Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
with Larry McCray
January 23, 2011
By Geoff Trubow
As the New Year is ushered in, Buddy Guy returned to his club Legends for his annual month-long residency, now winding down. Legends has a new home, just one block north on Wabash Avenue from its previous location, but this Legends is much larger, including a massive upstairs bar area with pool tables and big screen TVs. However, Buddy’s signature touch remains in keeping the new Legends as a top-notch blues music club and, with no disrespect intended, not trying to turn it into another Kingston Mines. He is obviously very comfortable here and was feeling right at home, as his sold out, two-hour show proved on Sunday night; it also helped ease some of the sting from the Bears' devastating Championship loss to the Packers earlier that day.
Frequent Legends guest, guitarist/singer, Larry McCray opened the show. McCray’s electrifying performance drew heavily from his 2006 self-titled release. He and his four- piece band launched off strongly with “Run” as the guitarist expertly interplayed with the heavy keyboards before getting into the R&B tinged, “Broken Promises”. From 1998’s Born to Play the Blues, McCray led his band through the very bluesy “Smooth Sailing” where he supplied one of his well-known elongated guitar solos. He returned to his latest release for “Get My Blues On” while jamming on the wah-wah and engaging the audience in a sing-along.
Later in the show, he was joined onstage by fellow Michigander, singer Thornetta Davis. The pair traded verses on a version of “I Just Want to Make Love to You” that remained fairly faithful to Muddy Waters. They then got into the funk of Bill Withers’ “Use Me” which took on a very soulful tone. McCray closed with the Allman Brothers’ “Soulshine”. The Warren Haynes- penned tune has long been a signature for McCray during many of his shows. He actually released it the year before the Allman Brothers did on his 1993 record, Delta Hurricane. On this evening his muscular voice and stinging guitar provided gospel overtones to the song and a fitting end to a powerful show from one of today’s best blues performers, proven by the lively reaction of the audience and the fact that opening for Buddy Guy is not the easiest thing to do.
Buddy did not make it easy, arriving in full force, with a strong four-piece band that generated a loose, but galvanized atmosphere. Dressed in a red suit and black hat, he opened with “Nobody Understands Me But My Guitar,” guiding his band through several changes in tempo with rollicking musical compliments from keyboardist, Marty Sammon. Early on in the show, Guy mentioned that he wasn’t using much of a set list and that was evident as the majority of the gig did seem improvised. By the time he played “Damn Right I’ve the Blues” from the album of the same name, he had been working his guitar up to several extremes and, just as effortlessly, slowing things down almost to a crawl. On this song it was no different as he projected the calm before the storm which also carried into “74 Years Young” from last year’s Living Proof. He performed a blistering guitar solo before breaking things down with John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom”.
That became the general feel of the show, with Guy and his special brand of showmanship, revolving in all imaginable directions, but never letting the music get away from him; even at one point he played guitar with a drumstick as he shifted gears for a slow version of “Rock Me, Baby”. Here again, he was working well with Sammon as well as guitarist, Ric Hall. The looseness of the show shone through as he covered “Use Me” just as Larry McCray and Thornetta Davis did earlier and “Fever,” a song that does not appear in his repertoire all that often. He carried on with a tease of the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You” before he returned to his own songbook with “Skin Deep,” on which he has always provided some of his most emotional vocals.
Again, Guy raised the tone of the show with “On the Road”, another track from his latest album, and he never slowed down from there. He went into a cover of “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” with a deep understanding of Jimi Hendrix, who was drastically influenced by Guy. He not only played with his teeth, he incorporated Hendrix's famous use of sustain; at one point he held onto a single note, for what seemed like at least ten minutes, while casually taking a drink in the process. He then paid homage to some of his other admirers by closing the show with Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” as his band, which also included bassist Orlando Wright and drummer Tim Austin, rumbled heavily beneath him. Guy was obviously enjoying himself as he pranced all about the stage playing “Sunshine” with his guitar behind his back; he also used everything from his handkerchief to his “backside” to rub the strings.
Seeing Buddy Guy live is to experience Buddy Guy coming alive. On this particular evening he was raucous, mellow, sentimental and, of course, brilliant. It is always nice to see Guy at home where the intimacy can cause the audience member to feel like a guest in his living room as he plays just for them.