Buddy Guy & Jimmie Vaughan at the Hammersmith Apollo, London, 31st July 2002
Ken Major and I were recently discussing the difference between a white and a black act. If a white act in their sixties can stand up straight and sing near enough in tune, we come away satisfied. If a black act (like Buddy Guy for example) doesn’t hang upside down from the balcony by the tips of his toes and play the guitar with his arse then we would think he is ill. Well folks, he didn’t hang upside down from a balcony but he did just about everything else – walkabout throughout the vast Apollo auditorium both up and down, energy aplenty. Aaaah, I hear you cry, is it the blues though? Well actually no, a lot of it is not, but how many blues acts could sell out the Hammersmith Apollo apart from Buddy Guy? B B King obviously, and Robert Cray. Probably the recently departed John Lee Hooker no doubt would have done.
Guy’s audiences these days are, for the most part, rock audiences and he panders to them. He knows where his bread is buttered. I guess this is the reason why he feels he has to, at every show in recent years, pay homage to the greats of the blues (Muddy Waters, the aforementioned John
Lee Hooker, Freddie King, T-Bone Walker, etc.) Education for rock fans maybe but for blues fans, frustrating because I wanna hear ‘Buddy Guy’. We did get some though, in the shape of ‘Feels Like Rain’ reminding me why I am a big Buddy Guy fan. Soul drenched impassioned vocals, beautiful guitar work, likewise for ‘Five Long Years’.
At one point he dispensed with his band and sat alone with an acoustic guitar performing ‘Done Got Old’. Now this is the blues. Even then he chose to follow it up with a predictable crowd pleaser ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’. In between was material associated with other people; some predictable (‘Hoochie-Coochie Man’, ‘I Just Wanna Make Love To You’, ‘Stormy Monday Blues’, ‘Sweet Sixteen’) and some less predictable (‘Drowning On Dry Land’, ‘Love Her With A Feeling’). The perennial walkabout kicked off with Otis Redding’s ‘Tramp’ and led into an instrumental workout which seemed to go on forever. Great show of course as Buddy Guy rarely does a duff gig but. Like I said earlier, frustrating.
Support act Jimmie Vaughan, one-time axeman with the Fabulous Thunderbirds, performed material from his latest CD Dirty Girl, including the title track, a couple of covers (Johnny Guitar Watson’s ‘Motorhead Baby’, Lazy Lester’s ‘Sugar Coated Love’) and a couple of tracks from his Do You Get The Blues CD from a few years back. The highlight for me was a track I am personally unfamiliar with entitled ‘Heaven Calls Another Blues Singer Back Home’. I also enjoyed ‘Middle Of The Night’ and ‘Stop Teasing Me’.
For me though, Jimmie Vaughan creates a problem, this being the third time I have caught him in action (the first being at the Bishopstock Music Festival a couple of years back and the second in Austin, Texas last year). He certainly looks the part with his near rockabilly persona but he don’t act it. Sorry but for me he ain’t a front man; good guitarist for sure, adequate voice but his lack of stagecraft seems to emphasise his often clinical approach to his music. He finished his set with a Thunderbirds inspired Rock’n’Roll shuffle (didn’t catch the title) which started off great and even had me boppin’ around (I had a standing room only ticket) but alas it went on and on and on until I went off into a trance, where I got to thinking about my lamb chops and whether or not to grill them or prepare a casserole when I get home.
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