10 Questions for Buddy Guy

4 minute read
Belinda Luscombe

On your new CD, Rhythm and Blues, you sing that with the blues, you “go by feel.” Is that harder now that you’ve won so many awards?
No. You just have to realize what you’ve been through and what other people have been through. I listen to people in bars. I imagine some of those people don’t know nothing about music, but they’re singing to me, because what they said, I’ve been through.

Do you look back on your childhood with fondness?
Yes, because I wasn’t the only one who was sharecropping. My parents didn’t know what a bank was. If they had a dollar and a half, they just put it under the pillow. I didn’t see running water till I was 17. But everybody was living like that.

How does a sharecropper’s kid get a guitar?
It wasn’t a guitar. In Louisiana you’ve got mosquitoes that will lift you out the bed and no glass in the windows. My mother saved 10 cents and bought a piece of screen and tacked it on. I stripped little pieces of wire, stretched it on nails and picked on it.

Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and the Rolling Stones cite you as an influence. Did you ever feel rivalry with those guys?
None at all, because it was 99.9% blacks listening to blues until the British exploded. I haven’t made anything that pleased me the way Stevie [Ray Vaughan] and Eric do. Or B.B. King.

It doesn’t bug you that you haven’t sold the kind of records they have?
Here’s my thing — every night I pick the guitar for the audience, even if the club don’t hold but 10 people who don’t know who I am. They will when they leave.

Why do you think the British public took to the blues first?
In my opinion, America was saying, I already got a hamburger — don’t give me another. They had Muddy playing the great soft blues, but our sound was different. I forgot to turn the guitar off one night when I was tying it up, and this guy spun his girl and her dress tail struck my guitar strings, and it was right in the tune that the jukebox was playing, and they kept humming. And I was like, Oh, my God, I should be able to do that with my hands.

Muddy Waters asked you on his deathbed to keep the blues alive. How’s that going?
I’m still playing it, but it’s scary now to say blues is not heard of much. My children didn’t know who I was until they got to be 21, because you’ve got to be 21 to get in a blues club. They said, “Dad, I didn’t know you could play.”

What’s with the polka-dot shirt and guitar?
My mother had a stroke before I left home. I wanted to come to Chicago, but I didn’t want to leave her unhappy. I said, “I’ll drive back down here in a polka-dot Cadillac.” After she passed away, I wanted something to remember that big lie.

You and B.B. King persuaded President Obama to sing “Sweet Home Chicago” at an event in 2012. Does the President have the blues?
I’d have a double dose of blues if I had to remember all the names [he has to]. Somebody whispered that if you sing “Sweet Home Chicago,” he may come up and sing a verse. I was fit to go on the table if he didn’t do it, ’cause everybody’d be saying, Hey man, you done made some kind of remark at the Commander in Chief.

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