Oct 17, 2023 3:36 PM
Carla Bley, Provocative Composer-Pianist, Dies at Age 87
With her iconic bangs, sharp features and free-flowing sense of the absurd, Carla Bley, who died Oct. 17 of brain…
In the aftermath of his hero B.B. King’s death, Buddy Guy certainly is the most revered blues musician on the planet, a standard-bearer for the genre who continues to expand his fan base. Among his honors are induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and receiving the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and a National Medal of Arts. But he’s not merely resting on his laurels. For decades, he has been a premier attraction on the festival circuit.
Guy’s new album, The Blues Is Alive And Well (Silvertone/RCA), is a blistering set of 15 songs strategically designed to reaffirm what its title claims. His guitar work and his frequently underappreciated vocals remain in mint condition.
“I think I need a little more help with it to make sure it stays alive and well,” the Chicago-based icon said in a June phone interview. “Now [fans’ exposure to the] blues is limited unless you’ve got satellite radio. The big stations don’t play it no more. The next superstar might be some young woman who will maybe hear these songs on the radio and say, ‘I want to learn how to play like that.’”
With Guy’s 82nd birthday on July 30, the new disc makes several references to mortality, particularly on “A Few Good Years,” “When My Day Comes” and “Blue No More.” Guy is grateful that his accolades—which include a Louisiana highway that will be renamed for him later this year—have come while he’s alive to enjoy them.
“My mother said, ‘You got flowers for me, give ’em to me now, because I’m not going to smell them when you put ’em on the casket.’ That’s what I told the state of Louisiana when they talked about naming the highway for me,” he said.
The native of Lettsworth, Louisiana, has never forgotten his roots, as evidenced by the cover photo on the new album. Wearing denim overalls, he poses in front of a dilapidated shack in the town where he was born into a sharecropping family in 1936. There was no Photoshop trickery involved, he asserted. “I was right there. That building was a grocery store when I lived there.”
Today, while hobnobbing with Jimmy Kimmel on late-night TV, dining on Grecian chicken with David Letterman in a segment for Letterman’s Netflix talk show and lending his celebrity power to the fight against the prostate cancer that killed his younger brother Phil, Guy maintains a relentless touring schedule. It can be grueling, he admitted: “I ain’t gonna tell no lie. I can’t kick my leg as high as when I was 23 years old.” But he can still deliver a high-energy show, he said, “as long as I get a shot of cognac ... .”
Guy’s passion for the high-end brandy is well known, and he extols his passion for the drink on “Cognac,” for which he enlisted the help of pals Keith Richards and Jeff Beck, who each contribute dazzling fretwork. Other guest stars on the new album include Mick Jagger, who plays harmonica on “You Did The Crime,” and young British singer-guitarist James Bay, Guy’s duet partner on “Blue No More.”
Guy said the guest contributions were all delivered remotely. “They sent ’em in separately. If you’re recording with a lot of people, unless you’re doing a live album, I can concentrate on my guitar and singing more if I just record them myself.”
Besides a cover of Sonny Boy Williamson II’s “Nine Below Zero,” the new songs were written primarily by some combination of Tom Hambridge, Gary Nicholson and Guy. Hambridge was singled out for praise by Guy, who said the producer and drummer helps him flesh out his ideas with his lyrics. “You’ve got to give 99 percent of the credit to [Hambridge], who comes up with these songs from some of the conversations we have. We’ll have a conversation and he’ll say, ‘You’re writing songs and you don’t even know it.’”
The new album has a lot of songs about relationships, and it concludes with a 57-second novelty track that features some risqué wordplay: “Milking Muther For Ya.” Although some of Guy’s previous material, such as his 2008 ballad “Skin Deep,” has contained social commentary, he said he did not feel the need to weigh in on the hot-button issues of the day on The Blues Is Alive And Well.
“I don’t get into politics too much, but I do keep my eyes and ears open,” he explained.
Guy will promote the new album throughout the year. His tour itinerary includes a string of dates in California Aug. 9–15, followed by shows in the South in September, including Richmond, Virginia (Sept. 6), Louisville, Kentucky (Sept. 13), Knoxville, Tennessee (Sept. 27), and Chapel Hill, North Carolina (Sept. 29). DB
Oct 17, 2023 3:36 PM
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