Austin City Limits has been privileged to host many music legends on our stage, and we were thrilled to welcome back another: blues titan Buddy Guy. The Chicago bluesman has headlined twice before, bringing his signature guitar style and bottomless catalog for a pair of landmark episodes. This evening Guy returned to one of his favorite cities to show off those strengths once again, including songs from his latest LP The Blues is Alive and Well with a taping we live streamed around the world.
Taking the stage in his trademark polkadots, signature drill-through-a-concrete-slab Strat tone and no setlist, Guy and his four-piece Damn Right Blues Band took the stage with the classic “Damn Right I’ve Got the Blues,” a statement of purpose if there ever was one. The 82-year-old then brought out “Hoochie Coochie Man,” from the repertoire of his old employer Muddy Waters, engaging in some playful call-and-response with both the audience and keyboardist Marty Sammon. He stayed with the Waters catalog by segueing into “She’s Nineteen Years Old,” adding a snippet of “Somebody Done Hoodooed the Hoodoo Man” at the end in tribute to his late partner Junior Wells. Clearly just warming up, Guy sampled his latest record with “Cognac,” a savage blues celebrating the titular beverage in lyric and the British blues rockers Guy inspired in music, calling out Keith Richards and Jeff Beck in particular. He revisited his Grammy-winning 2015 album Born to Play Guitar for the title track, before indulging in some more blues history with Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Nine Below Zero.”
That didn’t last long, however, as he jumped back into his own catalog for his modern blues classic “Somebody Else is Steppin’ Out (Slippin’ Out, Slippin’ In),” for which he took his traditional walk into the audience, mic and stinging guitar solos in hand. That would be a hard song for anyone to follow, but Guy knew what to do, going back to 1992 and the elegiac John Hiatt-penned title track to Feels Like Rain, joined by his 19-year-old six-string protegeé Quinn Sullivan. As with “Steppin’ Out,” Guy invited – nay, expected – the crowd to sing the chorus, even requesting the house lights come up so he could playfully keep the people in line. His mentor egging him on, Sullivan stayed onstage for covers of Cream’s “Strange Brew” and Jimi Hendrix’ “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” the latter run straight into Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.” Guy then decided to survey the guitar players that influenced him, touching on B.B. King’s “Sweet Sixteen” and John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom,” thanking the audience and joining them to pass picks out while the Damn Right Blues Band vamped behind him. Guy retook the stage for a couple of verses of his own “Meet Me in Chicago,” before ceding it back to Sullivan and the band for a couple of instrumental choruses of “Black Magic Woman” – proof you never know what to expect with a veteran artist working without a net. But Buddy Guy has earned the right to follow his muse into whichever corner it wants to explore. We can’t wait for you to see this remarkable show when it airs early next year on your local PBS station.