|How would you describe the evolution of
your playing from the ’60s to now?
I’ve learned a little more, but it’s still
Buddy Guy. If you put me through a modern
amplifier, somebody is going to say,
“He don’t sound like he used to.” Well,
of course, the guitars and amps aren’t the
same today. But the man is still the same.
I’m using the same fingers I left Louisiana
with. I can’t really say how my style has
changed, though. I used to tell T-Bone
Walker, B.B., Lightnin’ Hopkins, Muddy,
and John Lee Hooker—all those guys I
learned from—that I didn’t have anything
unique. Guess what they said? “Buddy,
we got it from someone else, too.”
What was the biggest lesson you learned
from the blues legends you worked with?
Oh, man, lesson number one is be cool.
They weren’t making any money, but they
were having fun playing. I used to look at
them and say, “Buddy, you ain’t never gonna
be that good, and nobody is ever going to
fill those shoes.” Those guys weren’t superstars
then, but I thought they were living
the high life. It made me think, “This is as
high as you can go.” Then the British groups
got into the blues, and were able to live
decently from it. But I still worked in the
daytime—I drove a tow truck.
How does it feel to know so many blues and
rock players count you as a huge influence?
It makes me feel great, because some
of the things that people like Eric Clapton
and Keith Richards and the late Stevie Ray
Vaughan said about me have helped me
more than any record company. So many
kids come up to me and say, “I didn’t know
anything about you until I read what Eric
Clapton said.” That gives me a big lift.
Do you think the blues needs to be modernized
in order to stay relevant?
I don’t know if I can answer that. You
know, when they put a Robert Johnson
CD out a few years ago, it went gold—and
he had been dead 40 years. B.B. King told
me the record he did with Clapton, Riding
with the King, was the biggest-selling
record he has ever made. But let’s be honest—
when you’re black, it doesn’t matter
how good a blues record you make, you’re
not going to get it played on these big radio
stations unless some super guy like Eric
Clapton or Stevie Ray Vaughan plays the
same thing you played. That’s just the way
it is. Blues has been like that ever since
I’ve been alive—it has been ignored until
some rock group gets it, plays it to big
audiences, and tells them whose music it
is. But, I guess that’s why we still sing the
blues. I just look at it like a prizefighter—
if I don’t get in that ring and risk getting
knocked out, I ain’t got a chance to win.
—Excerpted from Shawn Hammond’s piece in
the August 2001 Guitar Player