|From left, Marty Sammon, Buddy Guy and Quinn Sullivan. Photo: Bob Steshetz|
As evidenced by his thrilling 100-minute concert at the Coach House on Thursday night (Nov. 7, 2013), 77-year-old Buddy Guy has no intention of easing into retirement.
In a rare O.C. club appearance that was far longer and more satisfying than both of his May 2012 appearances at Doheny Blues Festival or his headlining turn at City National Grove of Anaheim in September 2011, the Louisiana native underscored his pivotal role as a member of the Chicago blues scene in the ’50s and ’60s and his seminal influence on many of rock's greatest guitarists.
At his stop in San Juan Capistrano, Guy was a livewire all night, unleashing electrifying runs (sometimes with his axe behind him, other times tapping out riffs on it with a drumstick) and singing material ranging from hard-edged blues to soulful R&B. The crowd that packed the venue and cheered on the guitar hero was rewarded with strong material, notably a fiery version of Muddy Water's "Hoochie Coochie Man" and a medley of Cream and Jimi Hendrix classics later in the show.
Guy had fun on an extended version of the playful "Someone Else is Steppin' In (Slippin' Out, Slippin' In)," the audience almost shouting out the lyrics on his command before he conjured crying tones with a wah-wah pedal during his lead work. It was clear during that number just how much of a stamp Guy's playing left not only on the late Hendrix but also Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and other blues-steeped giants.
Another strong vocal performance came with "You Give Me Fever," a jazzier piece that allowed him to further extend his artistic reach. A highlight of his encore was "Skin Deep," his falsetto taking the spotlight during the quieter opening before the song suddenly exploded, his backing band picking up the tempo and Guy launching into yet another terrific solo.
With an array of facial expressions and an unfaltering voice to match his six-string prowess and generous spirit (he signed autographs and handed out guitar picks after his lengthy set), Guy remains one of music's mightiest living treasures.
His graciousness extended to his choice of opening act, 14-year-old Quinn Sullivan. The teen guitarist first met Guy backstage when he was 8; the legend was so impressed when he heard the youngster play a few licks that he invited him onstage that night to perform with him.
Fast-forward six years and here was Sullivan showing off impressive talent during a 45-minute set that earned him a standing ovation. He not only played the heck out of his Fender, he showcased strong vocals that evoked a young Clapton. Sullivan was ably backed by Guy's terrific band (drummer Tim Austin, keyboardist Marty Sammon, bassist Orlando Wright and guitarist Ric Hall).
Highlights of the New Bedford, Mass. native's set included the show-opening "Getting There," a 10-minute opus that allowed him to flex his fast-fingered fretwork, plus another bluesy gem, "Mr. Gloom," and a beautiful cover of Hendrix's "Little Wing." Backed by Guy's excellent four-man band, the upstart returned to perform alongside the master at the end of the night; their aforementioned medley included bits of "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" and "Sunshine of Your Love."
It's no wonder that grateful Sullivan aptly closed his own set with "Buddy's Blues," a tribute to his favorite mentor.