“Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for six time Grammy award winner, rock and roll hall of famer, Mr Buddy Guy!”
With this Hollywood style introduction followed by a jangle of fat chords from an electric guitar, the audience at Bab al Makina knew they were in for one hell of a show, in the old school style of performance from a living legend.
Buddy Guy, a blues legend of the ilk of BB King, John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters, who has influenced great blues-rock musicians such as Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, strolled nonchalantly on stage in a black and white polka dot shirt, with dots as in your face as the whomping bass line that accompanied his entrance.
Coupled with crisp white trousers and topped off with a natty white flat cap, Buddy Guy stood centre stage, strummed out some classic blues chords on his electric Fender and moaned “oh babe I’ve got the blues, from my head down to my shoes…” But this was no slow and easy blues music. The bass could be felt in our chests like a heartbeat and his guitar howled like a cat on heat.
Backed by some seriously good musicians, both the keyboardist and second guitarist took their turns at stupendous solos with the confidence of accomplished professionals, super tight but free to play and riff together, bouncing back and forth with evident pleasure.
|Buddy Guy enjoyed a great rapport with his fellow musicians|
“You’re damn right I got the blues!” Guy wailed, and then with a cheeky Elvis style swivel and thrust of the hips, the audience got their first taste of the showmanship that was in store for them. He may have been singing the blues but the sense of humour which accompanied it made the lyrics seem very tongue in cheek.
“Lord, have you ever been mistreated?
“Then you know what I’m talking about.
“Five long years with one woman and she had the nerve to kick me out!”
This could have been a song of heartbreak but its delivery had the crowd cackling with laughter, whooping and clapping. Obviously encouraged by the response, the next number should have raised a few eyebrows, with Guy getting a conservative, Moroccan audience, at a Sacred Music Festival, to sing along the following: “While you were slipping out, someone else was slipping in…!” Perhaps the double entendre wasn’t evident to all, but the effect was deliciously hashouma.
Lyrics aside, the music kept everyone on their toes, going from one end of the spectrum to another. Guy played whisper quiet at times, telling the crowd “shh” and pulling great emotion out of little volume, then would suddenly ramp up the volume to a wild level that startled. He would also abruptly call a halt to a tune when he had something to say, and it was invariably worth hearing:
“Wait a minute!” Guy commanded and the music dropped. He paused. “This is playing so funky you can SMELL it.”
In the words of English rock guitarist Jeff Beck, Guy “transcended blues and started becoming theatre. It was high art, kind of like drama theatre when he played, you know. He was playing behind his head long before Hendrix. I once saw him throw the guitar up in the air and catch it in the same chord.”
|Throwing guitar picks to the crowd|
The theatrical part of the show wasn’t far off, and things began to go a little crazy when Guy left the stage with his guitar and walked into the crowd, touring around the aisles and prompting a frenzy of people trying to get next to him and snap photographs of the legend up close. After everyone had stood up there was no getting the audience to return to their seats and refreshingly, this was the first concert at Bab Makina where people were allowed to stay in front of the stage for over half of the performance.
Guy played a mix of his own material plus songs from Eric Clapton, Ray Charles, Fever by Little Willie John and Jimmy Hendrix Sunshine of Your Love. The Hendrix rendition produced the most spectacular guitar playing showmanship of the night, with Guy playing his Fender above his head, from behind, using his backside, using a drumstick, playing with a cloth with which he had just wiped the sweat from his brow, even gnawing the strings with his teeth. The man may be 77 years old but that did not stop him from giving everything he had tonight.
It was a fitting end to a festival which had had many naysayers concerning the lack of a big name headliner and Guy’s incredible performance as a master of the blues guitar should have had everyone saying “Robert Plant who?”
Text: Vanessa Bonnin
Photographs: Joel Dowling, Sandy McCutcheon, Vanessa Bonnin
The View from Fez is an official media partner of the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music