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Monday, November 23, 2015

Buddy Guy: Stone Crazy!

BUDDY GUY: STONE CRAZY! (1979)

1) I Smell A Rat; 2) Are You Losing Your Mind?; 3) You've Been Gone Too Long; 4) She's Out There Somewhere; 5) Outskirts Of Town; 6) When I Left Home.

For most of the rest of the decade, Buddy found himself without a recording contract, suffering the same fate as quite a few old Chicago bluesmen, out of vogue and fighting, or refusing to fight, for survival. One reason may have been a stubborn refusal to adapt, like B. B. King did, but more important, I think, was the fact that unlike B. B. King, Buddy never truly achieved major stardom either in the 1950s or in the 1960s, and thus had no «starting capital» to begin with: not even the good word from Hendrix could make much of an impact.

Eventually, by 1979, as it sometimes happens, Buddy emerged on the far-from-home front — some people have to move to Japan to do this, but Stone Crazy!, as far as I can tell, was recorded in Toulouse, of all places (pretty big city, but who'd know there was a market for American elec­tric blues specifically in the far south end of France?), released on the small Isabel label, and only two years later picked up by the Alligator label in the States (which is why in most conventional discographies you'll find this record marked 1981, when it's really 1979), obviously, to very little fanfare and even less effect.

And you can see why, because Stone Crazy! does indeed show a man who is totally refusing to adapt, living in his own world of musical values and happy to ignore all the developments on all the musical fronts around him. Ten more years and the world would start admiring him for that, but in 1979-81 the progressive drive was still strong, and this retro-Chicago-stuff just didn't cut it. Too bad, because on a purely personal level, the album does show some progress — about half of the tracks feature Buddy Guy in such an overdriven mood as he'd never let us take part in pre­viously. Perhaps there was something in the Toulouse air that made him feel as if he were fighting the Saracens, or maybe it was just the lack of any pressure, but on ʽI Smell A Ratʼ (no relation to the Big Mama Thornton classic) and ʽYou've Been Gone Too Longʼ Buddy Guy is unleashed — good news for all lovers of electric blues guitar thunderstorms.

In fact, unless my gut feeling plays a trick on me, we'd probably have to pick ʽI Smell A Ratʼ as the first bona fide representative of the by-now-all-too-familiar Buddy Guy playing style — «blues against the rules», where conventional, party-approved blues solo licks may be offset at any time with a bit of dissonance, harmony break-up, discordant repetition of an appreciated chord instead of required moving up or down the scale, etc. etc., any time that the soul commands it from the player. Sometimes it's ugly, but even when it's ugly, you kind of feel that it's just be­cause the guitarist got so caught up in his feelings, he forgot all about his textbook. Of course, Buddy is not alone in this respect, but far from every respectable bluesman can allow himself to introduce that element of punkish hooliganry into the playing — Eric Clapton, for instance, while mastering quite a few of Buddy's old licks, never dared to follow him into that territory.

The downside of all this, unfortunately, is that Stone Crazy! is really only interesting when it comes to guitar solos — the song structures are as generically 12-bar as they come, and the only thing that varies are tempos and basic patterns (ʽShe's Out There Somewhereʼ is ʽDust My Broomʼ, ʽAre You Losing Your Mind?ʼ is B. B. King, and only ʽYou've Been Gone Too Longʼ constructs its vamp on the basis of Funkadelic's ʽHit It And Quit Itʼ, because, after all, Buddy does know his way around the basics of R&B, soul, and funk — it's just that the people of Toulouse expect him to play the blues, because it makes for a good rhyme).

Anyway, highlights: ʽI Smell A Ratʼ (plaintive, soulful, crazy aggressive guitar kicks in right away and almost never lets go); ʽYou've Been Gone Too Longʼ (instrumental, funkadelicious, kick-ass energy, the works); ʽWhen I Left Homeʼ (only partially — he makes a big case here out of the alternation of loud and quiet bits, but there's way too little of that scorching soloing when it comes to «loud», and it comes in way too late, and all the rest of the time is Buddy Guy doing his best Bobby Bland impersonation). The rest... ain't bad, really, just nothing to write about. But as a whole, the album does have enough importance and entertainment value to deserve a thumbs up: ʽI Smell A Ratʼ was probably the best blues song to come out of 1979, even if the world couldn't care less at the time.

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