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Buddy Guy is the real deal — a true blues man

April 18, 2018 GMT

Buddy Guy’s frequent flyer miles often lead to Pittsburgh, but that doesn’t surprise his ardent fans and local musicians.

His April 24 concert at the Palace Theatre is his sixth stop in Greensburg, alone, since 2009, and that doesn’t include appearances at other local venues and festivals.

“That’s a lot,” says promoter Mike Elko, who has worked with Guy since the now defunct Metropol days in the Strip District, and is again bringing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member to the Palace. “But Pittsburgh loves the blues,” he adds. Each visit, he says, is an opportunity to see “one of the last great blues guitar players,” who is 81.

The Palace is a good fit for Guy, says musician and club owner Ron “Moondog” Esser, because it is “a great rock and blues venue.”

It’s all very simple, Esser suggests. “Buddy Guy has a huge fan base in Pittsburgh because he is the real deal. He is blue collar, just like this town, and exactly what his music emulates,” says Esser, who has worked with the artist many times over the years.

“I always find him to be a truly genuine human being,” he says. “He overcame the odds when African-American musicians were being ostracized by the white-owned record companies. And he has always stayed true to his craft.”

He delivers “a true gritty, raw blues show,” he adds. “In the day and age of over-produced, over-synthesized live shows, Buddy Guy still brings a raw blues sound to the stage and pours it straight from his heart.”

Esser sees Guy, who influenced such greats as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan, as “one of the last true blues men.”

He has a history, too, he adds, of helping young musicians along the way.

That’s vital, says local blues vocalist Freddye Stover.

“He takes on the younger generation of guitar players, to show them the ropes and show the world who they are. That’s important, leaving a legacy of blues music behind to never be forgotten,” she says. “It does not surprise me at all that Pittsburgh loves Buddy Guy. He plays his guitar with such ease. He’s not afraid to play the blues as if he owns it. He has his own style of playing. If folks like the Chicago-style blues, Buddy Guy is the one to listen to.”

He has mentored young and older musicians alike, says Jonny Weber, president of the Blues Society of Western Pennsylvania. “He is one of the senior statesmen of the blues, the bridge that brings music from the past and blends it with the future.”

He plays to the audience, endearing himself throughout well-timed pauses and quips, she adds. “His big smile welcomes the listener/fan to absorb his show and become one with Buddy Guy and his music.”

Vocalist Erin Burkett cites the artist as a very early inspiration to her. “He is one of the greats, whose warmth and attack, ease and honesty is big enough to connect complete strangers and leave them nodding with the same joy in their ears.”

Marc Reisman, blues harpist and former Iron City Houserocker, recalls that his primary exposure to Guy’s guitar playing had been on the landmark album the harp player Junior Wells cut for Delmark, entitled “Hoodoo Man Blues.”

“What struck me about both his and Junior Wells’ playing was their economy of notes and the emotion they managed to squeeze out of every note they played,” he says. “Like Junior Wells, Buddy was firmly rooted in the Chicago blues tradition, but both he and Junior managed to put their own unique stamp on it.”

Norman Nardini likes that stamp.

“I want my music to come from real people, folks that have done some living, real life being lived out on stage. I think we need real people, real music people, to deliver the music,” he says. “Long live the Buddy Guys of the world. Some guys are bigger than the music: Johnny Cash, Stevie Ray, Keith (Richards), Jerry Lee (Lewis), Miles (Davis), Trane (John Coltrane). Buddy Guy is one of those guys.”

Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune Review contributing writer.