Buddy Guy shares evolution of blues with crowd at Wilkes-Barre’s F.M. Kirby Center
WILKES-BARRE — One of the oldest living blues men brought his pioneering guitar style and youthful energy to the Wyoming Valley Friday night, giving his audience a blues history lesson and a performance that made it clear he is the link between Muddy Waters and Jimi Hendrix in the blues’ evolutionary chain.
As cool, spry and relevant as ever at age 79, Buddy Guy enthralled the crowd at the F.M. Kirby Center, playing hits from his celebrated catalogue as well as the catalogues of his fellow blues players, taking time to imitate some of their styles in short bursts of tribute.
Opening act Tom Hambridge, Guy’s Grammy-winning producer and a Grammy-nominated songwriter, was wildly entertaining, taking the stage with just snare drum and cymbal accompanied by keyboard player Marty Sammon.
The duo engaged the Kirby audience with the progressive blues rock of “Shot Glass,” the rootsy blues of “The Fixer,” made popular by George Thorogood & The Destroyers, and the thoughtful balladry of “Nineteen,” which received a unanimous ovation with its lyrics about young men in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Guy, who was instrumental in the formation of Chicago’s West Side sound, is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member who has won seven Grammy Awards, including one for his 2015 release “Born To Play Guitar.” Upon moving to Chicago from Louisiana, Guy was influenced by predecessor Waters and went on to influence artists like Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page.
Guy took the spotlight donning a white shirt with black polka dots and a white baseball cap. He started off wailing on his Fender Stratocaster with incendiary fret work full of deep bends. Opening with “Damn Right I Got The Blues,” his vocal work was a mixture of playful and intense soul.
“I want to play something so funky you can smell it,” Guy said before his next tune.
He followed with Eddie Boyd’s “Five Long Years,” which featured him and fellow guitarist Ric Jaz trading sublime leads. The song would be the first of many nods to a lineage of blues players.
Johnnie Taylor’s “Who’s Making Love To Your Old Lady?” and Willie Dixon’s “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man,” displayed Guy’s appreciation for his art form and ability to play like any of his predecessors and peers.
Guy’s solo work blended soulful blues and distorted psychedelia. He screamed, cried and shouted for joy through his fingers.
After a story about Waters, his greatest influence, Guy began playing “She’s 19 Years Old,” doing his mentor’s tune justice with pure blues work. There was no pedal board or exaggerated effect, just a bit of gain and a ton of feeling.
Performing his original “Born to Play Guitar,” Guy started with bayou-based picking and ended catering to the rhythm and thrash of the West Side sound. Taking a walk around the theater, he sang and doled out electric riffs from in the aisle and a seat in the rear of the house.
After returning to the stage, the blues historian treated fans to brief references to Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” and “Strange Brew,” a song from Clapton’s Cream years, and ended with his own tune and a tribute to his blues base, “Meet Me In Chicago,” from 2013’s “Rhythm & Blues.”
Nancy Donrovich, of Jessup, saw Guy for the first time.
“I thought it was great,” she said. “I love the blues and jazz, and I love to dance, so I really enjoyed it.”
Colin Miller, of Southampton, said Guy’s performance was “historic.”
“It’s difficult to describe, because he’s such a phenomenal legend,” Miller said. “His musicians are all at the top of their game because he can have anybody he wants. He’s such an incredible performer.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or Twitter @TLArts