Blues star Buddy Guy came home to Louisiana for a blazing, soulful, humor-laced Saturday night show at the Manship Theatre.
The 76-year-old native of Pointe Coupee Parish lived in Baton Rouge for a few years before his 1957 move to Chicago. That city was a natural destination for a young man who wanted to play the blues. It was home to Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter and more big blues names, many of them transplants, like Guy himself, from Louisiana and Mississippi.
Guy published his engaging autobiography, “When I Left Home: My Story,” last year. On page 55, he recalls catching the train for Chicago in Hammond.
“All I had was a suitcase with a few clothes, my reel-to-reel tape with the song I cut at WXOK and my Les Paul Gibson guitar.” He didn’t have a heavy coat but he soon found out he needed one.
Nearly 56 years later, on stage in Baton Rouge, Guy could honestly tell his enthusiastic audience that he has been all around the world and he’s drunk wine with kings and the Rolling Stones.
Guy didn’t mention his trips to the White House, but his Manship Theatre performance is his first local show since he became a 2012 Kennedy Center Honors recipient.
When Guy previously played a Baton Rouge engagement, at the Texas Club in 2008, he’d already been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and won four Grammy Awards.
Unfortunately for his Texas Club audience, the singer-guitarist had lost his voice that night and could barely speak above a whisper.
Five years later, Guy was in full voice at the Manship Theatre. He even spoke and sang off the mic.
“I want to play something so funky you can smell it,” he told the crowd.
Shortly after 8 p.m., following a few introductory bars of funky music played by his four-piece band, Guy strode on stage in wide, confident steps. He opened his 90-minute show with the title song from his Grammy-winning 1991 album, “Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues.” Based on primal blues-riff architecture, “Damn Right” is an intense, slow-burning, emotional piece in the Baton Rouge blues tradition.
But Chicago being so important to Guy’s career, several of the night’s songs were Chicago classics. The playful Guy customized the lyrics of his mentor Muddy Waters’ “(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man,” singing, “I got a black cat bone. I got a mojo, too. I got the John the Conqueror root. I came to Baton Rouge to mess with you.”
Guy favors dramatic contrast. Throughout the concert he’d sing quietly in a near falsetto and play his Fender Stratrocaster with the volume turned to a whisper. And then he’d break out, raising his voice, for instance, in righteous expression during the Denise LaSalle-penned payback song, “Someone Else Is Steppin’ in (Slippin’ Out, Slippin’ In).”
So, too, Guy’s guitar. If guitar solos were flammable, his six-string eruptions would have scorched the stage.
Guy also paid homage to some of his influences, including John Lee Hooker and Albert King, by imitating their guitar styles. Elsewhere, hearing Guy in full flight, it was obvious that he’s the Guy who lit fires in Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Steve Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix and the many more stars of rock and blues who studied and imitated him through the decades.