Friday, February 6, 2009

Buddy and the Bottle

How are you spending your time this Chicago winter?

Buddy Guy just finished his annual January residency at the South-Loop club that bears his name and likeness. Yours truly saw one of the shows, as always. I've seen many Buddy shows there over the years. Played several, as well, as part of the opening act with several groups. Buddy is a blues legend, for sure. He's one of my musical heroes, right up there with B.B., Muddy, and Brooks.

If you've ever seen a Buddy Guy show, then you know what you're getting into. He plays fast and furiously. He plays soft and gently; beautifully, even. He walks through the crowd while he plays his guitar. He quotes Jimi, and Eric, and Stevie, playing snippets of all their songs, to the crowd's delight. Folks eat it up.

He does his schtick.

Granted, he does it better than just about anyone.

On the particular night I was in the audience, he played a healthy variety of material from his prolific catalog. His new album, "Skin Deep", is some pretty heavy material. Especially for a blues record. And the title track is very poignant, considering that there is now an African-American in the White House. This is where Buddy is now, musically speaking. He's giving the blues a very different vibe, without diminishing the spirit of the blues. This song was the best thing he did all night, although most people missed it's relevance, I fear.

"Play the blues, Buddy," can be heard over and over again as the show progresses. That's what this audience wants. It's what they know, it's what they expect, and there is no desire to hear anything different.

But Buddy does what he wants to do. Why shouldn't that be the case? After all, the man has been doing this for over 50 years, has cut over 60 albums, and he has earned the right to step outside the norm with an album like Skin Deep. Even in his seventies, in whatever musical incarnation, the man can still bring it.

If he wants to, that is.

Meanwhile, on most Friday evenings during happy hour, an unknown, hard-driving, local country outfit called the Hoyle Brothers play at the Empty Bottle, a live music dive in Ukranian Villiage. These guys are awesome and play the real-deal hard core honkey tonk: Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, et al. The guitar player, Stevie Doyle, is one of the best players you'll see in all of Chicago. Lance Helgeson is an excellent drummer (the drummer IS the band, lets face it) and the lead vocalist/acoustic guitar player Trevor McSpadden fronts the group with the ultimate talent and confidence. These guys bring it every week. The show is early (530-730) , it's free, and they play for tips.


Buddy doesn't play for tips (nor should he).

But these guys do, and this is one of the best live acts you'll see in the city. Nobody's got it going on more than the Hoyle's on a Friday evening. The band is solid and rocking, the crowd is dancing and having a good time. These are everyone's expectations and there's nothing more and nothing less. Two hours' worth of the best that they've got.

These guys bring it just because they want to, not because they're expected to. They haven't been in music 50 years. They don't have 60 albums. I think they have 2, but don't quote me. They play because they obviously love it, and they're exceptionally good at what they do.

I wish I could hear Buddy from "Man and the Blues" circa 1967. That's really the Buddy I love. But we're not gonna get that anymore. Buddy Guy is still my hero, and that won't change. We are, however, very lucky to have both him and the Hoyle's in the same town.

So it goes...

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