By Devon Wendell
Los Angeles. Buddy Guy kicked off the 2015-2016 Center For the Art of Performance (CAP UCLA) at UCLA’s Royce Hall on Thursday night with a truly mesmerizing performance.
Buddy Guy is the last true prophet of the blues, especially since we recently lost B.B. King. Buddy and his Damn Right Blues Band (Marty Sammon, keyboards, Orlando Wright, bass, Ric Hall, guitar, and Tim Austin on drums) performed a blistering set of no-nonsense Chicago Blues and much more. Since the early ‘60s, Guy has performed and recorded with Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter, Son House and B.B. King (to name only a few). He has the uncanny ability to channel them all in a single performance. This is exactly what he did at Royce Hall on Thursday night.
This was one of the most focused and coherent Buddy Guy shows I’ve ever witnessed. Guy is often forced to play a medley of familiar blues standards due to the time restraints of the blues festival circuit. The good people at Royce Hall gave Guy and his band an entire hour and forty-five minutes to stretch out and that’s exactly what he did.
Guy played songs in their entirety, opening his set with “Damn Right I Got The Blues,” Eddie Boyd’s slow and pleading “Five Long Years” and Muddy Waters’ boastful “Hoochie Coochie Man.” Sure, Guy would occasionally fall back on his bag of stage tricks, like walking through the audience during a long guitar solo, playing the guitar behind his back and with his teeth, and even playing the guitar with his crotch. However, the greatest moments of the show were when Guy would just stand there onstage and play.
Guy also has the greatest backing band. Marty Sammon played some brilliant keyboard solos, even dipping into some apparent jazz influences on “Hoochie Coochie Man.” Orlando Wright and Tim Austin act as the anchors, keeping the groove no matter how wild Guy’s playing can go. Ric Hall is a stellar guitarist with his own distinct sound as well.
Carlos Santana once told me that Buddy Guy is “The Ornette Coleman of electric blues guitar” and he was right. Guy played some piercing, lightning fast runs and a furry of gut wrenching string bends which created tones that no other guitarist can emulate. And these are things that only happen at that exact moment and never repeated again.
A perfect example of this was Guy’s rendition of Guitar Slim’s “The Things I Used To Do.” Slim was one of Guy’s earliest and most potent influences. Guy learned a lot of his stage antics from watching Slim play in Louisiana in the ‘50s. Guy’s version was true to the original and like Guitar Slim, his guitar had gotten way out of tune during this performance. But his tone was so harsh and beautifully evil that it didn’t matter.
The performance started to lose some of its focus during a brief acoustic portion of Guy’s set. Guy and Ric Hall played acoustic guitars and were joined by Wright and Austin on Ray Charles’ “What I’d Say,” “Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar” and Cream’s “Strange Brew.” It would have been more fitting if Guy performed some deep Delta blues on acoustic like he did on his 2003 album “Blues Singer” (Silvertone), but it was still a lot of fun.
The highlight of Guy’s set was the title track from his new album Born To Play Guitar (RCA) which was a pure Chicago blues in the style of his former mentors and employers Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers. On this number, Guy preaches about his love for his instrument and where it’s taken him throughout his incredible life.
Guy played an electric sitar on his 2008 soul ballad “Skin Deep.” He didn’t play the electric sitar in an “orthodox” manner, and thank God for that. He conjured up sounds on the instrument that no one would have thought possible when it was invented in the late ‘60s.
Guy finished his show with his baby-boomer crowd pleasing medley of Jimi Hendrix’ “Voodoo Child”, and Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love.” This was a beautiful performance. Guy is still one of the most powerful singers in the history of American music.
Opening up for Guy was Los Angeles’s own The Record Company (Chris Vos, vocals, guitar, lap-steel guitar, pedal steel guitar, harmonica), Alex Stiff, (bass, guitars, piano, vocals), and Marc Cazorla, (drums, piano, and vocals.)
This band sounds like a cross between The Yardbirds of the late ‘60s, Elmore James, and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Their performance was electrifying. Chris Voss played some incredible slide guitar on his lap, using an acoustic guitar that the late Johnny Winter had given him. He alternated between guitar, harmonica, and lead vocals. Alex Stiff’s bass playing was tight and funky and Marc Cazorla’s drumming was hypnotic and in the pocket.
The band played such original material as “Goodbye Sad Eyes,” “Got Me On The Move,” “Feel So Good”and finally “Don’t Let Me Get Lonely” during their brief set which truly rocked the house. Voss is a magnetic front-man whose dedication to the blues was apparent during the band’s entire performance. The Record Company was raw, loud, nasty, and the perfect band to start the evening’s festivities. This is a band to look out for if you haven’t already.
This was a perfect evening of raw blues performed by both a band of newcomers dedicated to the heart and soul of the music, and a true legend and master who is the last of the “old” bluesmen. I can’t imagine a better way to kick off UCLA’s CAP new concert season.