- Artist: Buddy Guy
- Title: Sweet Tea
- Released: 2001
- Format: CD
- Genre: Blues
- Beverage of Choice: Crown Royal
The first thing Buddy Guy wants us to know on this seriously heavy blues album is that he’s a ‘very old man’. Well, he was 64 years old at the time the recording was done and is still going strong 19 years later so I’m not sure what he thinks about his age now! What I can tell you in his stead is that I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of seeing Buddy live several times and he never really ages. Two of those shows were at his own ‘Legends‘ blues club downtown Chicago on Wabash. It’s always a party at Legends but, when Buddy is in town, it’s an absolutely blast. He’s not just a great bluesman but a fantastic showman and entertainer as well with a naughty twinkle in his eye and a swagger all of his own.
Sometimes this showmanship has translated to his recorded music being , to my ear, over-produced in the studio, losing some of the raw, direct and unfiltered power of his guitar shredding prowess. Buddy is, however, a legend and he proves it on this record of electric blues covers and specifically his idiosyncratic takes of Junior Kimbrough songs.
“Done Got Old” is the most intimate, up-close vocal recording Buddy has ever made; simple acoustic guitar blues riff and zero-effects voice make for an affecting and plaintive tug on the heart. Listen carefully for breaths, lip-smacks and apparent weariness in his delivery. Buddy complains about being old and used-up and then spends the next hour or so entirely disabusing us of any such notion.
“Baby Please Don’t Leave Me” is given a massive, fuzzy guitar treatment with Buddy’s voice soaring and wailing from a distance; the overall effect is searing. Some overdubs here on the guitar solos only enhance the depth and incredible ‘heaviness’ of the sound – my favorite Buddy Guy cover song of all time.
The rest of this amazing album follows suit; a solid foundation of drums, bass and rhythm provide Buddy a platform to show off his virtuoso blues skills. The guitar roars, wails, spits, snarls, howls, weeps, gnashes it’s teeth and totally dominates the set. This is as close to experiencing Buddy live as you can get without actually being there. In concert, he wanders about the club, saying hi to folks between explosions of hugely satisfying guitar solos and when I listen to Sweet Tea I can see him strut his stuff in my mind.
Lyrically, this album is all about ‘the ladies’. Buddy has an eye for the fairer sex and centers much of the album around his relationships with women. He implores his girl to ‘stay all night’ and not leave him even though he’s ‘done got old’ and she has ‘the devil in her’. He’s a ‘tramp’ so he’s ‘gotta try’ the girl while asking her ‘who’s been fooling you’ and warning her ‘it’s a jungle out there’. The blues philosophy is to keep it simple and let the music do the talking so don’t look for any intellectual symbolism here, just connect to the emotions on display; heartbreak, desire, world-weariness, pride and sorrow.
“I Gotta Try You Girl” is another Junior Kimbrough cover that blows the roof off the club. A slow fade up on the band playing live in the studio and then guitar licks, perfectly phrased and paced, burst across the soundscape – 12 minutes of blues heaven. All credit to the producer/engineer on the album, Dennis Herring, for letting Buddy and his music speak for themselves; it seems the approach was “mike him up and let him play, we’ll fix it in post”. I appreciate this so much, it lets the immediacy, intimacy and live feel of the music bust out of the studio and into your ears without any lipstick or eye shadow needed; select some good headphones for this one and crank it up loud for an hour of Buddy Guy as he should always be heard.
Buddy is on tour this year starting at the end of February and hitting 40 venues across the USA and Canada. If you haven’t yet seen the man, the legend, up close, take the opportunity to do it now if you can – after all he’s “done got old”.