By Ron Wynn
NASHVILLE, TN — Buddy Guy was once the young blues upstart, schooled in the tradition by Muddy Waters, Howlin’Wolf and John Lee Hooker among others. Today he’s an elder statesman of the music, still vital and active at 85. Guy returns to Nashville Saturday, appearing at the Ryan Auditorium along with Eric Johnson. He’s also the subject of a new documentary “The Torch” by Jim Farrell, which debuted in various theaters last week.
The film spotlights Guy’s current role as keeper of the blues flame. His newest protege is featured in the film. Quinn Sullivan from New Bedford, Mass, first played on stage with Guy as an eight-year-old. They’ve since toured together and Sullivan is now also a featured recording artist. There’s also footage of Guy at his club in Chicago, and reflections from Guy who talks about his early struggles when he arrived in Chicago from Louisiana, and how in his early days he juggled performing with working a day job.
Farrell’s film has drawn some criticism for its lack of Black faces and voices, either as contributors discussing his music or in the audience. That may be more a reflection of the contemporary blues audience, or at least what many in the music industry consider that audience, or just the filmmaker’s not realizing there are still Black writers and fans of Buddy Guy and the blues.
Still, none of that detracts from the greatness of Buddy Guy, or his amazing accomplishments. Since his arrival in Chicago in 1957, he’s steadily built his reputation as a dazzling soloist and fine vocalist. He’s a major influence on such artists as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. He has won seven Grammys, a 2015 Lifetime Achievement Grammy, 37 Blues Music Awards (the most any artist has received), the Billboard Magazine Century Award for distinguished artistic achievement, a Kennedy Center Honor, and the Presidential National Medal of Arts.
The list of classic Guy albums includes “Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues,” (1991), “Feels Like Rain,” (1993), and “Slippin’” In (1994). In 2003 Guy released his first acoustic blues recording, “Blues Singer,” and other acclaimed Guy releases include “Living Proof” (2010), “Born to Play Guitar” (2015), and “The Blues Is Alive and Well” (2018). He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1985 and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005. Guy has also been an entrepeneur. He owned the Checkerboard Lounge (1972–85) and (since 1989) Buddy Guy’s Legends. In 2012 he published the autobiography “When I Left Home: My Story” (written with David Ritz).
Buddy Guy at the Ryman Auditorium, 116 John Lewis Way, with Eric Johnson. The show begins at 7:30 p.m.