BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Legendary Chicago blues guitarist Buddy Guy, who was raised in the Jim Crow south and rose to influence the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn to name but a few, delivered a transcendent concert performance Saturday night at the Masonic in San Francisco.
The 82 year old Guy, raised on a sharecroppers farm in rural Louisiana, is the last of the great blues men of the 20th Century. At the Masonic, he told the crowd how he grew up not knowing what boiling water was until he turned 17 in a home that had no electricity. In a recent interview he detailed how artists like Muddy Waters and himself used to earn an extra dime for beer sales when they were playing for free on the Windy City club circuit during the 1960’s when he got his start playing with Waters as a house guitarist at Chess Records.
He has evolved into a National Treasure on the way to being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and becoming a Kennedy Center Honors recipient. Along the way he’s been awarded the National Medal of Arts by President George W. Bush in 2003 and induced Barack Obama to sing “Sweet Home Chicago” along with him during a visit to the White House in 2012.
Guy’s past two albums, the Blues is Alive and Well, released last summer, and Born to Play Guitar, released in 2015 have been joyous affairs that included contributions by Jeff Beck, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Billy Gibbons, Joss Stone and Van Morrison among others.
Still a fearsome guitar player with vocals that are as impassioned as ever, the colorful Guy took the stage in a trademark polka dot cherry red shirt along with a white cap which was emblazoned with tan polka dots.
Smiling and telling anecdotes throughout the 90 minute set, he showed no lack of energy as he displayed his prowess playing his instrument in a variety of novel ways and even hopped off the stage at one point to take a lap thru the adoring crowd as he continued to sing without missing a beat.
Opening with “Damn Right I’ve Got the Blues,” the storyteller who wrote the biographical line “I got the blues running through my veins” on the title track of Born to Play Guitar wasted little time making it clear that the audience was in the company of greatness.
In the first half hour of his set Guy performed a pair of Willie Dixon covers, “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” and “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” with Johnnie Taylor’s 1973 tongue in cheek composition “Cheaper to Keep Her” sandwiched in-between before finally taking a brief break after a nearly ten minute version of Bobby Rush’s “Chicken Heads.”
John Hiatt’s “Feel Like Rain” preceded a smooth version of Eddie Cooley’s “Fever” before Guy lit up the room yet again by delivering a smoking take of John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom.” After further demonstrating his prowess by playing strains of “Crossroads” with a drumstick and then on his backside, he brought the audience to it’s feet with a cutting take of Al Green’s “Take me to the River.”
Showing the mobility of a man half his age, Guy suddenly appeared on the floor of the auditorium in the midst of the enthusiastic audience as he sang “Someone Else Is Steppin’ In” from his 2010 album Slippin’ In.
Introducing 2008’s “Skin Deep,” Guy told the crowd how “after looking in a mirror for the first time and telling his mother how good looking he was,” she admonished him to treat everyone the way he wanted them to treat him regardless of how they looked before taking a quick encore break.
Returning to another standing ovation, he brought a festive evening to an end with a flavorful version of Cream’s “Strange Brew” before a brief Santana jam signaled the end of a night to be remembered.
Opening act Christone “Kingfish” Ingram was an absolute revelation who on most nights would’ve been worth the price of admission alone. Kingfish provided an unexpected additional treat for the crowd with a masterful 40 minute set fronting a five man band with their own powerful soulful renditions of the blues. A true 20 year-old blues prodigy out of Clarksdale, Mississippi, his piercing guitar and infectious vocals have already earned him a contract with Alligator Records that will deliver his debut album on May 17th.
Guy’s tour continues with at the Crest Theatre in Sacramento Sunday night before heading to the Northwest for shows in Portland and Seattle.