It was a ‘magical’ night of blues at Toronto’s venerable Massey Hall, when blues guitarist Buddy Guy and his fabulous blues band appeared on stage.
Prior to their always enjoyable show, blues diva Shemekia Copeland and her band played a 45-minute set that got the blues fans in attendance warmed up just right for Buddy.
Buddy’s show opened with the high-energy "Best Damn Fool" and went right into "Only Nineteen Years Old" a real crowd pleaser!
One of this writer’s favorite Buddy ‘numbers’ is "Hootchie Coochie Man", which always features a superb blues guitar virtuoso duet with Buddy playing lead guitar soloing back and forth with his 2nd lead guitarist Ric ‘JazGuitar’ Hall, who’s been with Buddy’s band for a number of years now. Hall and the rest of Buddy’s ‘blues gang’ have backed him and toured with him for years, and are always familiar faces to see and be entertained by whenever Mr. Guy comes to town. They also perform shows themselves as the Damn Right Blues Band at Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago, and other major blues venues. Along with Hall on 2nd lead guitar (with Buddy), they feature Marty Sammon on keyboards, Tim Austin on drums and Orlando Wright 'playin' it just right' on electric bass. It was nice to see Wright’s bluesy bass solos go from finger plucking to thumb-slapping styles and back again, in various spots in the show adding some imaginative musical variety to the proceedings.
Buddy showcases these very talented fellow Chicago bluesmen during his performances, and tonight’s show was no exception. Austin’s all too brief drum solo, was a real knockout performance, as were the lead bass riffs that Wright performed.
Sammon along with Hall, has a featured spot with Buddy, where Buddy hams it up with him, playing ‘joke’ lead guitar riffs, which Sammon always (and successfully) tries to outdo Buddy on.
Then Buddy pulls his own surprise leads out of his ‘blues hat’, and casts a big broad smile to Sammon -- then walks away, while Sammon again comes up with his own varied piano solo to match Buddy’s.
At one point Sammon’s solo piano theatrics went into some beautiful classical piano depth, with extremely imaginative interpretation. This part of the show brings into it, some serious ‘longhair’-type renditions on the ivories, which adds a touch of class with the classics, to Massey Hall’s stage which is also happens to be the home of the Toronto Symphony. Rather than clash with Buddy’s electrifying Chicago blues, this part of the show only helps solidify and remind the audience that some of the world’s finest are up there performing for them.
As a contrast to this so-called ‘serious’ part of the show, Buddy, like his cohort in the blues, Mr. B.B. King does at his shows hams it up with the audience. Guy does several suggestive and extremely funny goings-on with his guitar neck and body, making sounds and explaining a little of what they mean, to his fans all the while sporting a mischievous boyish grin on his face, which is a story in itself. His fans always seem to get a kick out of this part of the show.
The electric blues duet between Buddy and Hall on "Hootchie Cootchie Man" is always a much appreciated, heart-warming part of every Buddy Guy show this writer has seen.
However another very special and completely unforseen surprise blues duet also took place this night between Buddy Guy and Ric Hall. This happened when they got their acoustic guitars out, and sat down beside each other to play some laid back blues, that was easy listening and deeply engrossing all at the same time. The first tune they played was Marvin Gaye’s upbeat "Aint That Peculiar", which came off really well. Next up on this rare acoustic duo pairing of Buddy and Ric, was Ray Charles’ rousing "What’d I Say", which really go the crowd going. It's nice to see Buddy and Ric keeping alive the memories of Marvin and Ray in this musically touching way. Buddy and Ric finished off this awesome acoustic duo part of the show with the deeply moving "Feels Like Rain", which Buddy sang with true soulful conviction.
To me, this is a new part of the show, and very welcome. The audience seemed totally at ease, soaking up this less ostentatious bluesy part of the show. It was not only entertaining, but very relaxing as well the way only masters in the entertainment field can put across the blues in a way that makes everyone feel they’re having a good time.
Buddy’s annual ‘Walk Through Massey Hall’, is always a welcome part of the show, where he can actually get up front and personal with his fans. Playing guitar on a remote pickup setup with his amp onstage, Buddy wanders through Massey Hall, bringing his brand of urban electric blues within a foot or two of many audience members. He takes the time whenever he stops in front of one of his fans, to play some very enjoyable, people-friendly blues licks, which he complements with an equally neighbourly smile and handshake to many of them. He also hands out several of his signature ‘Buddy Guy’ guitar picks to his avid fanbase, as he ‘meets and greets’ them with his universal message of ‘da bluz’ from his soul to theirs. This heartfelt comraderie and ‘oneness’ with his fans, is probably one of many reasons why Buddy’s fans are endeared to him, and feel close to him as an artist, even though his decades-long fame in blues, puts him on some of the finest stages and venues worldwide, year after year.
Buddy always praises Toronto audiences, and has something nice to say to them whenever he visits. His memories of his first time ‘up here’ in 1967, when he played the world-famous Mariposa Folk Festival for the first time, is a memory as dear to the heart of Buddy, as his many enjoyable concerts are to his fans in Canada. According to one old-time blues fan who remembers Buddy’s early Mariposa shows, he also did his ‘Walk through the audience’ soloing the blues to his fans back then, too! Except with the limited technology at that time, Buddy’s ingenious use of a guitar chord "hundreds of feet long", allowed him the freedom to get out there with his audience, even in those early days. I’m sure there’s nothing like the rush of getting right out there with his fans, that spurs Buddy to include this memorable part of his show at each and every concert he plays.
Many times throughout this Massey Hall show, the audience sang along with Buddy in a ‘call and answer’ fashion, with their verse in response to his lead vocals and guitar solos. It seemed to conjure images in my mind from 1940s movies, of WW 1 or WW 2-era English Music Hall shows, with soldiers and their wives and girlfriends singing a rousing "Waltzing Matilda" along with whichever entertainers were onstage at the time putting a show on for them.
Buddy’s blues extravaganza really gives his fans their money’s worth, whenever he’s in town. His outdoor show the year before, at the Southside Shuffle in Port Credit, just west of Toronto, leaves happy bluesy memories for this writer, and was consistent with Buddy’s many fine shows I’ve attended over the years. This night’s show at Massey Hall, was no exception, and was a real crowd pleaser for the fans in attendance, as well as for this writer.
Shows like this are really something special and always worth looking forward to for many weeks before Buddy Guy and his ‘Damn Right Blues Band’ do it right again for all their devoted fans.