Buddy Guy’s new release, “Rhythm & Blues,” is a rarity in an era where EPs and singles are becoming popular formats to release new music. It’s a double album, 22 all-new tracks deep.
Guy and his producer Tom Hambridge didn’t go into the project expecting to make any more than a single album.
“What really happened was every time we came up with a song and we were both excited about it (we’d say) let’s do it,” Guy said in a late-July phone interview. “And every time we finished that, there was another one. Well, let’s do it. All of a sudden they put 12 cuts on a CD or something like that, and we had 16, and (then) another one popped up. Let’s do it. All of a sudden we had, I figured, 22.”
Guy and Hambridge believed in all of the tracks, but they weren’t so sure the idea of a double album would fly with Guy’s label, RCA Records.
“I was going to meet the top guy from RCA, and he said ‘Hey man,’ and I’m thinking he’s going to say ‘I’m going to give me a pink slip,’” said Guy, who one can only assume wasn’t ever in danger of being dropped by the label.
In fact, Guy in all seriousness, said he thought RCA would accept just a single album and have him hold some of the 22 tracks for a future album.
Instead, RCA bought off on the double album.
“I’m like saying ‘Oh, thank God,’” Guy said. “I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen. If we can get a little airplay, hopefully I can sell…more CDs and keep the blues alive a little longer.”
Introducing the blues to more fans and breathing life into the genre was a topic that Guy brought up several times during the interview. It’s a mission he has been trying to fulfill for more than two decades now.
“I’ve dedicated my life to the music,” he said. “The late Muddy Waters, Little Walter, the late Junior Wells, I could go on and on, and we used to sit down and talk and be having a shot of wine or a shot of whiskey, and we would be joking and laughing about it. ‘If I leave here before you do, you had better not let that goddam blues die.’
A native of Louisiana, Guy, 77, began his career in earnest when he moved to Chicago in September 1957, where he was signed by that city’s legendary blues label, Chess Records in 1960, home to the likes of Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Little Walter.
Already an accomplished guitarist, Guy was recruited to play on numerous albums by the label’s leading artists, but struggled to get label co-owner Leonard Chess to embrace the high-charged, hard-edged type of blues he wanted to record.
Guy’s tenure with Chess ended in 1967, when he moved to Vanguard Records. But he went through the 1980s without a record deal, before he was signed by Silvertone Records and released the 1991 Grammy-winning comeback CD, “Damn Right, I’ve Got The Blues.”
Guy has recorded regularly ever since. And he’s delivered one of his best albums with “Rhythm & Blues.” Even with 22 songs, there isn’t much filler, as Guy shows his command of several forms of blues. There are hard-hitting rockers like “Justifyin’” and “What’s Up With That Woman,” tunes with a little funk and Memphis soul (“Best In
Town”), a little (mostly) acoustic country blues (“I Could Die Happy”) and even some horn-filled jump blues — a style Guy has not often recorded — on songs like “Well I Done Got Over It” and “Poison Ivy,” “Rhythm & Blues” could convert its share of the uninitiated into blues fans. Guy is also doing his part to keep the blues going by touring extensively and bringing his music and energetic showmanship directly to the people. He also makes a point of touting young blues talents. In this interview, he talked up Gary Clark Jr., who guests on the song “Blues Don’t Care” from “Rhythm & Blues,” and a 14-year-old guitar phenom, Quinn Sullivan, whom he first saw play when Sullivan was just nine.
As a performer, Guy tries to cater to his audiences from night to night by not working from a set list.
“I go to the stage, and you can hear people,” Guy said.
“They’ll call out a song. I’ll look at my band and say ‘Let’s do it.’
That’s why I’m here. That’s why this particular fan came to hear me.”
“I listen to the audience,” he said. “I’m going to give you the best that I got, whatever I do. But I don’t go there saying
I’m going to drive ‘Damn Right, I Got The Blues’ down your throat. You might want to hear ‘Slippin’ In.’ Or you might want to hear me try to do something like Muddy Waters.”