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The blues have helped shape our history in ways that many may not realize, influencing everything from country to rock 'n' roll, rhythm and blues, and hip hop. Although many of the great blues legends are no longer with us, it's musicians like Buddy Guy who help us carry on the romance, the joy, and tearful parts of life, all through music.
Buddy Guy has been an inspiration to a generation of guitar players that is now seen as legendary, including Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. But in his truly humble way, Buddy says that he's had his share of musical mentors, too.
"Well you know, actually, I'm still in love with B.B. King and Muddy Waters and all those people like that. I got my education in music from listening to them, and goin' up and got a chance to meet 'em and play with them—the late John Lee Hooker and all those people like that."
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Rolling Stone listed Buddy Guy as number 30 out of the 100 greatest guitar players of all time. In 1995 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; Guy also holds five Grammy Awards for his exceptional usage of acoustic and electric guitar. Billboard Magazine presented him with the Century Award (Guy being only the second person to receive one), titling him the Greatest Living Electric Blues Guitarist.
We can call him an inventor, a creator, a muse, or an influence, but when it comes down to straight history, the man is a legend.
"I can't even explain how it felt when they said, 'You've been inducted into the Hall of Fame,'" he reflects. "I don't know who didn't make it, but I know a lot of great ol' blues players didn't make it. Every award I ever received, I took my award in honor of those people I learned everything from."
Guy's roots are not very far from the Twin Cities, having made his renowned name in Chicago during the uprising of the blues movement. When asked if he thinks Chicago was the sole heir to blues and R&B, he responds with the facts. "Chicago has the reputation because during the heydays of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Sonny Boy, Jim Reed, Chuck Berry, I could go on and on.... All that stuff was coming out in Chicago and, I don't know, I'm not going to say Minnesota didn't have it," he says. "Everywhere had somethin', New Orleans had somethin', Memphis had somethin'. Minneapolis, Boston, all those cities had some great talent in it. But Chess Records was the one that exploded that thing. They came out with the guitars and turned the amplifiers and things on, you know its history now. So I am sure some other cities were doing it, but the Chess people exploded it. So I think that's why Chicago has the title 'Blues Capital of the World.'"
Now in his 74th year of living the blues, Guy has somehow managed to maintain the earnestness of youth—perhaps teaching us a little thing about contradiction and how the music today hasn't changed as much as we think it has.
When asked how he felt about modern day hip hop, Buddy replies as any honest parent would. "Well, my youngest daughter is in the hip hop today, I don't know if you've heard of her, Shawnna," Guy says. "She was out there with Ludacris, and she came to me one day before I slowed it down and realized they was using all the profane language, and I said I can take you back and I can show you—well I can't show you but I can tell you about some of the records them blues cats were singing on...but they wouldn't play it because it was a party record. Tampa Red and all those guys were saying something—you couldn't even attempt to say anything profane on a blues record back in those days, 'cause they wouldn't play it.
"I don't know if you remember the Isley Brothers laid a track in the '60s called 'Some Bullshit Goin' On,' and they booed and broke the shit, by the time they got to that, they beeped it. And now I believe you could go in there and record a blues album and say what the hell you wanted and they would play it. Because you can't keep that from these kids, when they came out with cable and all those portables and television, those kids were gon' get it anyway. So the kids had heard that language anyway, some parents were using it. I know every once in a while my parents would get mad; you could hear them use the profane language.... But like I say, my daughter's a hip-hopper, and they sayin' stuff and then some of those guys are multi-millionaires cause they sold it, the record sold so good and they didn't let the blues cats get away with it.
"Yeah ya know, just come on out, let it all hang out. I don't see why we're tryin' to hide it from 'em anyway, cause human beings are like an animal. You raise a dog, a cat, a pig or whatever kind of animal—you don't have to teach them about sex, as soon as they get older, they gon' do it any damn way. Humans the same way, so what are you hiding? It's something natural as you come here, human nature...."
BUDDY GUY performs with Quinn Sullivan on SATURDAY, OCTOBER 16, at the STATE THEATRE; 612.339.7007