Playbill

Since the release of Damn Right, I Got the Blues in 1991, Buddy Guy has been enjoying a career renaissance. He's been justifiably hailed as an influential and innovative six-stringer, and he's been worshiped by guitar freaks and blues fans alike. Yet before that comeback, Guy went for more than a decade without a record deal. American labels, Guy once remarked, felt like he didn't have anything to offer.

The unexpected success of Damn Right is just another one of the many odd twists of fate that have characterized Guy's 40-plus-year career. When Guy moved to Chicago from his native Louisiana, he was just trying to find work; he had no intention of becoming a musician. Then one night Muddy Waters heard Guy jamming at the 708 Club. Before long, Guy was landing gigs all around the Windy City playing Waters, B.B. King, Ray Charles and Bobby "Blue" Bland covers; he quickly earned a reputation as a flamboyant showman. While most other bluesmen sat in chairs or just stood by the mike, Guy ran around the stage and played the guitar behind his head.

In the early '60s Guy accidentally discovered the joy of feedback when he left his guitar turned on after a set. A woman bumped into his ax, and the feedback rang out for what seemed like 20 minutes. Guy was hooked by the noise, and he started playing distorted passages at high-decibel levels -- this, in addition to throwing his guitar around on stage and purposely missing notes, all of which drove fans wild. But in the studio, Guy claims, Leonard Chess wouldn't let him use feedback and distortion. Nonetheless, Guy's studio output was ferocious, and while the record-buying public never heard him at his most insane, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page did. Guy's impact on them is immediately evident.

Today, Guy is revered. He owns his own eponymously named club in Chicago and drives sports cars; yet for all his recent success, he still has a bit of Louisiana farm kid in him. He still tries to roll out of bed at dawn, and he still believes in giving people value for their club dollar. But most of all, Guy still makes you feel the blues. Damn right!

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