The only break in the guitar squall Buddy Guy created at the onset of a sold out performance last night at the Opera House came when he drew his hands off his instrument, curled them into fists and let out a blues howl harrowing enough to wake the spirits of Muddy Waters, Little Walter or any of the other musical forefathers that figured so intensely in his music.
It was fitting that this introductory firestorm came during the show-opening Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues, a work that has served a dual purpose for Guy over the years. It was the namesake tune to a 1991 album that rescued his recording career from oblivion. But the title has also remained a credo of sorts, a working philosophy that – judging by Guy’s overpoweringly jubilant stage presence last night – is still very much adhered to.
True to ferocious form, the performance took Chicago blues tradition and amped it up to rock ‘n’ roll proportions. Sure, there were plenty of instances where tradition came first, like a playful Hoodoo Man Blues, where Guy mimicked the low blues moan of his late longtime performance partner, Junior Wells, as well as snippets of salutes to the likes of Waters (by way of an exquisite but shamefully abbreviated Long Distance Call) and John Lee Hooker.
But it was when Guy cranked up the ampage that the show turned especially devilish. A mash-up of Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile (limited mostly to its wah-wah saturated preamble) and Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love (reworked as an instrumental jam) revealed greater texture and intensity within Guy’s soloing through long, unrelenting guitar lines that maintained the jam’s gale force potency.
But perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the performance was watching a remarkably fit looking and sounding Guy still in full possession of the creative firepower that has fueled both his musical cunning as well as his tireless profile as a master showman. That level of vigor underscores Guy’s commitment to the blues. But it also continues to make his performances, for all their rockish volume and drive, such a ball of fun for artist and audience alike.
Lexington’s own blues hero, Tee Dee Young, opened the evening fronting a very brief set of guitar/keyboard duets. A keen vocalist with an obvious affection for vintage R&B, Young borrowed a page from the Guy playbook and devoted a good chunk of his limited stage time to a lengthy guitar jam that reflected a broad scope of emotive and stylistic inspirations. It made for an expert appetizer from one of our finest homegrown blues/soul journeymen.