Sunday, January 15, 2017

Night After Night, Show After Show, Buddy Guy's Legend Continues to Grow -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Buddy Guy
w/ opening act Corey Dennison
acoustic set by
Joe Moss & Sean McKee
Buddy Guy's Legends
January 12, 2017
(part of 16-show residency through January 29)

Forever young at the age of 80, the legendary Buddy Guy maintains a touring schedule that would put to shame many a far younger musician.

Including his current 16-show residency at his own Buddy Guy's Legends in Chicago, the blues icon is presently scheduled to play 75 concerts in 2017, with all but 10 coming before the end of May.

Along with crisscrossing the U.S. mainland from Seattle to St. Augustine, Guy is scheduled to appear in Paris and at Bluesfest near Byron Bay, Australia. This comes after 70+ shows in 2016 that also took him to Europe.

If Buddy Guy comes to play in a town near you, I emphatically recommend you go see him, as the sound emitted when his fingers blaze along the fretboard of his Fender Stratocaster is one of most glorious you'll ever hear.


But while catching Buddy at a comfortable theater with reserved seats may be far more hassle-free than figuring out the game plan for fitting in among the cultish legions who pack his shows at Legends, seeing him in that hometown setting has been one of the great thrills of my life.

Repeatedly, and again this past Thursday.

This was the 7th time (over the past 16 years) I ventured to the 700 block of South Wabash to see Buddy Guy at his namesake club. (I also saw him once at Ravinia and opening for--and playing alongside--the Rolling Stones at Milwaukee Summerfest in 2015.)

I happily would have gone far more often, but while the cost to see Buddy onstage for about 100 minutes is fair, it's not inestimable, and to get a seat you have to arrive at the club hours ahead of time.

(For those for whom this, or considerable standing in a crowded club, isn't an appealing option, I recommend the archived broadcasts of the Legends shows for just $5 each, which you can find here at In past years shows were broadcast live, but this doesn't seem to be the case in 2017.)

When my ticketed companion for Thursday night fell ill, I was somewhat surprised to have my mom offer to pinch hit at the last minute, and in reaching Legends around 4:30pm table seating was already quite sparse.

Fortuitously, we were able to get a pair of seats at a table with a couple who had come from Oregon primarily to see Buddy--they said they had done so once before, in 2001, and were delighted to have another chance--and had gotten to the club by 11:30am.

It seems many other of the patrons seated at tables had come even earlier, waiting out in the cold before Legends opened its doors at 11am. (Note: The timeline I will reference applies to Thursday and Sunday shows of Buddy Guy's residency; Sat./Sun. shows run later, so check pertinent info for yourself if you plan to attend.)

Appreciably, Buddy and those who help him run Legends are aware of the devotion of his fans, and on nights when he is scheduled to begin playing at 9:00pm, the live music begins at 4:00pm with a 2-1/2 hour set of acoustic blues.

Hence, when we arrived, a performer I later discerned to be named Joe Moss was playing and singing, accompanied by a younger man named Sean McKee, whom Moss identified as having been a student of his.

Their set was enjoyable, and provided a nice soundtrack for my dinner of Blackened Catfish, garlic mashed potatoes, collared greens, gumbo and cornbread.

My mom had some veggie gumbo and I couldn't resist trying the Peanut Buddy Pie.

All of the food was excellent. I've only ever been to Legends to see Buddy Guy, but I really should get there more often.

At 7:30 came the night's official opening act, Corey Dennison, a singer and guitarist whose announced moniker of the Chattanooga Cannonball seemed just about perfect. (He also seemed to be nicknamed "The Deacon.")

Frequently cajoling the audience to stand, the affable and energetic Dennison delivered a highly enjoyable hour with three bandmates, including a rather formidable guitarist named Gerry Hundt.

I can't confidently name any of their songs, but one was presumably, "Misti"--with an M-I-S-T-I refrain--while others may have been called "Where the Green Grass Grows," "I'm Gone" and "Are You Serious?"

You can actually watch Dennison's entire Jan. 12 set at Legends here, and some may enjoy (and perhaps better explain to me) the lyrical reference to "Levi Roosevelt Franklin Stubbs," which seems to pay homage to both the lead singer of the Four Tops and a former major league ballplayer.

Dennison would later share the stage with Buddy Guy near the end of the latter's set, and clearly seemed to be having the time of his life.

Leading up to Buddy and his band, a drawing was held to win a guitar signed by the legend himself.

I gladly had bought an entry ticket for $5, not just to support Buddy Guy's efforts--through PCA Blue--to raise awareness for prostate cancer, which took the life of his brother Phil in 2008, but because my good friend Ken, with whom I had seen Buddy in 2014, had won a signed guitar the previous Saturday night.

My drawing ticket was number 541331.

From the stage, a ticket was pulled and read:


Darn! So close.

Oh well, I did buy a souvenir coaster shaped like a guitar pick that Buddy signed after his show, as he does for all fans who buy merchandise.

My polite request to have a quick picture taken with him was rebuffed by a security guard, but neither that nor not winning the guitar mattered much, as just seeing Buddy play, sing and regale (with stories, wisdom and other quips) once again was prize enough.

Resplendent in a sky blue pinstriped suit, Buddy Guy took the stage Thursday night around 9:15 and didn't leave it nearly to 11.

Still appearing to be in great shape, Buddy apologized for a rough voice--it wasn't too bad--due to it being f'ed up by a flu shot he insisted he didn't request, and proceeded to remind why, with due respect to other great, surviving blues artists who had migrated to Chicago decades ago (Lonnie Brooks, Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater, Carl Weathersby, etc.), there is no one else quite like him.

This is a man who recorded with Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and Howlin' Wolf--among many others--in the early days of Chess Records, and a groundbreaking guitarist who clearly influenced Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck (with whom he toured last year), Jimi Hendrix, Billy Gibbons and so many more.

Yet, as I must make clear, going to see Buddy Guy in 2017 is not a trip of mere reverence.

Sure, there's reason for awe, and Buddy should be cherished for who he is, where he's been, what he's seen and what he did long ago.

But the lightning and thunder are still very much alive, and damn thrilling.

My mom, who I've never known to be a blues aficionado, was abundantly and demonstrably dazzled, as Guy knocked off blazing guitar leads, locked in with keyboardist Marty Sammon, deferred to Ric Hall--a brilliant guitarist in his own right--played classics like "Hoochie Coochie Man," honored requests for "Mary Ann" and "Feels Like Rain" and made spoken and/or musical reference to Clapton, Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Lee Hooker, Lil' Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson and seminal harmonica player Junior Wells, with whom Buddy famously collaborated in the 1960s.

Though I can't cite song titles, Buddy noted and played tunes from his Grammy-winning 2015 album, Born to Play Guitar, and also delighted with runs through "Fever" (as made famous by Peggy Lee), "Knock on Wood" (which I came to know through Anita Ward) and various snippets, including "Strange Brew," "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and Hendrix' "Voodoo Chile," which, as always, brought goosebumps.

He even played the guitar with his teeth, and behind his back; old tricks that brought new wonder.

With Tim Austin on drums and Orlando Wright on bass, Buddy Guy seemed comfortable in the spotlight at the mic, but also away from it while letting his top-notch band shine.

Memory doesn't serve enough to say if he's slowed down any, but terrific songs and blistering solos were more than sufficient for my money...and effort.

As I tried to intimate above, seeing Buddy Guy at venues other than Legends may be easier, but I doubt any would feel as special and--including by frequently flashing one of the greatest smiles you'll ever see--he's always made me happy to witness him in his hometown lair, which houses enough memorabilia to make for a blues museum.

Noting that 2017 marks 60 years since he came to Chicago--on September 25, 1957, as he specified--after being born and raised in Louisiana, Buddy graciously thanked the audience for supporting the blues while stating:

"I know I can't please all of you, but I damn sure try."

Indeed you do, Mr. Guy--try and please, both--and while praising the show I just saw, recommending others get down to Legends if at all possible and looking forward to my next opportunity, I'll end this simply by saying:

Thanks, Buddy.

Buddy Guy, faster than the live video feed behind him.

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