then there was a bow to Buddy’s newest double CD, Rhythm and Blues, with the rousing “Meet Me In Chicago.” As a native Chicagoan, I want to salute the courage of guitarist Ric Hall, who wore a White Sox jersey throughout the evening. Given the team’s current rate of deconstruction, he was lucky to make it through the show without being traded for a player to be named later.
There is something magnetic about Buddy Guy’s blues playing. He’s come from the fields of Louisiana, through the South Side of Chicago, and there he is on the stage of the Hollywood Bowl, the crowd top heavy with expensive box seat patrons. But he reaches out to everyone, whether nodding to Jimi Hendrix or celebrating his own classics, including “Hoochie Coochie Man” and variations on “Hoodoo Man Blues.” Always there is a laconic, if sometimes profane, sense of humor. (Though he admitted, compared to hip hop, his lyrics are almost tame.)
Late in the concert, tweener phenom Quinn Sullivan joined the band with “Getting There,” from his own album. I hope it isn’t damning Sullivan with faint praise to say that he is pretty good for a 14 year-old. The kid really does have some chops. He seems more at home in the Clapton/Hendrix camp, but then you can’t really expect him to be singing, “I gotta job in a steel mill, I been shucking steel like a slave.” (Unless he moves to China). He’s been performing with Guy and other blues pros for several years now, and it is good for the music to have an exciting young talent out front.
The evening opened with a fine set by the Funky Meters, the latest incarnation of the Meters group that dominated recording sessions in the late sixties and seventies. Founding member Art Neville was the backbone of the group on the Hammond organ, along with fellow original George Porter Jr. on bass. Guitarist Brian Stoltz and drummer Russell Batiste Jr. rounded out the funk driven quartet. They played a combination of Meters hits like “FiYo” and “Cissy Strut” and had the crowd dancing in the aisles with the New Orleans standard “Hey Pocky Way.” Mixed into the middle of a mostly nonstop hour was a nod to Bob Dylan, with a few choruses of “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35.”
All in all, a stellar evening of funk, rhythm and blues, led by the irrepressible Buddy Guy.
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