I don’t think Buddy Guy knows who Sonny Sharrock was. I mean this with all due respect. Buddy Guy and Bill Frisell are the biggest influences on my guitar playing. When I was 12 years old it was Buddy’s live version of “First Time I Met The Blues” that blew my mind and made me want to give up saxophone, get a guitar and devote my life to music. I think Buddy is an intelligent and musically well-educated (although not traditionally educated) artist. I just don’t think he knows who the avant-garde jazz guitarist Sonny Sharrock was or that his newest music is very closely related to Sonny’s.
Buddy Guy has always been an inventive and dynamic soloist. If you need any proof of this check out Stone Crazy, Buddy’s 1981 Alligator Records masterpiece, or Sweat Tea, Buddy’s 2001 tribute to the Northern Mississippi hill country tradition. On both of these albums, as well as many other fine recordings both in-studio and live, Buddy has thrown around inventive, soulful and moving guitar pyrotechnics steeped in the Chicago tradition. But none of these albums have made good on the almost avant-garde free jazz promise his live performances have hinted at. That’s right, I have always thought Buddy Guy had the promise of the best of free jazz, that is pure emotionally soulful melodic release! Buddy Guy’s 2 most recent albums, Living Proof and Live At Legends, have made good on this wild recklessly raw free guitar technique that has been simmering and in my opinion made him a free jazz musician.
Living Proof is the first time Buddy has allowed the rapid-fire high wire assault of wild notes to be unleashed, in a very focused way, in the studio. The music on this record is truly staggering in its sheer emotional release. The wall of pure emotional sound that comes spraying out of Buddy’s fingers is overwhelming. As I wrote above, this is not news to anyone who has seen Buddy perform live. This kind of manic emotional release has long been a part of Buddy’s live performance and is well documented on Live At Legends. Although not Buddy’s best live record, the high points are thrilling. Check out the manic “Damn Right I Got The Blues” or his version of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return.” A tear came to my eye when I heard Buddy covering this Jimi Hendrix classic, fully realizing his influence on the past 40 years of popular music but in such a modern and present way.
On both of these albums, Buddy is soloing on such a melodically sophisticated level that comparisons to Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler and John Coltrane are not only appropriate they are required. It is in this vain that the pure ecstatic tidal wave of emotion from Buddy reminds me of Sonny Sharrock. Sharrock was an uncompromising and emphatically individual improviser. With sheets of metallic sound coursing through his amp, Sharrock elicited some very pure and powerful music from his six strings. The connection between Buddy and Sonny can be very plainly seen through Sonny’s “Elmo’s Blues” from the 1988 Live In New York. Doing his version of Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom,” Sonny mutates this straight up blues in a way that would fit perfectly on Buddy’s Live At Legends. Also much of the work that Sonny did with Herbie Mann, although restricting for Sonny, highlights Sonny’s blues side and shows the connection. With Mann, Sharrock had to make his unique warped vision of melody known within the confines of very standard Latin, R&B and jazz spaces.
I think a big part of Buddy’s creative leap on Living Proof is the support of his new producer Tom Hambridge. Hambridge has produced the studio albums Living Proof and 2008’s Skin Deep as well as the live album. I’ll be honest when I got Skin Deep I was a little underwhelmed. After 2 fantastic albums, 2001’s Sweat Tea and 2003’s Blues Singer as well as the solid 2005 Bring ‘Em In, I was a little disappointed by what I, on first listen, deemed an inferior album. Another “star studded” album? Buddy doesn’t need that, he is the shit and all he needs is an empathetic backing band and his own bad ass-ed-ness! I had resigned myself to continue listening to my favorite Buddy Guy albums on my normal 2-week cycles (including Sweat Tea, Stone Crazy, A Man and the Blues, DJ Play My Blues, Live At the Checkerboard Lounge and The Real Deal Live) and to continue to see Buddy live. Then about a month ago I found Living Proof and I realized that Skin Deep was just the prelude for a major late career renaissance for Buddy in which he was not only going to get an empathetic backing band but also blow my mind yet again. Thank you Buddy Guy for continuing to amaze me and sing to my soul.
I’m a bluesman, guitarist and general smart-ass. I love playing music live in front of people more than almost anything else in the world (just short of my wife and family). Listening to, thinking about, talking and writing about music helps my live performance and that is why I write this blog. Check out my music at http://www.reverbnation.com/buckyohare. I have the music mentioned above in a Spotify playlist entitled “Bucky’s Blog” if you want to check it out.