Friday, March 16, 2007

I've Got the Blues

I have been truly lucky over the last few months to bare witness to two of the finest guitar playing bluesmen of all time. In mid January I was able to attend a concert by my all-time favorite guitarist, Eric Clapton, here in Singapore. Getting interested in Clapton's music when I was in high school opened up the wonderful world of Blues music to me. Clapton certainly didn't invent this distinct style of music, yet he has turned countless people like myself onto not only his own style and brand of blues, but has also religiously given credit and pointed back to the founders of this "Mother Music". Now they call Blues the Mother Music because it gave birth to two other original forms of classic American music: Jazz and Rock & Roll. If we never had the Blues, could you imagine a world without Rock & Roll or Jazz?

One of the people that Clapton always gives credit to for inspiring his own love of the Blues has been Buddy Guy. Clapton once said,
"He was for me what Elvis was probabaly for other people... My course was set and he was my pilot."
Well last night here in Singapore, I was able to place my evening's course into the very capable hands of Mr. Buddy Guy (photo above). He is a 5-time Grammy Award winner and a true legend that has inspired countless modern day guitar heroes such as Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, and John Mayer.

Buddy is a consummate showman and entertainer, and last night was no exception. You can't just play the Blues, you have to feel them, and Buddy plays with all the emotion and energy that defies the fact that he is in his 70s. He was able to bring the crowd to a frothy frenzy with laser sharp guitar licks, then moments later sooth everyone's soul with soft and flowing arrangements backed by his amazing band.

You could sense that Buddy feels a responsibility to pass what he knows and loves onto others. He sees himself, and rightfully so, as a messenger of Blues music. He would have the band stop at several points in the show last night so he could talk and engage the crowd. He told the crowd that radio stations don't play much blues music, but that tonight he was going to take us on a musical journey that would reflect both his own influences as well as sample those individuals that he himself had touched over the years.

He played his classics like Mustang Sally and Damn Right I Got the Blues, but then he seamlessly transitioned into a funky and slowed down version of Cream's Strange Brew. He prefaced the Cream song by saying,
"Those British guys liked my music back then and they went back home and did their own versions of these great songs and later helped people eventually know who I was... And for that, I truly love them."
One of the best things about Buddy Guy is his connection with the audience. People naturally want to get close to Buddy and he in turn wants to get close to them. During the show, he took his guitar and walked off stage and directly into the crowd. While his band played on and while Buddy himself continued to sing and play, he walked through the rows and aisles of the auditorium in order to get closer to his fans. People were taking photos and reaching out to him and Buddy reached right back, even allowing some lucky fans to strum his guitar right during the song. He would then disappear out an exit and moments later emerge upstairs on the second level of the auditorium smiling, singing, playing, and connecting with the people who had come to hear him play.

Eventually the musical Blues journey began to come to a close and Buddy stood at the edge of the stage for over 10 minutes and signed autographs and shook hands with people. As the house lights of the auditorium came back up to indicate the end of the show, Buddy could be seen blowing kisses goodbye to the people who he genuinely enjoyed entertaining.

Most people around the world don't know Buddy Guy or the Blues, a music that he feels such an obligation to preserve and pass onto others. He has a great and noble challenge to spread the Blues to everyone, and I can't imagine a better messenger. Isn't it about time you got the Blues?