Friday, August 10, 2018

Buddy Guy brings joyful blues celebration to the Coach House

From left, Quinn Sullivan, drummer Tom Hambridge and Buddy Guy. Photo: Bob Steshetz

Buddy Guy at The Coach House.
Less than three months after headlining nearby Doheny Blues Festival in Dana Point, blues great Buddy Guy was back in Orange County, CA on Thursday night, Aug. 9, 2018 playing before a packed but decidedly more intimate audience at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano.

For 90 wonderful minutes the Louisiana native  who celebrated his 82nd birthday on July 30  delivered on the promise that is the defiant title of his latest album, the newly-issued The Blues is Alive and Well (Read my review of that album RCA Records release here). And since the passing of Guy's friend, B.B. King in May 2015, Guy has been widely acknowledged as the genre's most significant living champion.

Guy strolled on stage just after 9:15 p.m, his lead guitar unleashed as he played a long and fiery solo to kick off the rocking title of his 1991 album "Damn Right I Got the Blues." Backed by his strong four-man band (including drummer Tom Hambridge, who produced Guy's latest LP). The seven-minute reading of the song was bolstered by the energy and enthusiasm of the crowd, cheering on Guy with every note he sang and articulated via his electric guitar.

Guy, who had a profound influence on everyone from Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck to Stevie Ray Vaughan, continues to perform with the same fire he exhibited at the beginning of his career. His joyful and playful spirit came through everywhere, whether using body language or bantering with individual members of the crowd. He seemingly fed off the audience's spirit, using sing-alongs to further bridge the divide between band and concertgoers.

After playing a rousing cover of "I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man" (a hit for Muddy Waters written by Willie Dixon), Guy mused that he has a new record but it can't be heard on commercial radio. "I do make albums," he said sarcastically. 

Indeed, the proof was in several masterful cuts from The Blues is Alive and Well he played. The crowd-pleasing "Cognac" (which features Keith Richards and Jeff Beck on the studio version) with some of his most forceful lead guitar work of the night was followed by a cover of his late friend Sonny Boy Williamson's "Nine Below Zero." The latter in particular was a beautiful Chicago blues jaunt, with Guy at times using his guitar to tenderly enhance his vocals with subtle fills while other times ratcheting up the dynamics to an explosive level.

Buddy Guy bringing the blues directly to fans at The Coach House
on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018. Photo: Bob Steshetz
There were plenty of other highlights to come including using a drum stick to tap on the neck of his guitar, and utterly thrilled the house when he took an extended walk through the crowd   during "Someone Else Is Step-in' In (Slippin' Out, Slippin' In)." As if the goodwill he generated during that journey wasn't enough, the call-and-response with the crowd ("While you were slippin' out" he sang, with crowd lustily singing back "Someone else was slippin' in!") was a fun way to cap the track.

Singer-guitarist Quinn Sullivan.
Photo: Bob Steshetz
He was then joined on stage by Quinn Sullivan, a well-known fixture on Guy's tours. Only 19, Sullivan has been playing professionally since 2006 (when he was a mere age of 7!). Having first played on stage with Guy during a performance at the Zeiterion Theater in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 2007, Sullivan is now the primary opening act at Guy's performances. 

On Thursday night, Sullivan performed a 50-minute set to open the night (he was also backed by Guy's touring four-man group), and then joined Guy for the closing of the main set. 

This part of the night was fun to be sure, including a ferocious and freewheeling take on Cream's "Strange Brew," which served as a great bookend to a terrific take on Eric Clapton's "Let It Rain" performed during Sullivan's opening set.

Buddy Guy has a number of upcoming concert dates scheduled, including a concert tonight (Aug. 10) at The Canyon in Agoura Hills, CA; at The Rose in Pasadena, CA on Aug. 11, and at Humphreys Concerts by the Bay in San Diego, CA on Aug. 14.

Visit Buddy Guy's official website here for more details.

Review by Robert Kinsler

Photos by Bob Steshetz

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