Hello there! My name is George Guy, but most people call me Buddy. I was born on July 30, 1936 in Lettsworth, Louisiana. I have always loved music ever since I could remember. As a matter of fact, I was so interested in music that I even made myself a temporary two-string guitar from only a piece of wood and few hairpins, because I could not afford to buy myself a guitar just yet. Expressing myself through music was something I just knew I had to do. (Britannica)
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My mother is Isabell Guy; my father is Sam Guy. My parents were very religious as I was growing up… I have four siblings, two brothers and two sisters. When I was little, I loved milking cows in the morning and herding the cattle. I liked picking cotton with my siblings. Little did I know back then, right? After I finished eighth grade, my mother had a stroke. Everything changed. She could no longer smile. I would crave her smile until the day I die. I played “Polka-Dot Love” as a tribute to my mother; before her death in 1968. I promised I would someday buy her a polka-dot Cadillac. I then dropped out of school, and my family and I moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Rolling Stone) (Britannica)
I did not know what electricity was until I was twelve, nor did I know what running water was until the age of sixteen; my family drank rainwater that was stored in barrels. I remember walking to school with my siblings while the white kids took the bus. The dust looked like fog coming, and we would run off to the side of the road to avoid the dust from the gravel. They would spit and throw stuff at us, but we never let it bother us. (Rolling Stone)
At the age of nineteen, I finally got a job. I worked on a conveyor belt at a beer factory, at a service station gassing up cars, and as a custodian at the Louisiana State University. While I was working, I would listen to the radio. I heard Muddy Waters’s “Hoochie Coochie Man” and Elmore James’s “Dust My Broom.” I could not wait to finally start saving up for my own guitar, with all the money that I was making from my three jobs. (Britannica)
Shortly after all of this, I bought my first acoustic guitar. I practiced playing my favorite songs on the guitar while I was on break(s) at work. At some point, I learned that the majority of my favorite musicians on the radio were in Chicago, Illinois. From that point forward, if I ever got the chance, I knew that I wanted to be in Chicago and that I would head straight there. Meanwhile, I started playing at clubs in and around Baton Rouge. I spent a year and a half playing with John “Big Poppa” Tilley’s band there. (Rolling Stone)
After I sent a tape to Chess Records, I arrived in Chicago on September 25, 1957. I call this date my “second birthday.” At first, I stayed with a family friend named Shorty, who had also moved from Louisiana. I crashed on Shorty’s bed during the day while he was at work; and at night, I walked around the city, drinking coffee in diners, waiting for Shorty to wake up. (Blue Note)
I could not wait to hear people like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf play. A young musician like myself was eager to be in a city with more opportunities, not only to… but also to… express myself through my music. Many clubs allowed musicians to come and play on their stages for free; granted they were not going to be making any money but at least it was an opportunity. I would be so blessed for an offer like that! Six months after arriving in Chicago, I was broke. I was ready to call my parents for a ticket back home. (Blue Note)
Out of the blue though, a stranger on the street noticed me with my guitar case and invited me to the 708 Club on the Southside of Chicago. Otis Rush allowed me to sit in… The bar owner called Waters, who came to watch. I was telling people how I was struggling and hungry, but when he heard me play, he said, ‘Well, how can you play like that and be hungry?” I had no idea that this moment is when my life would take a huge turn and change my life forever. I could not believe I was performing at the 708 Club and was honored to finally be able to meet my idol, Muddy Waters. Waters was overly impressed with what I was creating. The audience loved my music too, which led to me being offered more gigs at the club.
Muddy Waters became my “father figure.” He taught me how to drink. He gave me my first glass of whiskey and told me it would stop me from being shy. To this day, whenever I play, I have my shot before I go on stage. (Childhood, Life)
Quicker than I anticipated, I was getting a fair amount of attention. Club owners and record companies alike were amazed by me and thought that I was unique. I did not want to change because of a business idea, or because I was not being conservative enough. Then one day while performing at the 708 Club, I was noticed by composer Willie Dixon. With Dixon’s assistance and contacts, I finally signed a contract for myself with Chess Record label. Now that Chess Records and I had a deal, I became a house guitarist for the company. I played backed up for Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Koko Taylor and many more. (Childhood, Life)
Not every day of mine was as bright as the day I got to meet Muddy Waters. In fact, a lot of my early years of music were dominated by choices made by the label. I was unhappy that they kept portraying me to be someone I was not. Chess became notorious for getting artists to sign away their publishing rights. “Every time I went into Chess with a song that I wrote, they would tell me to let Willie Dixon hear it. Dixon was Chess’ main A&R man, talent scout, producer and songwriter. Dixon would say, ‘That’s a pretty good song, but you need a stronger line.” And if he changed one word, it was his song.” (Britannica)
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As I was taking notice of the evolving blues-rock scene in England, I left Chess in 1968 and moved to Vanguard Records. Here I produced a few of my classic albums “A Man and the Blues” in 1968 and “Hold That Plane” in 1972. After I left Chess, I found a home on the hippie circuit. I was playing at The Fillmore and touring on the 1970 “Festival Express” tour with Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and the Band. I thought I could possibly get rich and make their kind of money if I followed these rock guys. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I would have moved to the U.K. in the mid-sixties, where Hendrix got his early buzz. If I had headed to England, I probably would have been more popular than sliced bread. (Blue Note)
Although I continued to perform, my recording career started to stall somewhat in the eighties. In 1989, I opened the blues club Legends in Chicago, which became a favorite hangout for blues musicians. In 1990, I joined Eric Clapton on stage at London’s Royal Albert Hall during the guitarist’s multi-night run. At this point, I was making a major comeback. This exposure helped lead me to a new contract with Silverstone label. “Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues” was the first of many albums I released. This blues album sold so well that it earned a gold record (500,000 copies sold)! (Childhood, Life)
Mentioning some of my biggest blessings, my family is on the top of my list. I was married twice. My first wife was Joan Guy in 1959. We had six children together; Charlotte, Carlise, Cauline, George, Gregory (who plays blues guitar), and Jeffrey. After our divorce, I remarried another woman by the name of Jennifer Guy in 1975. We had two children together; Rashawnna, and Michael. Unfortunately, we also divorced in 2002. Both of my wives always complained that I was never home. My second wife Jennifer even said “It’s me or your guitar” to me. (Britannica)
Two years later, I released “Feels Like Rain” in 1993. This album included contributions from Bonnie Raitt, Travis Tritt and John Mayall. Later that same year, I received the prestigious Century Award “for distinguished artistic achievement” from Billboard magazine. In 2003 I won a Grammy Award for my acoustic album called “Blues Singer. I continued to record and perform alongside, John Mayer, Carlos Santana and other high-level musicians.
All of my biggest and boldest dreams were all coming to life. All I ever wanted was to be a great musician and play the blues. I never expected to go as far as being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, nor did I expect to be honored to perform at the White House for President Barack Obama, but here I am. I’ve come so far from where I started. Still to this day I am going strong with significant albums that have added new dimension to blues music. (Britannica)
Additionally, I still constantly tour all over. I still perform at various clubs and festivals around the world, including my own club. It’s now 2019 and I’m now 82 years old.
Even with all the up and downs of my life I wouldn’t change it for anything. I’m so grateful for all of the beautiful people that helped me achieve all of my goals. They were so influential to my passion for music. Being able to perform the blues was my biggest dream and I am overly joyed by the abundance of opportunities I was blessed with. I had the chance to come to Chicago and I ran with it. I hope blues music never fades away. (Rolling Stone)
I just hope that I influenced some people and other musicians the way other musicians inspired me. I wouldn’t be where and who I am today without people that I’ve looked up to. They were all my teachers and taught me how to be the best guy I could be. I am so proud of myself as well for overcoming my fears. It might have taken some years, hundreds of miles, tons of failure, but eventually I stood exactly where I imagined. I’m a very proud Blues musician. Some even say if they cut me open, I would bleed Blue.
- Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopedia. “Buddy Guy.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 11 Feb. 2019.
- “Buddy Guy with Special Guest Tom Hambridge.” Blue Note Jazz Festival.
- Doyle, Patrick. “From Howlin’ Wolf to Hendrix: Buddy Guy’s Life and Times.” Rolling Stone, 25 June 2018.
- “Who Is Buddy Guy? Everything You Need to Know.” Childhood, Life Achievements & Timeline.
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