“The late Muddy Waters, Little Walter, the late Junior Wells, I could go on and on, and we used to sit down and talk and be having a shot of wine or a shot of whiskey, and we would be joking and laughing about it. ‘If I leave here before you do, you had better not let that goddamn blues die.’
“Muddy Waters, he didn’t let me or a lot of us know that he had cancer,” Guy says. “I kind of got it from the grapevine. And Junior Wells and I were in a little club, the Checkerboard Lounge (in Chicago), and I said ‘Man, we’ve got to go out there and see him. Let’s call him and see.’ We rang him up and he cursed us out and said ‘I ain’t sick, just don’t let the blues die.’ I remember that precisely.”
A week later, Waters had died, and Guy continues to do his part to keep the blues alive. “I’ve dedicated my life to the music,” he says.
His recent “Rhythm & Blues” — a double album with 22 all-new tracks — is a rarity in an era when extended play albums and singles are becoming more common than full studio albums.
Guy and his producer, Tom Hambridge, didn’t go into the project expecting to make any more than a single album.
“I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen,” he says. “If we can get a little airplay, hopefully I can sell … more CDs and keep the blues alive a little longer.”
- Buddy Guy
- 8 p.m. Friday (9/13/13)
- Downtown Iowa City
- Cost: Free
- The Iowa Soul Festival (5 to 10 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday)
- More info: Summerofthearts.org
Guy has been bent on introducing blues to more fans and breathing life into the genre for more than two decades now.
At 77 now, he doesn’t act anywhere near his age. He’s energetic and passionate about blues and is doing more shows this year than many musicians half his age. Guy and longtime friend, B.B. King, though, are the last of their generation of blues musicians still living from the post-World War II wave of blues artists still recording and touring regularly.
A native of Louisiana, Guy began his career in earnest when he moved to Chicago in September 1957, where he was signed by that city’s legendary blues label, Chess Records in 1960, home to the likes of Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Little Walter.
Already an accomplished guitarist, Guy was recruited to play on numerous albums by the label’s leading artists, but struggled to get label co-owner Leonard Chess to embrace the high-charged, hard-edge type of blues he wanted to record.
Guy’s tenure with Chess ended in 1967, when he moved to Vanguard Records. But he went through the 1980s without a record deal, before he was signed by Silvertone Records and released the 1991 Grammy-winning comeback CD, “Damn Right, I’ve Got The Blues.”
He has recorded regularly ever since. And Guy has delivered one of his better albums with “Rhythm & Blues.” Guy may be enjoying some of his greatest popularity now, but he sees the future of blues as less certain than it perhaps has ever been.
Guy is doing his part to keep the blues going by touring extensively and bringing his music directly to the people. He tries to cater to his audiences from night to night by not working from a set list.
“I go to the stage, and you can hear people,” Guy says. “They’ll call out a song. I’ll look at my band and say ‘Let’s do it.’ That’s why I’m here. That’s why this particular fan came to hear me.”
“I listen to the audience. I’m going to give you the best that I got, whatever I do.”
Iowa Soul Festival
Iowa City’s Summer of the Arts newest festival is designed to build bridges through a genre that knows no boundaries.
“Everyone has soul, and we in Iowa City uniquely have the ability to bring people together to celebrate the greatness that diversity brings to our community, brings to the region and brings to Iowa,” says Chad Simmons, executive director of Diversity Focus, the Cedar Rapids-based organization that serves the Corridor and is presenting the Iowa Soul Festival. Featuring music, soul food, dance and visual arts, the event will be staged from Friday through Sunday in downtown Iowa City.
“We’re really excited,” Simmons said during a Summer of the Arts media day in Iowa City last March. “It started and was inspired by the University of Iowa Black Student Union, who would get together and have a picnic for all the students at the beginning of the year.
“The concept was, what could we do to bring more of the community together to focus on the community within the university — and more importantly, the community outside the university — to bring everyone together to talk about the African-American and African experience. And that was the birth of the Iowa Soul Festival.”
The idea was an easy sell for the Summer of the Arts staff and volunteers.“We were intrigued and it went through our programming committee and our board, and so we formed a committee last fall,” says Lisa Barnes, executive director of the umbrella group that brings everything from free outdoor jazz and visual arts festivals to movies and concerts to the heart of Iowa City each summer.
Local favorite Kevin B.F. Burt and Big Medicine launches the music Friday night with an infusion of soul, blues and rock, followed by Hancher concerts featuring teen guitar protege Quinn Sullivan opening for his mentor, the legendary, six-time Grammy winner Buddy Guy.
Saturday’s musical lineup begins with Tony Brown at 10 a.m., followed by Cedar Rapids horn and rhythm band Funk Stop at noon, Ayodele Drum and Dance from Chicago at 2 p.m., Soul Fusion from Waterloo at 3:15 p.m., Chicago blues guitarist Carlos Johnson at 5:30 p.m., Chicago blues singer Demetria Taylor at 6:30 p.m. and funk-rocking headliner Mint Condition at 8 p.m.
Sunday takes on a gospel feel with local electric blues guitarist Johnny Kilowatt and Mississippi/Chicago native Gloria Hardiman at 10 a.m.; Iowa City’s Groove Theory at 11:30 a.m.; Corridor gospel choirs at 1 p.m.; the 35-member Hargrove Family Choir from Chicago at 2:30 p.m.; Gerry Hargrove at 3:30 p.m.; wrapping up at 4:15 p.m. with the inspirational music and story of gospel rapper Jason Watson, who had a troubled adolescence in St. Louis, but turned his life around and now preaches and works with kids in Iowa City.
Affiliate events include New York hip-hop duo Mobb Deep at 9 p.m. Friday at the Englert Theatre ($22 to $50, Englert.org), and KCCK’s Gospel Brunch, with seatings at 10:30 a.m. and noon Sunday at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Iowa City ($30, Summerofthearts.org or (319) 354-4640).