I nearly had whiplash when I first heard Buddy Guy had been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of its Class of 2005. My initial reaction: “Damn right! Buddy Guy is going to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!” But as this began to sink in I started to have a much different reaction: “What the hell took so damn long? How did we get all the way to 2005 without Buddy Guy in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?”
I know what you are thinking and you are wrong. This is not just the petulant indignation of an unreasonable and devoted fan. OK … so it is not just the petulant indignation of an unreasonable and devoted Buddy Guy fan. My incredulity at the lateness of this honor comes not from being a Buddy Guy fan but from being a rock and roll fan with at least some sense of musical history. Rock and roll just could not be the same without Buddy Guy.
It has long been accepted that rock and roll traces its roots back to the blues (check out Muddy Waters’ “The Blues Had a Baby and They Called it Rock and Roll”). There have been a lot of great blues artists and they collectively created the breeding ground for Bill Haley, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, and Elvis to spring forth what we now call rock and roll.
That a connection exists between the work of Robert Johnson and artists like the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton may be accepted but it might not be immediately obvious to all listeners. There has to be a bridge between Johnson’s haunting, acoustic work and today’s titans of the electric guitar. Where is the place where Johnson’s “Cross Road Blues” and Cream’s “Crossroads” meet?
Buddy Guy is that intersection. He is the blues and he is rock and roll.
Some rock players try and think the blues and some blues players have tried their hands at rock and roll. Buddy Guy does either or both – sometimes in the same song and it never sounds anything but authentic and inspired. He never had to learn the blues to fuse them with his playing the way so many of today’s guitar gods have. On his terrific album Slippin’ In he sings a song, “Don’t Tell Me About the Blues.” While some British and southern white kids were trying to figure out how to combine Robert Johnson and Chuck Berry, Buddy Guy was doing it. And he is still doing it and doing it better than most.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame can take solace in the fact they are not the only ones who were a little too slow on the draw when it comes to recognizing Guy’s special ability to merge rock and the blues. He tells a great story about this in the liner notes to his package released by Rhino Records (“The Very Best of Buddy Guy”):
“When I got ready to go to Vanguard, that’s when Chess came to me and found out that Eric and his Cream and the Stones and Beck was hollering,” says Guy. “Leonard came and told us, ‘Jesus, that’s the shit you’ve been trying to sell me for the last 12 years, and now it’s sellin’ like hotcakes!’
“He bent over and said, ‘Kick me!’ “
Buddy Guy: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Well deserved and long overdue.