The first time Buddy Guy visited San Francisco was back in 1967. After hanging out in the Haight-Ashbury for a bit his first thought about the West Coast was, “Why the hell am I not living in California?” Looking back, he told the frenzied yet mature crowd at Davies Symphony Hall on Saturday night that he realized why. “Because I’ve kept my distance from things that kept me from knowing where the f*** I was,” he said jokingly.
That is Buddy Guy. The comedy, the foul mouth, the talent, the 6-time Grammy Award winner, the induction into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame, but mostly the legend whose playing has influenced guitar players from all over the world, from basement and garage weekend warriors to the greats such as Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. At 79 years of age he isn’t showing any signs of slowing down and on his latest LP “Born to Play Guitar,” he reassures us all that “I got a reputation, and everybody knows my name. I was born to play the guitar. I got blues running through my veins.”
This evening the blues were not only running through his veins, but also through the halls of one of the most majestic symphony halls in the country. He hit the stage dressed in a black shirt with giant white polka dots, a white golfer’s cap, and a cream colored Fender Strat from which vicious licks echoed through the perfect acoustics of the famed venue, playing the kind of blues that Guy said, “They don’t play on the radio anymore.” And in the end there was only one way to describe it: simply unforgettable.
The most touching moment of the night came halfway into the set when Guy played BB King’s famed “Lucille.” He introduced the song by saying that King once told him that if either of them were to go first, then the other would need to keep going and keep the blues alive. Keeping true to that promise he began the song tip toeing on his guitar with the gentleness of newborn kitten but then switched on to full distortion, roaring like a lion claiming his territory in the annals of Blues history. He continued the set by running through a medley of songs from his new album, as well as snippets of other tunes from legendary artists like Cream, John Lee Hooker and even Marvin Gaye. In between songs were moments of quietness, where random audience members would blurt out things like “Nobody loves you like San Francisco Buddy!” A most sincere offering from a crowd that was fully aware that they were in the presence of greatness, grateful for every moment they could spent with a light that may not stay lit forever.
The highlight of the show came when buddy exited stage left in the middle of a guitar solo. He kept playing as if nothing happened but the audience was left gasping, wondering when the naughty axeman would come back. The rest of the band at times grew unsettled, which added to the tension of this impromptu moment. A few minutes went by, and as the drama grew, lo and behold, here comes Guy coming from the back of the venue escorted by a couple of security guards. He made his way down the aisle getting close and intimate with the fans that have supported him throughout the years. A truly magical moment serving as a respectful gesture from one of the greats returning his love and gratitude to the people that made him who he is today. Because according to Guy, “The blues is all I can do anymore. What else am I gonna do? Pick cotton in Louisiana. I can’t even do that because they have a machine to do that now!”