My Dear Friends…
I often ask myself why certain life stories inspire my Blah, Blah Blogging?
Self: Why did Buddy Guy in the recent American Masters series on PBS inspire you to write about him?
More Self: I can always depend on you to ask the right question at the right time.
Even More Self: Who are you talking to?
Back to the first Self: Don’t ask. Just go with the flow.
There are so many reasons I tuned into the story of Buddy Guy:
- I love the Blues. I have a vision of myself from forever as a singer of the Blues. Sitting atop a piano, looking strangely like a bad imitation of Julie London, plaintively crying a river of blues. My audience suitably sobbing (free tissue packs included in the price of admission.) Scratch a comedienne and you’ll find a tragedienne.
- I knew the name Buddy Guy. I didn’t really know who he is.
- American Masters always find really interesting people to profile.
- Their documentaries are gloriously, artistically interesting and informative.
Buddy Guy is a blues guitar player in the style of his heroes and mentors, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters. Familiar names but little known to me. Buddy was born 83 years ago in a small town in Louisiana. From the beginning he never thought of himself as special. And as I listened to him describe his life in this small town, where his family were share croppers and as a child, he picked cotton. Before I even heard him play, I felt I was being osmotically drawn to him right through all the electronic apparatus between him and me. As I watched and listened to him learn to play, at first with only two strings before he had enough money to buy a real guitar, I thought… ”What is it about this man that touches me so deeply? First, his humility… what can I say, is humbling. At a time when everyone is “look at me-ing” all over the place, he put his focus where it belonged… on discovering, exploring, and practicing his gift.
He needed to breathe.
He needed to play.
One was inextricably linked to the other.
I related. Even when I didn’t want to, that is how I lived.
In the first moments of this profile, I watched as he listened to the greats of his time, first in Baton Rouge then after moving on to Chicago. All he ever wanted to do was try to play like they did. He never thought he’d ever become a professional musician. He just wanted to play his guitar. Chicago was a mecca for the Blues. He could and did watch. He could and did listen. For him it was simple. He needed to breathe. He needed to play. This was all very familiar to me. I was hooked.
Throughout the documentary, various personalities, guitar players (of all ages), managers, agents, tell Buddy’s story. And then we have the Brits. I find it interesting that most Americans of the 50’s and 60’s and even into the 70’s (my ignorance astounds me, but then it always has) didn’t know about Buddy or Howlin’ Wolf or Muddy Waters, or John Lee Hooker, but Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones knew. Eric Clapton knew. Stevie Ray Vaughn knew, and when Buddy went to London as a tourist…. the Brits pounced on him and made him play with them and it was the breakthrough he needed because it was when the Stones toured the States that they demanded and got these great unknown (Ha! Ha!) guitar players included in their tours.
An amazing piece of Black History. Of course there are so many unknown amazing pieces of Black History to shake up the shame I share with whoever is willing to share it with me.
Another piece of my ignorance follows the various interviews of one, John Mayer. I had only heard of him as the escort of various People Magazine movie and television stars. (Please don’t give me grief. People magazine is my go to the beauty salon, doctor offices, necessary reading material. I call ahead to be assured the establishments carry the latest issues.) So who knew from John Mayer? Turns out these movie stars knew a good thing after all. He was truly erudite, intelligent and bonkers over Buddy. And I understand he can play guitar as well as other things, too.
Buddy Guy’s life story stirred my thinking about the creative process.
As I view some of the artists today, I am saddened. It’s not as if I do not see the talent, the gift. In my thinking however, the gift really is only one small part of an artist’s process. Without discipline, without working the gift, it can only go so far. In fact, I would say, without the kind of practicing that Buddy Guy did, his glorious gift would never have developed the way it did. Practice doesn’t guarantee success, but without it the shelf life of the artist’s gift is a short one.
Right??? Of course, right!!!!
Love, Sally-Jane ❤️
P.S. So THAT is how you get to Carnegie Hall…
P.P.S. More enticement to watch documentary…