THE LEGEND OF BUDDY GUY – WHERE CREDIT IS DUE

Sometimes people get credit where credit is due. Sometimes.

Take the birth of rock and roll for instance: black American bluesmen head overseas in the late 50’s-early 60’s and introduce the blues to an adoring throng of awestruck young European rockers, including members of the Rolling Stones, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, as well as Eric Clapton, fellow American Jimi Hendrix and other future rock icons.

“Before they was famous, they was comin’ into the blues clubs over there to see me, Muddy, B.B., Sonny Boy,” blues legend Buddy Guy told me from Chicago recently. “These youngsters was like, ‘Man, I want to see what they doin’, what they sound like.’ ”

For those young white rockers, an epiphany: melding blues music with their own evolving sound. Soon, a major chapter in rock and roll was born; trouble was, the young rockers got rich on this “new” music, while many of the black blues artists faded away after years of living lean, battling racism, and scratching for their share of the limelight.

But thankfully, at least some of those youngsters recognized right away who should share in their new-found success.

“When [the Stones] first came to the States, there was a big TV show called ‘Shindig’,” Guy said. “The Stones agreed to do the show only if Muddy Waters could play, too. Someone said, ‘Who the hell is Muddy Waters?’ Offended, Mick (Jagger) said, ‘You mean you don’t know who Muddy Waters is? And we named ourselves after one of his famous records, ‘Rolling Stone’??” He’d say, ‘This isn’t a British Invasion, this is music you already have here.”

Over forty years later, Guy, 71, remains a legend in motion, with kudos abound for his most recent album and two recent films: a speaking part alongside Tommy Lee Jones in “In The Electric Mist” and onstage with the Stones in their new Martin Scorcese-directed documentary, “Shine a Light.”

But his legacy as the primary trailblazer for guitar greats like Hendrix (who cited Guy as a major influence) and Clapton (who has called Guy “the best guitar player alive”) is something he doesn’t take credit for alone.

“I hardly think of that until someone mentions it to me. I was just doing exactly what the kids were doing, following B.B. and Muddy and T-Bone. It never crossed my mind that I’d be the one answering questions like this to you, because all those questions shoulda went to [them other guys].”

And this humble bluesman doesn’t hesitate to give thanks to those young rockers he paved the way for. “All those guys like [the Stones and Eric] did so much for myself and BB, and Ike & Tina. You know, without them, I don’t know where I’d be.” 

It also appears the younger generation is getting the skinny on Guy’s status as a founding father. “I run up on young kids now that say, ‘I didn’t even know who you were until I read about what Hendrix said about you.’ And John Mayer said to me, ‘I was studying Jimi and Stevie (Ray Vaughan) and every time I was picking up something, they was mentioning you.’ It‘s nice.”

(L-R) Blues greats Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters and a young Buddy Guy

 And who does the great Buddy Guy credit as his idol? “When I first came to Chicago, Muddy Waters come up and ask me if I’d come in the studio with him. The rest of my life, I wouldn’t even give a damn about a gold record, ‘cuz I got my gold record, in that Muddy Waters asked me to play with him.”

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