Top 20 Rock Guitarists, #15 Buddy Guy

Most of the time blues concerts featuring the greats are dry affairs. The set list is familiar and everyone falls back into their assigned roles: B.B. King leads the affairs, Eric Clapton settles in meekly and adds his divine singing when prompted, Jimmy Vaughn does some sparse rhythm work, and then there are a couple wild cards who blend in unremarkably even though they are fine players (Lonnie Mack, Robert Cray, etc). Its nice and its a paycheck.

And then Buddy Guy shows up.

Most people don’t remember Guitar Slim anymore, but Buddy Guy does. He IS Guitar Slim. He walks in leaning forward, and immediately Clapton starts playing lightening bursts of guitar work, and B.B. King starts to bellow and half of the other guys get out of the way.

Buddy Guy is cutting heads. He always does.

Nearly every great classic rock player learned from Buddy Guy, directly or indirectly, and most of them had to trot to some inner city and earn his respect personally. They left with a bag of tricks. What Buddy Guy added to music is extreme contrast, the endless overdriven bends and then the sudden flurry of notes. He added a fearlessness and spontaneity not generally seen in blues, because Guy knows that he can fish for notes because its how a phrase ends in blues that matters.

You cannot evaluate Guy by his studio albums either. Buddy Guy thrives on live play. He is bigger than you think, powered by an endless guitar chord (just like Guitar Slim). He plows through people effortlessly, grinning and riffing the whole time, leaving smiles in his wake, like he has done for over 50 years.

He is called Chicago blues, but he is more than that. He can take you back to the Delta, or he can journey into near psychedelia. It doesn’t matter. Guy will give you a show and make everyone around him work to keep up.


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