The process of selecting a blues album to review is not an easy one. First of all, a lot of people will not think they like the blues or will say they don’t know enough about the blues. The real answer to both of these questions is that if you listen to music at all, and like music, then you are by definition a fan of the blues. All of the great rock & rollers of today were heavily influenced by the blues in one form or another. “I’m a King Bee”, “Walking the Dog”, and “Now I’ve Got a Witness”, were blues and soul influenced songs that were covered brilliantly by The Rolling Stones. Eric Clapton is so enamored with the blues and Robert Johnson that he recorded 14 out of the 29 iconic blues man’s songs on his album “Me and Mr. Johnson”, in 2004. Aerosmith did the same thing with “Honking on Bubo” with brilliant blues and soulful cover versions of “Road Runner”, “Stop Messing’ Around”, and “Eyesight To The Blind”, as well as other classic songs that feature Steve Tyler doing his best “Little” Walter impersonation with some masterful harmonica playing.
So then the question becomes do you start with established artists that were influenced by the masters, like Stevie Ray Vaughan or Robert Cray? Or, do you go with the young guns like Joe Bonamassa, Kenney Wayne Sheppard, Jonny Lang, or Derek Trucks?
Going back to the source can be problematic since many of these artists only have only compilation or greatest hits packages available for general listening which would bastardize the purity of the music appreciation you get from hearing the songs in the same contiguous order that they were intended to be heard. This along with the fact that many of the great blues albums are going on 60 years old with deteriorating masters, if they are available at all.
There are however some fantastic blues albums out here to choose from that can take you back where it all began including Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign”, Mississippi Fred McDowell with the aptly named “I Do Not Play No Rock and Roll”, John Lee Hooker’s “It Serves You Right To Suffer”, Elmore James’ “Blues After Hours”, and many others with the album titles alone evoking the bare essence of the soul scraping, take no prisoners world that is the blues.
In an attempt to bridge the gap between new school and old school blues it seems only fitting that my first proper blues review would be a Buddy Guy album.
Eric Clapton’s favorite blues guitar player, Buddy Guy, the undisputed king of Chicago Blues taking over the throne from Muddy Waters, had been experience some musical hard times of his own when he returned from a decade long recording absence with the stellar album “Damn Right, I’ve Got The Blues”.
The album that features guests Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton, Richie Hayward and Jeff Beck peaked at only number 136 on the Billboard charts but did earn Buddy his first Grammy in 1991. Critics sometimes dismiss this album as a bit too derivative with the song choices a bit too familiar, which is the very reason I love this record. Hearing songs I that I had heard before in the hands of other artists now done “Buddy Style” with his guitar not only singing but talking to me is a wonder to behold and gives me a deeper appreciation for the full package of gritty snarly vocals and the sizzling like bacon on a griddle guitar licks that is National Treasure, Buddy Guy.
The title track hits you right between the eyes with a Mark Knopfler intro followed by some of Buddy’s majestic guitar work along with a heaping helping of gritty vocals hitting us between the ears; reminding us that yes indeed he has the blues.
“Five Long years” slows down the pace and ads a lilting organ in the background and features Jeff back’s subtle guitar style on 8:36 of pure blue’s singing with almost a verse and response between Buddy and Beck’s guitar that sounds like this is the last song he will ever sing.
I am not sure if he wore his polka dot spandex on “Mustang Sally” but I can almost picture him jumping around in it. The pace is only slighter the slower than Wicked Wilson Picket’s version probably due to the more laid back Jeff Beck guitar influence on the song but it is absolutely a must hear.
Eric Clapton makes an appearance on the fifth Song “There is Something On Your Mind” which is a slow ballad type tune that once again showcases that, forget the guitar, Buddy Guy is one of the greatest soul singers that ever lived.
“Early In The Morning” is one of those songs you have heard a million times with my favorite version being Harry’s version on Nilsson Schmilsson, but his version with some backing gospel singers in the background along with the Memphis Horns is rising like a bullet in my cranium.
In a song we can all relate to at one time or another “Too Broke To Spend The Night” has the blues singer laying it all on the line to his lady of the evening and telling her the way it is and the way it will be. He pawned his watch, he pawned his doggone ring and Damn right, he has the blues.
The final tune on the album “Remembering Stevie” is a pure instrumental that takes you down slow and easy with 6:59 of beautiful subtle guitar almost providing a mournful wail in tribute to the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughan.
As it turns out “Damn Right” was only the beginning of the mighty blues man’s comeback with four more Grammy’s, one for “Feels Like Rain” in 1993, for “Slippin In” in 1995, and another in 2003 for ”Blues Singer”, and finally for his latest 2010 release “Living Proof”.
And if you are ever in Chicago, check out his blues joint. You just might find him sitting at the bar having a drink. For a man that “has the blues” he certainly is on a serious roll and deserves your attention.
– Walt Falconer
- “Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues” (Guy) 4:29
- “Where Is The Next One Coming From?” (John Hiatt) 4:35
- “Five Long Years” (Eddie Boyd) 8:23
- “Mustang Sally” (Sir Mack Rice) 4:43
- “There Is Something On Your Mind” (Big Jay McNeely) 4:45
- “Early In The Morning” (Leo Hickman, Louis Jordan, Dallas Bartley) 3:09
- “Too Broke To Spend The Night” (Guy) 5:00
- “Black Night” (Jessie Robinson) 7:42
- “Let Me Love You Baby” (Willie Dixon) 3:56
- “Rememberin’ Stevie” (Guy) 6:55 (Instrumental)
- Buddy Guy - Lead Vocals, Lead Guitar
- Greg Rzab - Bass
- Richie Hayward - Drums
- Mick Weaver - Organ/Piano/Electric Piano
- Pete Wingfield - Piano
- Neil Hubbard - Guitar
- John Porter - Guitar
- Tessa Niles - Backing Vocals
- Katie Kissoon - Backing Vocals
- Carol Kenyon - Backing Vocals
- Eric Clapton - Electric Guitar on Track 5
- Jeff Beck - Electric Guitar on Tracks 3 & 4
- Mark Knopfler - Electric Guitar on Track 1
- The Memphis Horns - Trumpet/Saxophone/Trombone, except Track 3