By Jenny Peters and Andy J. Gordon
It was blues lover’s heaven at the Novo Theater in downtown Los Angeles on Sunday, March 11, 2018, as blues legend Buddy Guy put on a masterful performance that included a retrospective of his lengthy catalog of songs, as well as a master class in the history of blues guitarists. Guitarist Brandy Zdan, a relative newcomer compared to the 81-year-old Guy, opened the show with her sultry mix of pop/rock melodies. With that winning one-two punch, the exuberant audience was treated to a night of excellent music.
The Canadian-born Zdan, who’s been on the music scene since the early 2000s, is based in Memphis, Tennessee, and will release her second album, “Secretear” on May 11 on Tallest Man Records. The album features guest performers Tom Blankenship and Carl Broemel from My Morning Jacket. For the Novo Theater show, she appeared on stage with only her drummer, Aaron Haynes of The Texas Gentlemen, as support. He also happens to be her husband.
Zdan played a short set of music that spanned pop, rock and blues. Her sweet voice has a slight, but pleasant twang and her guitar playing is expert. Our favorite songs from the set were the bluesy “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and her new single “I Want Your Trouble” that she wrote with Haynes.
After a short break, Buddy Guy’s band came out from the wings. The crowd roared in anticipation of the still-spry blues master. Guy walked out to thundering applause and proceeded to show that he still has the chops to mesmerize an audience. Guy treats live shows like he is hanging out in his den with a group of friends, by mixing storytelling with salty language, amazing guitar solos and a history lesson about the origins and progression of the blues into rock music. As he told the obviously adoring audience (with us included in that category), “If you don’t like the blues, you should never have come here!”
While he played several of his original tunes, the crowd took great pleasure in his tributes to some of the blues artists that influenced his style and a few that were surely influenced by him. His version of Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man” – that he described as “a song so funky it smells” – drew loud applause and an audience singalong. He also played snippets of songs by John Lee Hooker and BB King.
Ever the showman, Guy brought out his bag of tricks during a tribute to Eric Clapton and Cream. While playing “Sunshine of Your Love,” Guy used a towel and a drumstick along the fretboard to play his guitar. He also played behind his back and over his head during the set. The wildest moment was when he stepped down from the stage and walked into the crowd while playing a solo from Denise LaSalle’s “Someone Else Is Steppin’ In (Slippin’ Out, Slippin’ In).”
Later in the show, Guy brought out a seven-year-old boy who had been watching from the front row with a guitar around his neck. Whether or not the act was prearranged did not seem to matter. The kid launched into Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy,” while Guy was grinning from ear to ear and eventually joined in. He prompted the kid to match his solos and the youngster held his own. After a few minutes of impromptu guitar riffing, Guy implored the audience to give the boy a big hand and instructed the kid to keep working on his playing.
Later in the set, Guy did additional tribute teases of songs by the Rolling Stones and Jimmy Reed. He also played scorching versions of Cream’s “Strange Brew” and Jimmy Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” – and chose that moment to perform a solo with his teeth. He then revisited Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.” The show wound down as Guy played short versions of songs by Marvin Gaye and Ray Charles.
Figuring that he had completed his retrospective history lesson of the blues, Buddy Guy said thanks and goodnight to the crowd. He strolled off to a loud standing ovation as the adoring audience cheered him goodbye. The last of the great blues guitar legends is still going strong at 81. No one else can offer the experience, knowledge and amazing talent that Buddy Guy still possesses. We hope he can keep educating and amazing audiences for many more years to come – he certainly seems well up to that task right now.