BADASS. That might as well be enshrined in quotes between “Buddy” and “Guy,” a la Bobby “Blue” Bland’s defining nickname. The Chicago legend’s revered by guitarists as much for his enduring tenacity as for his virile, searing tone. He never projected the earthy majesty of Muddy Waters or the hypnotic mojo of John Lee Hooker, and his onstage flash contrasted sharply with the tasteful restraint of B.B. King (an early influence). But rock icons Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Stevie Ray Vaughan all bowed at the altar of Guy’s swagger and fearless style.
No doubt flattered but also business-savvy, Guy encouraged those connections with the rock world — and its larger audiences.
In his early years, after migrating from his native Louisiana to Chicago in 1957, Guy ran with the supportive likes of Willie Dixon, Freddie King, Otis Rush and Magic Sam. Despite recording for the venerable Chess Records, solo success proved elusive, so he played sessions for Koko Taylor and Howlin’ Wolf, and provided the fierce guitar spark to Junior Wells’ charismatic vocal and harmonica presence on 1965’s landmark “Hoodoo Man Blues.” Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page publicly sang the praises of Guy’s albums for Chess and Vanguard — Clapton even co-produced 1972’s “Buddy Guy & Junior Wells Play the Blues,” and guested, along with Beck and Mark Knopfler, on 1991’s statement-making “Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues” (a title Guy repurposed for his 1999 autobiography). Not until then did Guy finally experience the career breakthrough that had long been predicted for him.
His studio recordings have received more mainstream attention since then, while a steady stream of compilations (especially the 2006 box set “Can’t Quit the Blues”) have introduced newcomers to his back catalogue. Most importantly, Guy, who marked his 82nd birthday on July 30, has retained his musical potency. His recently released “The Blues is Alive and Well” is a 15-track celebration with a starry guest list: Beck, Richards, James Bay, and a harmonica-blowing Mick Jagger all show up to pay their respects. In those collective hands, the album’s title speaks truth.
“The last man standing on a empty stage/ If life was the book I’d be the last page,” Guy moans over defiant guitar lines during “End of the Line.” “Even though I got one foot in the grave/ I won’t be quiet and I won’t behave, no.” Swampy stomper “Whiskey for Sale” and “Cognac,” a greasy exchange of solos with Beck and Richards, both demonstrate that age has not extinguished Guy’s taste for mischief — nor his ability to outshine his acolytes with still muscular fretwork and vocals. Unlike many such releases by elder musical statesmen, Guy doesn’t need celebrity supporters to prop him up. He’s still showing them how it’s done.
Buddy Guy headlines at the Rose in Paseo Colorado, 245 E. Green St., Pasadena, at 9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11; $88-$108. Doors open 6 p.m. Box office: (888) 645-5006. Buddyguy.com, wheremusicmeetsthesoul.com