BUDDY GUY: THE COMPLETE CHESS STUDIO RECORDINGS (1960-1967; 1992)
CD I: 1) First Time I Met The Blues; 2) Slop Around; 3) I Got My Eyes On You; 4) Broken Hearted Blues; 5) Let Me Love You Baby; 6) I Got A Strange Feeling; 7) Gully Hully; 8) Ten Years Ago; 9) Watch Yourself; 10) Stone Crazy; 11) Skippin'; 12) I Found True Love; 13) Hard But It's Fair; 14) Baby (Baby, Baby, Baby); 15) When My Left Eye Jumps; 16) That's It; 17) The Treasure Untold; 18) American Bandstand; 19) No Lie; 20) $100 Bill; 21) My Love Is Real; 22) Buddy's Boogie.
CD II: 1) Worried Mind (aka Stick Around); 2) Untitled Instrumental; 3) Moanin'; 4) I Dig Your Wig; 5) My Time After Awhile; 6) Night Flight; 7) Crazy Love (Crazy Music); 8) Every Girl I See; 9) Too Many Ways; 10) Leave My Girl Alone; 11) Got To Use Your Head; 12) Keep It To Myself (aka Keep It To Yourself); 13) My Mother; 14) She Suits Me To A Tee; 15) Mother-In-Law Blues; 16) Buddy's Groove; 17) Going To School; 18) I Cry And Sing The Blues; 19) Goin' Home; 20) I Suffer With The Blues; 21) Lip Lap Louie; 22) My Time After Awhile (alternate vocals and mix); 23) Too Many Ways (alternate take); 24) Keep It To Myself (alternate take); 25) I Didn't Know My Mother Had A Son Like Me.
Like most of his colleagues at Chess, Buddy Guy had his output measured in singles, not LPs; unlike some of his luckier colleagues, though, he was not even allowed the privilege of putting together an LP from some of these singles until his very last year on Chess (where, according to most accounts, he was treated as sort of an underdog) — which made his early discography seriously confusing until MCA finally got around to putting it all together on this double disc package, as part of their general program to systematize and preserve their legacy. Even so, compared to so many other Complete Chess Studio Recordings series, two CDs seem fairly pitiful — indeed, the label saw little sense in maintaining Buddy Guy as an independent artist, preferring to use him for session work rather than individual stardom.
And indeed, discrimination accusations aside, those early «formative» years do not really give us the Buddy Guy that most of us are accustomed to — the consummate showman and guitar wizard with his own unmistakable, and highly eccentric, dialect of the blues language. His very first singles were actually released in 1958 for the smaller Cobra Records (and are pretty hard to locate, as you'd have to go for an obstinately chronologically representative collection), where he worked close to Otis Rush and seems to have been highly influenced by that style — deep-echo, ominous soul-blues with vocal wailings and screechy guitar. A year later, he switched to Chess, where he continued to explore that Otis Rush vibe, but also put out «blues de-luxe» tracks in the glitzy style of B. B. King, dabbled in danceable R&B (in fact, danceable anything — one of the tracks here is not called ʽGully Hullyʼ for nothing), and basically was willing to try out any idea as long as it had some probability of selling.
The problem is, the one thing the world is most grateful to Buddy for is his guitar playing, and these early Chess singles do not paint a very good picture of it. First, although Buddy's playing was a big influence on everybody from British bluesmen to Hendrix even in the first half of the Sixties, his «classic» style of playing did not truly emerge until after he himself was «re-influenced» by the blues-rock explosion of the second half of the Sixties. And second, according to most accounts, Buddy was at his most influential when playing live — not an option here, with just one track (ʽStone Crazyʼ) giving him enough space to stretch out with some serious soloing, and most of the others molding him more as a singer and entertainer than a blues player. And he is a good singer, wailing and crooning along with the best of 'em, yet hardly doing anything here that would put him over the level of the aforementioned Otis Rush — or B. B. King and Bobby Bland, for that matter.
The collection does feature some of the songs that formed the foundation of the Buddy Guy legend. There's ʽLet Me Love You Babyʼ, his firmest affirmation of aggressive masculinity that would later be covered by Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart, among others, as an early anthem of blues-based hard rock. And there's his blues-rock transformation of ʽMary Had A Little Lambʼ from 1967 (here entitled ʽGoing To Schoolʼ — copyright reasons?), which many people know from the Stevie Ray Vaughan version — although, to be fair, the importance of the recording is more in its general idea that «anything you want can be converted to kick-ass scorching blues» than anything else, because it is not outstanding in any other respect. And those early singles, ʽFirst Time I Met The Bluesʼ and ʽI Got My Eyes On Youʼ, they would also become regular live staples — and both introduce those signature «quivering» guitar licks that sound as if he were pulling on those strings like they were bowstrings, loosing an arrow at the listener (I think Keith Richards and/or Brian Jones did a good job copying these licks on the Stones' early records).
So yeah, there's plenty of fun and importance here, but, unfortunately, the completeness of the package also means that there will be a lot of crap — I mean, most of these upbeat R&B numbers that he did in the early Sixties, with female backing voices and cheery brass sections etc., are completely skippable (ʽBaby Baby Babyʼ, etc.): for better guitar work, you do not have to travel a long way from there, and for better entertainment value, you'd rather want to cross over to Smokey Robinson or Wilson Pickett. Even as the Sixties were advancing, he was still saddled with novelty material like ʽLip Lap Louieʼ and ʽI Dig Your Wigʼ — compensating for this with occasional stabs at serious jazz (a cover of Art Blakey's ʽMoanin'ʼ is here, too) which show respectable technique, yet it was never highly likely that Buddy Guy would ever be respected as a jazz guitarist. Additionally, four tracks here actually feature guitarist Lacy Gibson instead of Buddy, and on one of them (ʽMy Love Is Realʼ) Lacy even takes lead vocals, leaving it unclear what Buddy's contribution to the track was in the first place.
Some of his better material from those years eventually made it to his first and last LP for Chess, Left My Blues In San Francisco (which we will tackle separately), but on the whole, these 47 tracks could easily be reduced to about 10-12, if you want to properly understand what all the hoopla about Buddy was in the pre-Hendrix era. To the ones already mentioned add something like the scorching confessionalism of ʽMy Time After Awhileʼ... the weeping licks on ʽI Cry And Sing The Bluesʼ... the fast, fluent, fun playing on ʽBuddy's Boogieʼ... and yeah, that's about it for this one. Still, I guess the same criticisms apply to B. B. King as well, who spent the first two decades of his career stifled by the confines of his studio, his image, his technology, and his time, before really exploding in the mid-Sixties, so let us not hold his buddy Buddy to impossibly higher standards and still acknowledge these «beginning-of-the-legend» years with a modest thumbs up (especially since there is, at the very least, nothing openly bad here: even the novelty numbers and the hip-shaking dance fluff are really very innocent.)