Legendary blues guitarist Buddy Guy turns 77 today with the release of Rhythm & Blues, his latest album that music critics and fans alike are calling his greatest yet. The two-disc album, produced with longtime collaborator Tom Hambridge, is a celebration of Guy’s guitar mastery, along with a musical mash up of guest appearances by the likes of Kid Rock, Keith Urban and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry.
Collaborations with music world A-listers is no surprise. When you think about it, the music world owes a lot to this humble bluesman who helped define Chicago blues and influenced the careers of so many musicians including Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, among so many others.
BIO.com talked with the guitar legend while he was on break from a performance in New York and asked him about his blues-infused life and influential music career that spans over five decades.
Born to play music
When Buddy Guy was born in 1936 in Lettsworth, Louisiana, he says the only music he heard were the sounds of nature on his family’s farm and the gospel music sung in the local churches. It wasn’t until his family got electricity and his father saved enough money to buy a phonograph that young Guy started to listen to musicians like Arthur Crudup, John Lee Hooker and Lightning Hopkins. “I thought, ‘Man what is this,” Guy remembers. “Whatever this is, I want to learn it.”
Unable to afford an instrument, Guy made his first guitar using a stick, a can and wire from window screens his mother bought to keep out mosquitoes. And then with sheer talent and a lot of practice that he says drove his sisters crazy, he eventually taught himself to play the music he loved.
Moving to Chicago
By 1957, the guitar man moved to Chicago to make a name for himself in the city’s legendary blues scenes. Although he struggled without work to the point of going hungry, Guy got his first big break when he was asked to play with Otis Rush at the famed 708 Club. Word spread about his talent, and he soon met and performed with legends like Muddy Waters and B.B. King.
At the time, these legendary American bluesmen performed in relative obscurity compared to British musicians like the Beatles, Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones who were exploding on the pop music scene. Guy remembers how the British invasion helped bring American blues into the spotlight.
“They told America who we were,” says Guy. ”Without those guys, we would be less known than what we are today. We owe them a lot. They didn’t say this [music] is new. They said we had it all the time and woke up America to who we were.”
A Living Legacy
Over 50 years later, Buddy Guy is still singing the blues and finding a new generation to appreciate the music he dedicated his life to. This includes mentoring and touring with a 14-year-old guitar phenom Quinn Sullivan, who Guy believes could be the future of this most beloved genre.
When asked about his own legacy, Guy say he’s living it right now, doing what he does best—playing the blues.
“All the greats who are no longer with us – we used to sit down when they were in good health,” says Guy. “And they would say, ’If I leave here before you, just make sure you don’t let those blues die. And I’m fighting for it right now.”