The Couch House
On Tuesday evening, Blues fans from throughout Orange County packed The Coach House for a chance to see Buddy Guy, one of the few remaining old guard blues legends. What many of them got was an evening full of surprises, including some old-world wisdom, a cast of new characters, a sing-a-long, and, of course, some incredible blues performances.
At 8p.m., an eighteen-year-old bluesman by the name of Quinn Sullivan got up on stage and rocked the house. It only took a few minutes for the crowd to realize that this kid, whoever he was, has something real special, and, musically speaking, he definitely ain’t no kid. After a highly stylized cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” he introduced a song called “Cyclone,” which had appeared on his first album (of the same name), released when he was eleven. Another highlight of his 45-minute set was “Let It Rain.” During the set, which was performed with Buddy Guy’s band (with the exception of the drummer), keyboardist Marty Sammon demonstrated his own virtuosity.
Just after nine, Buddy Guy plugged in. During a cover of Willie Dixon’s “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man,” the octogenarian bluesman proved the blues runs so strongly through him that all he had to do was turn his guitar around and rub its strings against his shirt to own the crowd. Naturally, it’s not just the fact that he rubbed the strings with his shirt — it’s the way that he does it: minimally, in time with the beat, with a suggestive smile, during a song about doing the nasty. After a nice warming up, he spent a few minutes addressing the crowd about the importance of and power of the blues, particularly in contrast to that hippity hoppity, and with the thesis that the blues has got bigger cajones.
Next up was a cover of Muddy Waters’s “She’s Nineteen Years Old.” During the tune, he demonstrated that hip hop’s freestyling origins were alive and strong. As the solid jam of this tune mellowed, Guy ordered his band to halt and he told another story — again, for the sake of the blues. This time, he recounted a conversation he’d had with B.B. King, wherein King had told him, “If I go before you, don’t let the blues die.” From there, he launched into John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom,” or at least one verse from it; the whole evening was peppered with bits of songs, some of which appeared during medleys that would take place in whatever key he would bark out to his band.
As the predominantly middle-aged audience guzzled their suds and swayed with their ol’ ladies, Guy would periodically court their vocal participation, saying, “Don’t fuck it up, now.” During Johnny Taylor’s “Who’s Making Love,” he had the audience sing the chorus: “Who’s making love to your old lady / while you was [sic] out making love?” For Little Willie John’s “Fever,” he had everyone clapping their hands at the snap of his fingers. During the song, when he took a break from the spotlight to let his rhythm guitarist, Ric Jaz, showcase his impressive chops, the clapping had faded; so, when Guy stepped back up, he chided the non-clapping audience: “Aw, you already forgot!” They immediately renewed their clapping duty.
Following that, the house got another rap session. This time, Guy started off telling folks that if everybody were like him, there wouldn’t be a worry in the world because his parents taught him to love everybody. He recalled a scene from his childhood when some older white man repeatedly referred to him as “boy,” but Guy didn’t judge the man harshly for the reference because he could see that there was goodness in the man’s heart. He then talked about how his grandparents all used snuff, smoked cigarettes, and chewed tobacco “at the same fucking time, and none of ‘em died of cancer.” His point was that his family grew their own tobacco and didn’t lace it with the chemicals that are commonly infused into these products by tobacco companies. He made a similar rant about processed chicken before launching into a medley that featured a brilliant trading of licks with Sammon.
He started another song about his sister accidentally milking a bull, but stopped midway through — claiming that the song was too dirty for this audience. “But Buddy Guy do wig out,” he continued, as he introduced “Someone Else Is Steppin’ In (Slippin’ Out, Slippin’ In)” from his album Slippin’ In. During the song, he walked off stage and walked all through the house, continually singing and playing. Throughout this, and most of the tunes he sang within his nearly two-hour set, his singing showcased his powerful blues howls and growls, but he also seemed very willing to share the spotlight as for the last twenty minutes or so of his show, he brought Sullivan back onstage and let him go. First, it was a duo on Cream’s “Strange Brew;” then he duelled with the boy a bit before he let Sullivan take on Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” following which, the two of them performed a single verse from Ray Charles’s “What’d I Say.”
“Skin Deep,” a song about not judging people, was a final highlight of the show. Following that, Guy soloed a bit more, threw some picks to the audience and then unceremoniously walked off stage while Sullivan continued to play with the band. A young lady, who also possessed some serious blues prowess, was then brought onstage [didn’t catch her name]. She and Sullivan finished the set for Guy and bade everyone a good evening. And that was that.