A Man and The Blues
Buddy Guy. His name pretty much speaks for himself. Which is a good thing – for you are all spared from my waxing eloquent about why Buddy Guy is a God. And I never really use the ‘G’ word, especially not with the capital letter. I think this should suffice for now, but there is perhaps one particular fact that needs to be restated. Fellow Stratocaster playing guitar heroes, Jimmy Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan themselves cite Buddy Guy as an influence. And many, MANY others.
Feb 12, 2012 was indeed a lucky day for all of us who were fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of Buddy Guy play before us. He has been to India 3 times before, and I missed him on all of those. This time, I just HAD to go. Thank goodness for the Mahindra Blues Festival. Now let me tell you why leaving a concert after his performance feels like being born again.
In The Beginning
So, last time, we were waiting quite impatiently for Ana Popovic and company to finish playing, seeing a mile long line forming up even as there were still 10 minutes of stage time left for her. Shifty glances were cast back and forth at the queue and the stage. The instant we heard the audience applauding as Ana finished, we made a beeline for the, well, line. We still had a good 20-ish minutes in which we could have easily gotten a drink and a snack… but one quick glance behind at another mile long queue of impatient patrons made us forget our appetites. “They’re probably out wine anyway, hmph!” Talk about sour grapes.
While waiting thusly, you could see the usual characters doing their usual things, trying to kill their time and quell their impatience:
- The big-shots in their bustling suits were punching numbers on their multiple cell phones and calling their stockbrokers – “Yes, Raju-bhai? Sorry, did I call you at a bad time? No no, I just wanted to tell you, don’t call me. No, I mean, don’t call me for the next… lets see… 2 hours? No, I don’t care even if the ticker dips by a 100 points…”
- The serious music aficionados exchanging facts about the Blues – “Did you know, that song that Warren Mendonsa played at the beginning, that was originally played by Eric Clapton using a Gibson SG?”
- The pretentious guys trying to reveal their sensitive sides to the ladies in the line – “The Blues… there must be some real tragedy in the lives of these artists, you know… takes one to know one…”
- The brats and the gluttons – “… but, but, but that pizza was too tiny! Can’t you just go get me another couple? I’ll buy you a large one when we get home…”
Before we could amuse ourselves some more, the gates opened, and a mass exodus began into the arena. For once, people weren’t frantic like they usually are at a concert, pushing and shoving and fighting for their place; instead, we all got in just fine, and there was plenty of room for everyone. We heaved a sigh of relief and headed up close to the stage… as close as we could get, at least.
The Grand Entry/ Living Proof:
I’ll let the video do the talking here:
And there he was! Buddy Guy, in flesh and blood and monochromatic clothes, strutting around with his signature Strat! You think you might’ve heard all his songs, and then some more, but the man is a walking – talking surprise, improvising the notes here, there and everywhere, extrapolating one’s imagination of just what a simple guitar can do. And then of course, he played the aptly named “Nobody Understands Me But My Guitar.”
There was never a single moment where we weren’t amazed with Buddy Guy. Not just with his one-of-a-kind guitaring, where he effortlessly bends and blends his notes without as much as a blink, but also with his voice, which even at this age, retains the same splendor as before. He knows precisely how to throw his audience off guard, as he suddenly lifts his guitar above his shoulder and plays spiraling notes that go so low, they make the female fans scream with pleasure. If you think I’m exaggerating, view this:
But despite being the center of the attention, Buddy Guy was humble enough to share the limelight with various band-members, including his keyboardist and his rhythm guitarist, who showed off his own skills using a slightly more modern Stratocaster with a different tone:
Just when we were wondering how, after all these years, Buddy is still able to continue doing what he does with such finesse, he left the stage and walked through the crowd, playing his guitar the whole time. In fact, he even mingled with fans, signing stuff, shaking hands, hell, even making some of them strum the strings – and the whole time, he just kept playing an extended guitar solo. Buddy’s secret, which he reveals in a song, is ‘I’m only 75 years young.’
Buddy and The Juniors:
The first of many guests to share the stage with Buddy was Robert Randolph on the pedal steel guitar. And just what is a pedal steel guitar, you might ask? I’d say go look it up on Wikipedia (TL;DR for all you meme lovers out there). But I’ll also say that it is an awesome instrument, which a lot like the Hawaiian guitar, is played in a seated position, with one’s feet on pedals. Duh, right? Well, Robert Randolph kicked some serious ass as he played the pedal steel guitar, and produced sounds and effects that you wouldn’t think were possible. Buddy and Robert engaged themselves in a serious duel, trying to outdo each other’s extremes, much to our delight:
After that, Buddy invited on stage Ana Popovic, Taj Mahal, and John Lee Hooker Jr, all of who appeared one by one, followed by other members of their bands, including Will ‘Roc’ Griffin on keyboards, Frank Tebo Thibeaux on bass, Jeffrey James on guitar. Together, the entire ensemble jammed for a while, playing covers of Cream’s Sunshine Of Your Love, ZZ Top’s La Grange and Jimmy Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile.
This jam session was awesome beyond our imagination. Each guitarist showcased their signature chops and styles without completely overpowering the others. You could really discern the difference between Taj Mahal’s tinny timbre, Ana Popovic’s earthier sound and Buddy Guy’s own rich but clean tone.
As Good As It gets:
It was truly intense; so intense, that for a little while towards the very end, I think I passed out; at the very least, I was so mesmerized, that I was numb – I don’t even remember how it ended. I simply remember myself being dazed, walking out with an equally dazed crowd, on my way back home… but it gets better. The people at Mahindra Blues Festival did in fact record the concerts over the two days, and will be airing it on TV, so we can try to relive those moments again!
Special Thanks: Nidhi Thakur @ Zzebra Communications