Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Legendary bluesman Buddy Guy's annual January residency takes over the South Loop

by Anthonia Akitunde

If all you know about Chicago's brand of finger-snapping, head-wagging and hip-swiveling blues is from The Blues Brothers, you are in need of some re-education, my friends. Buddy Guy (born George Guy) has put the Windy City on the map with his electric live shows, tours and club, Buddy Guy's Legends, located in the heart of the South Loop.

January's a big month for the venue, as Guy himself performs an annual month-long residency -- known as "Buddy Shows" -- that's become Legends' most popular event. Starting as a five-show residency in 1990, Buddy Shows has extended to an 19-date run this year. "January is a chance to be really close to a real legend," Isabelle Libmann of Buddy Guy's Legends explains. "This is a chance for the audience to really interact with Buddy in his own place."

Guy is a legend himself. Though his name won't be found on any Guitar Hero playlist, he is the very definition of a guitar hero as a five-time Grammy winner with international accolades. He is cited as a major influence to the likes of Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and other big names in rock and blues. Just like many music legends, Guy came from meager beginnings, born into a sharecropping family during the age of Jim Crow in Louisiana. He made a "guitar" at the age of seven (two strings secured to a piece of wood with bobbypins) and practiced during downtime on the plantation. At 17, he owned his first real guitar (which is now on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) and by 25 had a residency at the historic 708 Club in Chicago. Guy found his own sound in the late '60s after years of being told how to play. His roaring electric guitar sound and soul-stirring vocals found new fans in the 1990s.

Buddy Guy's Legends was opened in June of 1989 and has set itself apart from other Chicago blues clubs thanks in part to the owner and the club's scheduling of local, national and international blues acts. The Rolling Stones, Bo Diddley, Lou Rawls, John Mayer, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Slash, David Bowie and countless others have played on Guy's revered stage. Guy has become the Johnny Appleseed of Blues for Chicago, traveling the world and promoting not only his club, but the entire Chicago blues scene attracting blues fans from all over the world to Chicago.

This year's Buddy Shows will be the last time fans will gather at the South Loop location. "Columbia College acquired the building in 1999, so we've known we'd have to move for awhile," Libmann explains. Though the new spot (with a currently top secret address) has drawn criticism for "looking too new and clean for a blues club," Libmann and Legends hope it will be a positive move. "We'll just need to pack the new place as much as we can when it opens to quickly give it that ‘lived-in,' gritty feel."

If the crowd at a recent Buddy Show is any indicator, this shouldn't be too hard. North Siders in Cubs hats rubbed elbows with South Siders in Sox T-shirts -- amicably, we may add. Coach bag-clutching Lincoln Parkers hollered alongside blue-collar workers as Guy seduced the crowd with his guitar. And that sort of utopia lasts only for another couple weeks.

Buddy Shows run at Buddy Guy's Legends (754 S. Wabash, 312/427-0333) through Jan. 31;