When Buddy Guy calls from Las Vegas at 7 on a Saturday morning, the sleep-deprived interviewer on the receiving end is still waiting for the coffee to kick in. But the 72-year-old Guy has already been up for hours.
"Oh man, I was born and raised on a farm," enthuses the talkative blues-guitar legend. "Every mornin' you can call me at 5 and I've done had my coffee, and if I'm home I'd of had my red beans and rice almost ready now. My mom used to teach me that, 'cause she had to use a wood stove to cook, and it would be so hot in Louisiana she would get up at 4 every morning and have the red beans done by 7, so the house wouldn't be so hot. When the fire go off on the stove, that's the only time the house stay cool."
Guy has come a long way since his threadbare childhood, which he spent in a plantation shack with no running water, no electricity, and-until he got big enough to build them-no screen doors. ("We had to fan the flies and everything outta the damn house, man," he recalls.) Nowadays, he runs his own Chicago blues club, Buddy Guy's Legends, and is known far and wide as one of the Windy City's most respected musicians. More importantly, as evidenced by his new album, Skin Deep, Guy's guitar work is as potent as ever. His passion still burns through the frets of his Buddy Guy Signature Strat, leading you to wonder how he manages to stay so energized at his age. Turns out he's got a system.
"You know, ain't none of us gonna stay young forever," he relates. "I lost my brother [guitarist Phil Guy] goin' on three months this month. My mom used to tell me, 'If you drink too much milk, you'll kill yourself.' So I just try to balance myself; I don't overdo anything."
Blues fanatics could happily argue that Guy overdoes at least one thing these days: cramming smokin' hot guitarists onto his records. And they aren't all big shots, either. Take nine-year-old Quinn Sullivan, who unleashes a wicked solo on the new disc's ode to next-generation blues players, "Who's Gonna Fill Those Shoes". Raves Guy: "I know several young guitar players, but this kid, man—at that age, I don't believe him when I hear him play."
Slightly better known as Strat-handlers go is Eric Clapton, who trades incendiary licks with Guy on "Every Time I Sing the Blues", and who once proclaimed him the greatest guitarist alive. "He's such a nice guy," comments Guy, "but how could I agree with that statement? I wish I could sell half the records that he sells."
Occupying a level somewhere between Clapton's legend and Sullivan's upstart status is underrated slide-guitar wizard Derek Trucks, whose bottleneck abilities shine on both the title track and "Too Many Tears", where he's joined on vocals by wife Susan Tedeschi.
"The first real good slide-guitar player I heard was the late Earl Hooker," Guy explains. "Me and B. B. King used to say, 'Hooker's the only somebody you know who can play the slide and make you cry.' Derek can make you cry too, but the way he play, every time a tear go to come out, it's not a sad tear, it's a joyful tear. Man, that kid, I don't know why he got it, but whatever he got, I want him to keep on doin' it."
Steel-guitar ace Robert Randolph and rhythm specialist David Grissom also get their impressive chops in on Skin Deep, but the talent on Guy's 10th studio album for the Silvertone label isn't confined to guitar slingers. Former Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble keyboardist Reese Wynans performs on all 12 tracks, as does bass god Willie Weeks.
"It was like in the Chess [Records] days," Guy recalls. "You just got some guys look like they know that studio stuff better than anybody. I've been in a lot of sessions, and a lot of sidemen will just play the set list back and tell you, 'That's it.' Man, with this session, everybody was sayin', 'Look, I think I can do a little better; let me go back in there.' And hair was standin' up on my head-even though I've shaved it off! But this is the kinda stuff that makes you feel like you should go on and keep on playin', and that's what Willie and all the guys make me feel like doin'. I don't even think about retiring. I just say like everybody else, you know, 'Blues musicians don't retire, they just drop.' "
Buddy Guy plays the sold-out Commodore Ballroom on Sunday (November 9).