Buddy System

It was the mid-Sixties British Invasion, though, that fueled Guy's career trajectory. "I was shocked when the Rolling Stones recorded Muddy Waters's music and made a million dollars," Guy says, still faintly bemused. "And then came Eric [Clapton] and those guys. They knew all about Chess. It was a funny thing, because it took those British cats coming over here for white America to pick up on what we'd been doing all along and give us a boost. I thank God they did."

Indeed, Clapton -- a Guy disciple who has long lauded him as the greatest living blues guitarist -- was instrumental in launching a series of European tours for Guy in the late Sixties. (The late Stevie Ray Vaughan would repay his creative debt to Guy by exposing him to a wider audience in the Eighties through tours and shows together.) "I first came over here, to England, in 1965," Guy recalls. "And you know who my valet was on that first tour? Rod Stewart. Sure enough. He was just struggling then. Tomorrow I'm fixing to chase him down."

Throughout the Seventies and Eighties, Guy continued to tour across the globe and record as a sideman and a bandleader; he also devoted himself to his rapidly expanding family and opened two clubs in Chicago, the Checkerboard Lounge and Legends. In 1990 Silvertone offered Guy a contract, and over the next five years he released three star-studded albums -- Damn Right I've Got the Blues, Feels Like Rain, and Slippin' In -- each of which won a Grammy Award; they sold a combined two million copies worldwide. Guests on the albums include everyone from Bonnie Raitt and Travis Tritt to Jeff Beck and John Mayall, but it's the durability of Guy's playing and the urgency of his vocals that make his Nineties recordings worthy additions to his vast canon.

For Live! The Real Deal, his latest release for Silvertone, Guy runs through some old classics and new cuts at Legends, with white-hot backing from G.E. Smith & the Saturday Night Live Band. "I was on the show a couple of times and the folks at the record company said it sounded real good," Guy notes. "So we did a live record with a full band. I wanted that live sound because you hear so much fake stuff these days. I listen to some records and say, 'What the hell is that?'"

Though he turns 60 next month and has to incorporate an afternoon nap into his daily regimen, Guy performs with the same sweat-soaked intensity he did years ago: "I got a guitarist on this tour, a young fella, and he came into my room the other night and said, 'Mr. Guy, I want to ask you something. How do you go out every night and never have a bad show?' I said, 'Son, if you're playing for someone else and have a bad night, that's when you put down the guitar.'

"See, that's the reason I like to come off-stage -- so the fans can shake my hand or put their arms around me. That's like my way of saying, 'You made me. You can break me.' I wouldn't like to be like no Michael Jackson, so isolated. I like to go to my club and sit and answer questions all day, though you gotta let me take a bath [after the show] or you're gonna smell me. But just because I got a little name for myself don't mean I'm different from you."

In keeping with that thinking, Guy will be taking part in an upcoming benefit concert for San Francisco's Milarepa Fund, which is designed to help promote and preserve Buddhist philosophies and practices. The concert is being organized by the Beastie Boys and features a motley crew that includes Sonic Youth, Santana, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. "I love doing benefits, 'cause that's the way I was brought up," Guy explains. "If all of us who could help would help, the world would be a different place. When I talk like that, my sister tells me I should go into preaching. But you got to know the Bible backwards and forwards to do that. It ain't right to preach if you don't know the book, and there's already too many corrupted preachers out there.

"No," Guy concludes, "it was the Good Lord who sent the man that bought me my first guitar, and I expect He knew what He was doing. So I'll stick with my guitar and just keep preaching with that.

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