The Times of India, December 17, 2005
The Blues Ain’t About A Hound Dog Crying All The Time, Says Buddy Guy
Mumbai: Buddy Guy is in India looking for a cheekbone connection. “There are high cheekbones in my family and my grandma said they must come from somewhere, must be from India. So here I am. I’ve flown all that long way—and I don’t do that no more—for just one night,’’ he says.
If you find that out of the way, get this. “Get gold. You’re going to India. Get gold,’’ he was told in Chicago. “And by someone I don’t even know that well,’’ he laughs.
India as the land of high cheekbones and gold is a refreshing change from India as a land of curry and spiritualism. One doubts whether Buddy will have time to go pottering in Zaveri Bazaar, but he does have an Indian fondness for the yellow metal. One finger is adorned with a glittering oblong, the size of a small TV, with ‘Blues’ written on it (“Just like BB’s but he didn’t have Blues on his’’), the other has a whopper with his initials (“just like BB’s but mine’s BG’’). These are complemented by a jangle of chains and a bracelet that has ‘Nothing But Blues’ scrawled in a million diamonds.
The legendary guitarist is a year shy of 70. After four decades of praise, sales, grandchildren who don’t quite believe their grandpa can play so well, and other buntings—he’s got Grammies, rolled into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, taught Jimi Hendrix a couple of tricks, jammed with Muddy Waters and B B King, and got a special hosanna from a fan called Eric Clapton—he still puts it out like he’s on stage for the first time.
“I hope you’re coming for the show. I’m going to kill ‘em,’’ he says, ever the showman. He’s hoping to “kill ‘em’’ with a sitar adapted to be played standing up (you can hear it in his cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Lay Lady Lay’), but his harried managers have not yet been able to produce one. Even the sitar-guitar is a deviation for a musician who has shunned musical gizmos and relied on the oldest technology available —the wizardry of his two hands.
“I don’t believe in no phoney stuff like lip syncing,’’ he says. “When I go on stage I sing. We grew up in a time when there was no television. We just had to go on stage and play, and that’s what I’m going to do.’’
Buddy is a name conjoined with the blues, but there’s a history here. Chess Records, his first label, fought with him because they didn’t think it was an entertainer’s name “They wanted me to add King to it, but I said no. I didn’t want to ride on B B’s name.’’ So he stuck to Buddy just like Muddy Waters stuck to the name given him by his grandma who had to scrub him clean of Mississippi delta.
Eric Clapton has called Buddy the greatest guitarist alive. But Clapton’s commercial and popular success far outstrips his. Does that give him the blues? “Okay,’’ says Guy, in the manner of one setting the record straight. “On the street, 10,000 people will recognise Eric Clapton, only one will recognise me. That’s okay. I never did let anything like that affect me. When I started out they told me that the blues was too loud and all that crap, but I’m still having fun.’’
Fun is fundamental. The one myth he’s keen to dispel is that the blues is about a hound dog crying all the time. “It’s about being happy, having fun,’’ he says, it’s about forgetting your sorrow in song. Mumbai will find out first hand tonight when he plays his two favourites, Damned Right I’ve Got The Blues and Mustang Sally.
Buddy Guy is widely known as the best exponent of the Chicago Blues. So you ask him if musicians from the Windy City have a special sound. “I never found out what Chicago Blues means,’’ he says. “It came up in the sixties. People were trying to capitalise on music. They came up with Chicago and Memphis and Motown and all that. At that time we were all just playing one thing, M-U-S-I-C. Soul, jazz, the blues—it’s all the same. It’s music.’’
Arundhati Roy, Tyeb Mehta, Michael Jackson, Kipling, Rushdie, Jinnah, Leonard Cohen, Anita Desai, Kiran Desai, East India Company, Namdeo Dhasal, etc