The Blues Can’t Stop Him Now: The Everlasting Power of Buddy Guy

Buddy Guy is the doggone definition of a “bluesman,” yet to call him one may be an understatement. Perhaps a “blues god” is more on the nose. Since his first record contract 60 years ago, there’s been no end to the man’s influence on the history of music. His blistering guitar licks indoctrinated the likes of Jimi HendrixEric Clapton, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to name a few, and on Thursday, June 21, he’ll step onto the stage of The Morrison Center to give Boise a wailing dose of the Chicago blues.

At the age of 81, Guy remains prolific. His schedule includes countless year-round tour dates and the release of a new album, The Blues is Alive and Well (RCA), which will drop Friday, June 15. The tracks boast appearances from megastar friends, among them Jeff BeckMick Jagger and Keith Richards. The album also features a contemporary duet with James Bay entitled “Blue No More,” which single-handedly categorizes Guy’s demeanor in the twilight of his monumental career.

Hailing from rural Louisiana, George “Buddy” Guy moved to Chicago in the late 1950s to pursue music as an occupation. He fell into good company, with late greats like Otis RushWillie Dixon, and the iconic Muddy Waters. Guy was subsequently signed to Chess Records, but he later said his avant-garde guitar style was stifled by producers, who pigeonholed him as a session guitarist for many other Windy City recording artists. Feeling underutilized, Guy made the switch to Vanguard Records in the late 1960s, where his full potential was finally unleashed as a solo artist.

Guy inspired scores of premier rock n’ roll musicians of multiple generations through his flamboyant live performances, where he showcased an unprecedented command of the guitar. Many of his acolytes, particularly those who embraced longevity, turned into enduring friends—helping him re-energize his career during occasional lulls in popularity. Eric Clapton, for example, invited Guy to play an integral part in his live album 24 Nights(Reprise, 1991), which contributed to a resurgence of blues music on the charts during the early 1990s.

Guy became a Chicago entrepreneur when he co-founded The Checkerboard Lounge in 1972, a now-legendary blues nightclub on the city’s South Side. The club evolved into a hotspot for many classic concerts, most prominently for a live album by The Rolling StonesLive at the Checkerboard Lounge, Chicago 1981 (Eagle Vision).

In 1989, Guy opened another club: Buddy Guy’s Legends, in Chicago’s Loop. To this day, he plays there regularly and hosts the annual Chicago Blues Hall of Fame induction ceremony on its stage.

Guy’s career peaked with Grammy Award-winning albums, Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues(Jive, 1991), Feels Like Rain (Silvertone, 1993) and Slippin’ In (Silvertone, 1994). The new millennium brought further acclaim for Guy, including his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.

As a teaser for The Blues is Alive and Well, Guy released the song “Cognac,” which includes Jeff Beck and Keith Richards. The track is incendiary, sporting a slow-burn blues tempo with a trio of shredding guitars—it doesn’t get any better.

Spry as ever, Guy has been on tour since March and will power through scores of concert dates this summer and into the fall, including a swing through Europe. The guitar master has apparently made the road his home for the time being, and there’s no stopping him as he continues to carve out a lasting blues legacy. Boise fans should prepare to bear witness to his unrelenting power and onstage stamina. But don’t be stunned if Guy throws some light-hearted cussing your way, or at the band, on occasion. It’s that kind of fighting spirit that cements him as one of the greatest live acts of all time.

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