Guy Buttery stretches acoustic-guitar boundaries
The world is full of great acoustic guitarists, but every now and again one comes along who really blows you away. Vancouver’s own Don Alder—whose percussive, wall-of-sound compositional approach has helped him win major competitions around the world—is one of them. Another is South Africa’s Guy Buttery, who, like Alder, is committed to stretching the boundaries of the instrument. Guitar Player magazine calls him “the most diverse and intriguing fingerstyle artist in recent memory”.
When the Straight contacts Buttery in London, England—where he’s just done two sold-out shows and is preparing to head to Canada to promote a new live album—he says that his desire to break new ground on the guitar comes partly from growing up in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal, home of the Zulu nation.
“In South Africa there’s 11 official national languages,” he explains, “and that obviously includes multiple traditional kinds of music. We have the influences from the West as well, and from all over the world, and the guitar is just used in everything.
“So you kind of take what you like from each genre and try and make something out of it,” he adds. “I like to think I do that sometimes, when I’m successful. You’re just open to so many different tonal colours and textures, and it’s just a matter of exploring them—like there’s a whole orchestra inside that little wooden box, you know.”
A bold, creative approach to the six-string is not always what comes to mind when one considers the legacy of blues-based classic rock, but that doesn’t stop Buttery from citing Led Zeppelin riffmonger Jimmy Page as a major inspiration when he was starting out.
“He was one of the iconic rock-guitar players who took a lot of interest in music from different parts of the world,” he points out. “He was very much into Indian classical music and obviously North African music and Moroccan music and West African music, and that inspired me. I thought, ‘Well here’s this guy making these sort of classic-rock riffs, but if you listen carefully they don’t sound like a British rock band.’ ”
As far as acoustic fingerstyle influences go, Buttery points to the work of Michael Hedges as being particularly spellbinding. “I found so many of his pieces just unlike anything else on the planet,” he notes. But nowadays he’s just as apt to be inspired by singer-songwriter and harpist Joanna Newsom, whose song “The Book of Right-On” he interprets beautifully, via loops and layers, on the new Live in KwaZulu album.
Buttery also finds current inspiration in the artistry of the aforementioned Alder—another Hedges devotee—who he asked to join him at his upcoming Vancouver show. Alder couldn’t make it, unfortunately, but what a double bill that would have been.
“He’s unbelievable,” raves Buttery, “an absolute monster.”
Takes one to know one, I’d say.