CHICAGO – Ask Chicago guitar legend Buddy Guy about the future of the blues and hell give a depressing – but direct – answer.
Its scary, Guy said during an interview upstairs at his club, Buddy Guys Legends, in Chicagos South Loop. Im still going to play my music because I love what Im doing, but we need all the support we can to keep the blues alive.
After five decades in the business, Guy is doing what he can to make sure the genre – and his late contemporaries like Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf and Junior Wells – lives on. Last year Guy wrote his autobiography, When I Left Home, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member has been mentoring Massachusetts eighth-grader and blues guitarist Quinn Sullivan. He also received a 2012 Kennedy Center Honor.
His new album, Rhythm & Blues, was released July 30.
He has expressed his fear that it may be all lost after hes gone, said Janice Monti, a sociology professor at Dominican University who studies blues music. I think as hes gotten older hes incredibly aware of this mandate he received from Muddy and the Wolf to keep this all going.
Guy says blues music is ignored in an entertainment marketplace obsessed with young artists.
Its a tough time for blues because if it was being played, other than satellite radio, on the peak hours, prime time, then somebody would know about it, Guy said.
Thats one of the reasons the 77-year-old Guy took on mentoring 13-year-old Sullivan, who he said plays as well as Eric Clapton, me and B.B. King. How do you learn that at that age? Thats a natural.
In Chicago, Guy found work driving a tow truck during the day and playing blues clubs at night. Guy eventually earned a spot as a regular session musician at the citys famed Chess Records and found a mentor in blues musician and producer Willie Dixon. Guy formed a band with Junior Wells and played with The Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead.
Guy developed his own recording career later, with music like the 1991 best-selling record, Damn Right, Ive Got the Blues.
Spreading the news of the blues was another reason Guy decided to team with author David Ritz to write his autobiography.
I just want a true story about some of the great people who didnt write a book and left me with this history of information, Guy said.
The book details his childhood in Louisiana, his move to Chicago 55 years ago and his music career. He said he considers his performance for President Barack Obama at the White House last year with Stones singer Mick Jagger to be the professional pinnacle of his career. Guy successfully prodded the president to sing a few lines of Sweet Home Chicago.
To say you played the blues with the president sitting there smiling, thats one you cant forget, Guy said.
Besides the hall of fame, Guy earned many accolades later in his career: a half-dozen Grammy Awards, Billboard magazines Century Award and the Blues Foundations Keeping the Blues Alive Award. When he turned 75 in 2011, the city of Chicago renamed the stretch of Wabash Street in front of his club Buddy Guy Way.
But it still weighs heavy on Guy that his contemporaries arent around to be honored as well.
Every time Im interviewed I give credit to those people but they should have got all the awards that I got and they didnt get them because the blues wasnt exposed and they were some unknowns, Guy said.
It could also explain why Guy still tours, playing internationally and as many as 16 shows a month.
I dont know nothing else to do now, Guy said. Im enjoying it. I get tired, but you get tired if youre working in the steel mills, so whats to complain?