I go to a lot of concerts, and I see a lot of exceptional talent, but it isn’t every day that I get to see a living legend perform. No, it isn’t every day. But it was last night.
Buddy Guy is, without a doubt and by any standard, a living legend within the world of blues music. Last night he performed before a sold-out crowd at the Paramount Theatre in Denver, in a concert that had been rescheduled from last September. It was definitely worth the wait.
Guy’s credentials are indeed a thing of legend. He’s a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, an eight-time Grammy winner, the winner of 37 Blues Music Awards, the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award (2015) … need I go on? None other than Eric Clapton (you may have heard of him?) called Guy “without a doubt the best guitar player alive”.
He’s also 85 years old, still actively touring, and hasn’t lost a thing when it comes to his live performances. The man is magic and last night at the Paramount was magical.
Opening Support – The Ally Venable Band
Opening for Guy on this night was Ally Venable. The Kilgore, TX native is on the opposite end of the legendary scale as Guy, checking in at just 23 years of age. But don’t let that young age fool you. Venable released her first EP when she was just 14 years old and has released three subsequent albums since, including her most recent, Heart Of Fire, in 2021.
Her six-song, 45-minute set was terrific. The girl has a huge voice and plays a mean guitar. Her backup band (Braeden Stubbs on bass and Isaac Pulido on drums) is very tight. I had the pleasure of seeing Ally and the band at Knuckleheads in Kansas City just three nights earlier, where she was the headliner. She clearly has headliner chops and has an extremely bright future in front of her. Especially impressive last night was her closing tune, a cover of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Lenny, which had the crowd on its feet.
As strong as Venable’s performance was, the night belonged to Guy, whose live performances are as much a thing of legend as the man himself. As impressive as his discography of original music is, Guy’s performances tend to focus mostly on both full covers and snippets of other’s artist’s work. He opened last night’s show, as he often does, with his own Damn Right, I Got The Blues, then moved immediately into a mix-up of Willie Dixon’s I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man and Muddy Waters’ She’s Nineteen Years Old. Back to Willie Dixon for I Just Wanna Make Love To You, then on to his own Skin Deep, co-written with drummer Tom Hambridge.
Through the rest of the set Guy paid homage to Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers (How Blue Can You Get?), John Lee Hooker (Boom Boom), Denise LaSalle (Someone Else Is Steppin’ In), Eric Clapton/Cream (Strange Brew), Jimmy Reed (Down The Road), and the Rolling Stones (Satisfaction).
Guy is as much a storyteller as a musician, interspersing his playing with stories of growing up without running water or electricity, lessons he learned from his pipe-smoking mother (the inspiration for Skin Deep), and tales about the friends he’s made during his storied career. And while many of those stories are heartfelt, Guy is equally adept at interacting playfully with an audience. He cracked jokes, tossed out (sometimes “colorful”) one-liners, and frequently engaged the crowd to take over vocal duties. Through it all, he had the crowd eating out of his hands. Groups of women dancing in the aisles. Men shouting “We love you”. The adoration and appreciation were palatable.
Guy can seemingly do almost anything he wants with a guitar. Last night he played it with a drumstick and a towel. He stretched the strings to make virtually any sound he wanted. At one point he turned the guitar around and played it by gyrating against it. He’s a showman’s showman, and the crowd loved every minute of it.
And, of course, there’s the famous Buddy Guy walkabout. In a “learning to live with COVID” world, it probably surprised some in attendance when Buddy exited the stage, only to appear at floor level, walk up the aisle and into the lobby, then return down another aisle, all while jamming furiously on his guitar. By now the crowd had been whipped into a frenzy, with people on their feet hoping to get a photo of Guy as he passed by them. (If you’ve seen Christone “Kingfish” Ingram do a similar walkabout, you now know where he got it from.)
Guy closed the evening by inviting Ally Venable back on stage, and the two performed a playful version of Slim Harpo’s I’m A King Bee, with Venable responding via her guitar to Guy’s vocal innuendos. It was an absolute joy to see the two of them performing together.
As usual, Guy’s exceptional backup came from the Damn Right Blues Band, with Ric Hall (aka RicJaz Guitar) on second lead guitar, Tom Hambridge on drums, Orlando Wright on bass, and Marty Sammons on keys. Both Hall and Sammons added strong solos, but for the most part, the band deferred to Guy to own the stage. And own it he did, like the legend he is.
Photos and review by Rick Witt. Visit the gallery…