Guy brings blues history to Robins

WARREN — When Rolling Stone made a list of the 100 greatest guitar players of all time, Buddy Guy was ranked 30th.

To the best of my knowledge, Rolling Stone never made a list of the 100 greatest showmen (showpeople) of all time. If it did, Guy should be ranked at least that high.

Guy took the audience at the Robins Theatre to school on Friday, giving them a tutorial in the blues.

Do his 85-year-old fingers move up and down the frets of his Statocasters as quickly as they once did? Maybe not, but Guy still can coax some mighty pleasing sounds from his instrument, whether he’s bending notes or simply letting a towel slide down the guitar’s neck.

Guy is a blues chameleon who can mimic his predecessors (John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters) and his contemporaries (Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton) and then play a lick that’s uniquely his own.

He also is an anomaly. In many ways — with his shelf full of Grammys, a Kennedy Center honor and other accolades — he’s inherited B.B. King’s mantle as the one living blues musician that people who don’t listen to the blues can name.

That said, he doesn’t have a signature song in the way King had “The Thrill Is Gone,” Hooker had “Boom Boom” or Waters had “Mannish Boy.”

Maybe his signature song is “Damn Right I Got the Blues,” which opened his 80-minute set. “Skin Deep,” the title track from his 2008 Grammy-winning album, is worthy of that notoriety, too.

“Skin Deep” was co-written with Tom Hambridge, who played drums for Guy and opened the night with a set that showcased his gifts as a songwriter, from the sentimental “Shoebox” to the hilarious, happy blues of “Upside of Lonely.”

Guy filled his set with blues standards like Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man” and “I Just Want to Make Love to You” and Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee.” A bit of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River” also was a highlight.

In between songs, Guy doled out a little profane comedy and some history, talking about how black blues musicians didn’t start getting the attention they deserved until white, British, blues-influenced rock bands started spotlighting them. Guy said The Rolling Stones refused to appear on the TV show “Shindig” in 1965 unless it also booked Muddy Waters (actually, it was Howlin’ Wolf who appeared that night).

The ratio of talking to music might have been a bit more skewed compared to Guy’s fiery past performances, but the man still knows how to entertain. I’ve seen a few legends at the end of their careers, the kind of shows where it felt as if they were being treated to one last curtain call when they should have retired.

This wasn’t one of those. A couple of months from his 86th birthday, Guy still is a commanding performer.


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