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Monday, March 21, 2016

Buddy Guy (w. Memphis Slim): Southside Reunion

BUDDY GUY: SOUTHSIDE REUNION (w. Memphis Slim) (1972)

1) When Buddy Comes To Town; 2) How Long Blues; 3) Good Time Charlie; 4) You Call Me At Last; 5) You're The One; 6) No; 7) Help Me Some; 8) Rolling And Tumbling; 9*) Jamming At The Castle; 10*) You're The One (alt. version).

Strictly speaking, this is more of a Memphis Slim record than a Buddy Guy one: he is listed first of the two, he sings most of the vocals, and he apparently dominates the track selection. But that does not formally prevent one from including it in Buddy Guy's discography, and besides, it's a nice record, so let us use Buddy's involvement in it as a pretext to give it a friendly mention that it totally deserves.

The session in question was recorded by Slim and Buddy when they happened to cross paths in Europe, when Buddy was touring with the Stones, and is marked as having taken place on Sep­tember 17-18, 1970. Subsequent information, as it always happens, in controversial: apparently, the album was released by Warner Bros. in 1972, but since then, there's been at least several official and unofficial re-releases, on different labels and with different track listings. My version is a 2004 CD reissue on the French specialized Maison de Blues label, with eight «main» and two «bonus» tracks, whatever that might mean in the present case. Yours might be different, and in time, we may hold an international symposium to sort it out and draw scientific conclusions.

In the meantime, what matters is that this is (predictably) not a very original or deeply inspired blues jam session, but (unpredictably) with a pretty high fun quotient. With Junior Wells joining the dynamic duo on harmonica, and a strong brass section in tow, much of the accent is placed on energetic boogie numbers, like the opening ʻWhen Buddy Comes To Townʼ, and there are few pianists in this world better suited to boogieing the hell out of their instrument than Memphis Slim, one of the few to not only perfectly feel the spirit of the pre-war jump blues of Pete Johnson and Amos Milburn, but to expand on it with more complex, but no less fun playing. On all these numbers, it is Slim, not Buddy, who is the real hero — but Buddy is also doing his best, playing "thin" jump blues guitar in the style of Chuck Berry or even T-Bone Walker rather than doing his Hendrix imitations.

Most of the songs here are credited to "Peter Chatman" — the name of Memphis Slim's (John Len Chatman's) father, to whom Slim respectfully credited all of his own compositions; but, also quite predictably, there is really not much here in terms of composition, since you can find all of these melodies on, say, a best-of compilation by T-Bone Walker or quite a few other old rhythm-and-bluesmen. Only ʻRolling And Tumblingʼ continues to be credited to Muddy Waters, even if that is actually the one song that has changed the most, being converted to a slow 12-bar blues and losing its distinctive melody — a rare case where old lyrics were transposed to a new arran­gement rather than vice versa.

I cannot insist that Memphis Slim and Buddy Guy are a perfect pair for each other, but I do know that two great players on a generic blues recording is always a better bet than one, and if you throw in Junior's harmonica, you get stuff like ʻJamming At The Castleʼ, three minutes of fast, intense blues-boogie that is well worth the price of the entire album. And it does include some of the best examples of Buddy's "traditional-restrained", but still mighty energetic guitar playing that would rarely, if ever, be heard in his late Seventies' / early Eighties' period, let alone the post-Damn Right revival — so a gentle thumbs up is perfectly justified.

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