PUBLISHED IN THE KITCHENER WATERLOO RECORD FOR THURSDAY, DECEMBER 10, 1998
By Nick Krewen
Buddy Guy knows how to cook up a storm on and off the stage.
When he isn’t basting audiences around the world with masterful blues guitar licks or the savory Memphis-scented funk and soul of his latest album Heavy Love, George “Buddy” Guy can usually be found at his suburban Chicago home simmering a pot of tasty Southern cuisine.
“When I’m not home, the stove don’t ever come on,” jokes the 61-year-young Guy, who was born in Lettsworth, Louisiana but has lived in Chicago since the late ’50s.
“Home cookin’ is nothing like restaurant cooking. When you’re in a restaurant, they give you a menu and you take what they’ve got.
“When they get up in the morning at home, you get a taste of red beans and rice, which in Louisiana is what you got.”
January is the month that Guy’s family usually eats the best, on account of the veteran bluesman’s annual residency at the namesake club he owns, Buddy Guy’s Legends.
“I have everybody jokin’ about it,” says Guy, who is sitting bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in a Missouri hotel room at 8:30 a.m. despite playing until 1:00 a.m. that morning.
“The reason I play in January is because everybody has to come and see me. It’s too cold to stay outside!”
However, even Guy admits last January’s Legends stint seemed a bit more frosty. His longtime partner, harmonica great Junior Wells, lost a four month battle with lymphoma on January 15. He was 63.
“On the 15th, he tore me apart,” Guy recalls. “Even the first date, he was so sick. I’d start singing and tears would fall out of my eyes.
“I spent so much time with that guy that we were almost like brothers. It was a great loss to me, and I still haven’t straightened up on it.”
Guy and his label Silvertone paid tribute a few weeks ago to the partner he first teamed up with in 1970 by releasing the album Buddy Guy & Junior Wells: Last Time Around — Live At Legends.
But Guy notes that Wells wasn’t the only casualty in what increasingly becomes an aging, fragile blues community.
“It just wasn’t a good year, man,” says Guy, his normally cheerful voice turning serious.
“We lost not only Junior, but I was pretty close to Luther (Allison), Fenton Robinson, Jimmy Rogers — and we lost about five or six guys in a year’s time. I used to say there was a handful of us , but now the hand is no longer full. The only ones I can think of at the moment are John Lee (Hooker), B.B. (King) and myself as guitar players.”
Buddy Guy has certainly earned his reputation. Born into a family of sharecroppers, Guy eventually worked his way out of the Mississippi Delta and risked starvation in Chicago so he could get noticed by prominent blues label Chess.
Eventually McKinley Morganfield, a.k.a. Muddy Waters, took Guy under his wing and hired him as a session guitarist for Chess.
“I made records behind Muddy (Waters) and (Howlin‘) Wolf, Sonny Boy (Williamson) and Little Walter,” Guy recalls. “I was the type of guy, if I played behind you, I didn’t want to step on you. I wanted to support you, you know? All of them liked that, and that’s why I got a chance to play on all of them records.”
A 1967 appearance at Toronto’s Mariposa Folk Festival in front of 30,000 people convinced him not to abandon the blues, and Buddy Guy began playing Canada on a regular basis.
“After that, I’d play Canada for two weeks at a time around Yonge Street in Toronto,” Guy says. “Then they started bringing me around to other smaller blues clubs in Kitchener and other places. Canada has been very supportive of me, and I will never forget that.”
An electrifying guitarist, Guy says he’s just continuing tradition.
“I’ve been watching B.B. King and those greats who all taught us everything we know,” he states. “I learned a lot from him and Muddy Waters and all those great guys.
When he returns to Lulu’s tomorrow (Thursday), he’s also hoping to hang out with another great guy — Mel Brown.
“I hope to have Mel jam with us this time as well,” says Buddy. “Great guy — he can play! Guitar and keyboard!”