Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Aging Blues Men Are National Treasures

Every time I see a Blues great like BB King or Buddy Guy, I worry that it might be the last time I ever see them. After all, they aren’t getting any younger. King is 85; Guy 74. Both are national treasures, able to sell out concert venues, despite their advancing age and the fact that their music, the Blues, isn’t really played on the radio anymore, outside of satellite.

A live show from either is a treat. Imagine what you’d pay to see Elvis Presley today. King and Guy are kings of the blues, just like Presley was king of rock’n’roll.

Affected by age and a variety of ailments, King now plays while sitting in a chair on stage. Nevertheless, he tours relentlessly all over the world. His voice remains strong, even if he’s lost a stroke or two on his legendary guitar, Lucille. He is a master storyteller. You never get tired of hearing his stories, even if you’ve heard them before.

Like King, Guy tours like his livelihood depended on it. Me and my wife caught him recently at Horseshoe in southern Indiana. I believe it was Guy's third show in three days in three different cities, but it didn’t show. Guy complained about his voice, but it didn’t seem to be lacking. Physically, he was as spry as performers half his age.

Guy channeled everybody from Jimmy Hendricks to Eric Clapton. He used his entire body as an instrument, playing his guitar against his chest, over his head, behind his back and between his legs. He then moved into the audience … the equivalent of a 74-year-old stage diving.

Along the way, he held the audience in the palm of his hand, separately praising and chastising them, all while keeping a wide smile on his face. He talked about the way the Blues is more suggestive than explicit, unlike today’s hip hop. He even sang a bluesy "Happy Birthday" to a fan.

Guy also played a little from another Blues great, the late John Lee Hooker. One of Kim’s greatest regrets is having never seen Hooker in concert. Muddy Waters also is gone. But you can see Guy and King … at least for now. Better appreciate it.

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