Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Buddy Guy on Led Zeppelin: 'They're great, aren't they?'

These comments originally appeared at the end of an edition of the newsletter "On This Day In Led Zeppelin History" that mentioned Buddy Guy, who was a featured performer alongside Led Zeppelin on a film called "Supershow."

I got to watch Buddy Guy perform earlier this year at his Chicago blues club, Legends. It was the last of his January shows there. Onstage and even venturing forth amid the ravenous fans, his guitar and voice captivated the crowd with every note, despite his own displeasure with the set.

Even though he and his backing band played for hours, they really didn't play very many songs through to the end. After each piece had exceeded 10 minutes, Buddy would make the band stop, even mid-verse at times. He kept wanting to try different songs he thought the audience would enjoy better.

As a tribute to some of the legends represented on the walls, Buddy even attempted some versions of "Voodoo Chile" and some Texas-style blues guitar, referencing Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. To my surprise, he even gave us a rendition of Cream's "Strange Brew."

Throughout the set, Buddy kept complaining that his voice was giving out, but I don't think many people could tell. He sounded great to us! Buddy was playing Carnegie Hall next, so he had to save some for New York.

Inspired by his performance, I decided that I'd sign up to play keyboards two nights later during open mic night. Just about an hour before the evening's jam session began, I spotted Buddy Guy next to a phone booth in the back of the place, where he was discreetly sipping some booze.

Most club patrons were unaware of the man's presence. After one of his performances, you would have had to wait in a 30-minute line just to say hi. But on his off nights, one person can divert Buddy's attention for minutes.

So, I decided to approach him. I figured that since I seemed to be the only 23-year-old white guy in the place aside from a bouncer, I was sort of an anomaly to him, so I introduced myself and explained that I was a huge fan of the blues, having grown up on the Blues Brothers, whose music turned me onto the blues originators.

Then I told Buddy that I run a Led Zeppelin newsletter, and I reminded him that in 2000 he'd shared a stage with Robert Plant at a blues festival in 2000. I asked Buddy what he thought of the guys from Led Zeppelin. I think Buddy was hardly paying any attention to me because his response was, "Yeah, Led Zeppelin, they're great, aren't they?" Perhaps it was too open-ended of a question.

Nevertheless, he was happy to autograph two copies of his latest album, Sweet Tea, which was the recipient of W.C. Handy's Best Album of the Year award in 2002. And he wished me good luck with the jam session that night. Beginning about an hour later, I proceeded to play keyboard for just about every group up there all night long until closing time. (It's nice being a keyboard player; for some reason, there are fewer of us than guitarists, so there's not as much competition.)

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