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Monday, October 19, 2015

Buddy Guy: Left My Blues In San Francisco

BUDDY GUY: LEFT MY BLUES IN SAN FRANCISCO (1967)

1) Keep It To Myself; 2) Crazy Love; 3) I Suffer With The Blues; 4) When My Left Eye Jumps; 5) Buddy's Groove; 6) Goin' Home; 7) She Suits Me To A Tee; 8) Leave My Girl Alone; 9) Too Many Ways; 10) Mother-In-Law; 11) Every Girl I See.

The only «original» LP that Buddy managed to get out of his stay at Chess is still not very «ori­ginal»: despite being released in 1967, at a time when even the most old-fashioned bluesmen were beginning to pay heed to the album-oriented mentality, it consists of eleven tracks recorded throughout the decade — although, fair enough, most of them were not previously released as singles, so most people probably did not hear any of this stuff prior to 1967. Today, all of these tunes are included in the Complete Chess package, so it makes no sense to hunt for the LP sepa­rately, but it might deserve a brief separate mention anyway.

For the Hendrix-owned standards of 1967, this stuff obviously does not seem very impressive; but Buddy holds his own ground fairly well against such competitors as B. B. King or Albert King, except that he seems constantly torn between his ambitions as a guitar player and a red-hot R&B entertainer — on the opening ʽKeep It To Myselfʼ, he wails and screams his way through the tune like a wannabe James Brown, and his backing band, laying it hard on the brass, wouldn't mind outperforming the Famous Flames, either (you wish). Predictably, this leads to the songs being stuck somewhere in between the two extremes, and satisfying neither the serious R&B lover nor the casual fan of expressive guitar playing — at least, not satisfying nearly as much as they could, had Buddy had a more focused understanding of what it is he is trying to be.

On the other hand, it helps that the selection is fairly diverse. We have regular 12-bar blues with stinging, albeit poorly mixed, guitar (ʽI Suffer With The Bluesʼ; the bass lines, left uncredited, are mixed really high, though, and are stunningly inventive, whoever it was that invented them); slow brass-drenched blues-de-luxe with wailing guitar (ʽWhen My Left Eye Jumpsʼ); a variation on the Chuck Willis/Elvis ʽI Feel So Badʼ groove with a playful jazzy solo (ʽCrazy Loveʼ); an early stab at proto-funk (ʽBuddy's Grooveʼ) with nice brass/guitar interplay and a lightly aggressive/omi­nous touch (once again, mainly due to the cool bassline); even a straightahead pop song that could have easily been handed over to some Motown girl group, despite being credited to the prolific Willie Dixon.

So it's all smooth and fine — just not very individualistic and not tremendously exciting. Not that his earliest efforts on the Vanguard label fully convey the uniqueness of his talent, either, but even so, you can immediately feel the difference as you jump from this LP to the follow-up, and we either have to ascribe this to stupid pressure from Chess, forcing the man into the three-mi­nute single format, or to the man's conscious decision to recast, upgrade, and modernize his image in the wake of the guitar rock revolution of 1966-67. Probably both, though.

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