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Monday, November 16, 2015

Buddy Guy: Hold That Plane!

BUDDY GUY: HOLD THAT PLANE! (1972)

1) Watermelon Man; 2) Hold That Plane; 3) I'm Ready; 4) My Time After Awhile; 5) You Don't Love Me; 6) Come See About Me; 7) Hello San Francisco.

Honestly, Buddy's last album for Vanguard is no great shakes; in fact, although it seems to have been recorded as early as 1970, they only put it out two years later, probably as part of a shelf-cleaning process — and it happened to be Buddy's last album for almost a decade, and Buddy's last American-released album for almost two.

And you can sort of see why, because Hold That Plane!, while not being objectively bad, is a mess. It shows a lot of diversity — not every blues artist would think of covering Herbie Hancock and Muddy Waters on the same album — but not a lot of spirit or invention. Probably the silliest thing about it is that Buddy splits himself in two: Buddy Guy the guitar player is restricted here mainly to long instrumental jams like ʽCome See About Meʼ (no, no relation whatsoever to the Supremes' song — this here is just generic 12-bar blues), and Buddy Guy the singer/showman is featured on songs with very brief guitar solo passages or no such passages whatsoever. This al­most inevitably results in the instrumental jams becoming boring, and in the vocal numbers be­coming superfluous halfway before they are over.

Worse than that, it seems that at this point Buddy does not have his own muse — for instance, I cannot believe that it is mere coincidence that he chose to record ʽWatermelon Manʼ and ʽYou Don't Love Meʼ just a year or so after the world saw these tunes successfully assimilated by Albert King; and his stab at ʽI'm Readyʼ, one of the most deliciously rude, brawny, cocky blues numbers ever owned by Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters, shows one thing only — that, like it or not, he is not ready. There is no threat in his delivery, nor can there be: personality-wise, Buddy has always been closer to James Brown than to Muddy or John Lee Hooker, and his music has never been «evil» or «scary» in the least.

So what's the good news, if any? Well, I am sympathetic to this version of ʽWatermelon Manʼ: strong piano groove, good sax, and Buddy's «broken» style of soloing is at least so individually different from Albert King's that he gives the song much more jerky spazz. ʽCome See About Meʼ is sharp and crispy for about three minutes, after which it just starts repeating itself. And ʽHello San Franciscoʼ could work well as a rousing show opener... in San Francisco. And, uh, that's about it for this record; no offense to Buddy, but if this was his typical level of operation at Vanguard circa 1970, you can sort of easily see why he lost that contract, and had so much dif­ficulty finding another. (For that matter, one probably needn't lay all the blame on Buddy — his backing band here seems fairly mediocre as well; just compare this level of playing with B. B. King, who around the same time had probably assembled the best backing band of his career, on those Bill Szymczyk-produced albums). Unless you're a real blues fanatic, no need to bother with this uninspired, thumbs down-worthy stuff.

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