Buddy Guy says he was “trying to be creative” on his new album, “Skin Deep.”
Of course, the blues legend certainly wasn’t trying to be anything else on what he’s released before, five decades of work dating back to Chess Records, which signed Guy in the late ’50s, after he moved to Chicago from his native Louisiana. But “Skin Deep” marks the first time he’s been able to put out an album of “100 percent just new material,” including six songs he co-wrote and one he penned entirely by himself.
And it seems to have made a difference; “Skin Deep” debuted at No. 68 on the Billboard 200 chart when it was released last month, Guy’s best firstweek showing ever.
“I’ve been fighting for that ever since I came (to Chicago),” says Guy, 72, who’s won five Grammy Awards, has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, holds a Congressional Medal of Arts and a Century Award from Billboard magazine, and also received the first Great Performer of Illinois Award on July 20.
“People always had songs by (other) people they wanted me to record and whatnot. I had to talk my butt off to do this — ‘Just give me a chance to do something ...’ They finally gave me a chance, and I want it to do well so they’ll let me do it again.”
The chart showing comes at a particularly fertile time for Guy, whose session credits include Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Koko Taylor and others and who was an acknowledged influence on a generation of younger artists such as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones. Last year Guy was a guest at Clapton’s second Crossroads Guitar Festival in Chicago and was a highlight of the subsequent DVD and PBS special. He’s a perennial on most magazine polls of the best guitarists of all time, and his 1961 song “Stone Crazy” was one of Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitar Songs.
And Guy enjoyed a featured role — which some think stole the show — in this year’s Rolling Stones’ concert film “Shine a Light.” But all of this notoriety, he contends, comes as something of a surprise. Guy, it seems, still remembers the schooling he got from his elders when he arrived in the big city.
“When I first went into the studio, they were telling me how to play guitar,” he recalls. “I had Willie Dixon, I ain’t ashamed to say, said ‘You play too much like Tom, Dick and Harry’ and I had to find some unique sound for myself. “So when ... Eric, Jeff Beck, Hendrix — even Stevie Ray Vaughan later — would say, ‘I got it from Buddy Guy,’ I was like, ‘You’re kiddin’ me!’ I didn’t know I had (anything), ’cause I was always told I never had it.” Guy still maintains a devotion to his mentors, however. He sings about the future of the blues on the “Skin Deep” track “Who’s Gonna Fill Those Shoes?” And they’re on his mind even when he’s being recognized for his own achievements.
“All the awards I ever won in my life I took in honor of people who should’ve got ’em before me,” Guy explains, “the people I learned from — Muddy, Sonny Boy (Williamson), Son House, (Mississippi) Fred McDowell, Lightnin’ Slim, all those great people, man, Little Walter and all of ’em.
“I just look up to the sky and say thanks to God. These aren’t Buddy Guy awards — they’re for the people that came before me.”
“Skin Deep,” meanwhile, features contributions from those who came in Guy’s wake. Besides Clapton, who plays guitar and sings on “Every Time I Sing the Blues,” the album features collaborations with sacred steel guitarist Robert Randolph on two tracks and Allman Brothers Band member Derek Trucks on two others, with Trucks’ wife, musician Susan Tedeschi, singing on “Too Many Tears.”
Guy laments a lack of resources for the blues — “We don’t have the millions of dollars to go to these big (radio) stations and get our songs on the air,” he says — but he feels like the future of the genre is in good hands.
“Yeah, there’s a lot of kids out there who can play it,” Guy notes. “The big thing is gettin’ them heard. The blues has been there for all of the new music that has taken over television and radio. It hasn’t gone away. And I look out in the crowd and I see young people and they love the blues. They just got to hear it, man — that’s the hard part, and we got to work on it.”
Buddy Guy performs with George Thorogood & the Destroyers at 8 p.m. Thursday (Aug. 21) at the Meadow Brook Music Festival on the campus of Oakland University, Rochester Hills. Tickets are $35 pavilion, $15 lawn with a $45 lawn four-pack. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
Send your thoughts and comments to