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Blues singer and guitarist Buddy Guy is 87 years old today
Photo by Nels Akerlund
Buddy Guy is 87 years old today.
A blues guitarist and singer, Guy is a pioneer of the Chicago blues sound and has served as an influence to some of the most notable musicians of his generation, including Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
In the 1960s, Guy was a member of Muddy Waters' band and was a house guitarist at Chess Records. He can be heard on Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor" and Koko Taylor's "Wang Dang Doodle" as well as on his own Chess sides and the series of records he made with the harmonica player, Junior Wells.
Guy is known for his showmanship on stage. He plays his guitar with drumsticks and strolls into the audience while playing solos. His autobiography, When I Left Home: My Story, was released on May 8, 2012.
Born and raised in Lettsworth, Louisiana, Guy began learning guitar on a two string diddley bow he made. Later, he was given a Harmony acoustic guitar. In the early '50s, he began performing with bands in Baton Rouge. Soon after moving to Chicago in 1957, Guy fell under the influence of Muddy Waters.
In 1958, a competition with West Side guitarists Magic Sam and Otis Rush gave Guy a record contract. Soon afterwards, he recorded for Cobra Records. He recorded sessions with Junior Wells for Delmark Records under the pseudonym, Friendly Chap, in 1965 and 1966.
Guy’s early career was held back by both conservative business choices made by his record company, Chess Records, and "the scorn, diminishments and petty subterfuge from a few jealous rivals.” Chess, Guy’s record label from 1959 to 1968, refused to record Guy’s novel style that was similar to his live shows. Leonard Chess, Chess’s founder, denounced Guy’s playing as "noise."
In the early 1960s, Chess tried recording Guy as a solo artist with R&B ballads, jazz instrumentals, soul and novelty dance tunes, but none was released as a single. Guy’s only Chess album, "Left My Blues in San Francisco," was finally issued in 1967.
Most of the songs belong stylistically to the era's soul boom, with orchestrations by Gene Barge and Charlie Stepney. Chess used Guy mainly as a session guitarist to back Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Koko Taylor and others.
Buddy Guy appeared onstage at the March, 1969 Supershow at Staines, England, that also included Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, Jack Bruce, Stephen Stills, Buddy Miles, Glen Campbell, Roland Kirk, Jon Hiseman and The Misunderstood. By the late 1960s, Guy's star was in decline.
Guy's career finally took off during the blues revival period of the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was sparked by Clapton's request that Guy be part of the “24 Nights” all-star blues guitar lineup at London's Royal Albert Hall and Guy's subsequent signing with Silvertone Records.
While Buddy Guy's music is often labeled Chicago blues, his style is unique and separate. His music can vary from the most traditional, deepest blues to a creative, unpredictable and radical gumbo of the blues, avant rock, soul and free jazz that morphs at each night’s performance.
For almost 50 years, Guy performed flamboyant live concerts of energetic blues and blues rock, predating the 1960s blues rockers. As a musician, he had a fundamental impact on the blues and on rock and roll, influencing a new generation of artists.
Guy has been called the bridge between the blues and rock and roll. He is one of the historic links between Chicago electric blues pioneers Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf and popular musicians like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page as well as later revivalists like Stevie Ray Vaughan. Vaughan said, "Without Buddy Guy, there would be no Stevie Ray Vaughan."
In recognition of Guy's influence on Jimi Hendrix's career, the Hendrix family invited Buddy Guy to headline all-star casts at several Jimi Hendrix tribute concerts they organized in recent years, "calling on a legend to celebrate a legend." Hendrix, himself, once said that "Heaven is lying at Buddy Guy’s feet while listening to him play guitar."
On February 21, 2012, Guy performed in concert at the White House for President Obama. During the finale of the concert, Guy successfully encouraged the president to sing a few bars of Sweet Home Chicago. On December 2, 2012, Guy was awarded the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors.
At his induction, Kennedy Center Chairman David Rubenstein made the commendation, "Buddy Guy is a titan of the blues and has been a tremendous influence on virtually everyone who has picked up an electric guitar in the last half century."
Here is Buddy Guy in a 2023 concert.
On April 25, 1976, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Thunder Revue perform at the University of Florida Stadium in Gainesville.
On the drums in the blue hat is Howie Wyeth, on the congas is Gary Burke. Steven Soles is to the right on guitar in the black vest. The two people with Joan Baez are crew members, as is the man in white shorts to the right. Rob Stoner, in a red shirt, plays bass guitar behind Bob Dylan.
I didn’t have a camera with me that day. I paid the guy sitting next to me $10 to rent his Nikon and to buy one roll of film. It was well worth it.
Photo by Frank Beacham
On this day in 1975 — 48 years ago — Bob Dylan had his most successful recording session for his 17th album, Desire, in Studio E at Columbia Recording Studios in New York City.
Desire, largely co-written with Jacques Levy, featured the artists that worked with Dylan on the Rolling Thunder Revue tour. This is the album where Dylan spotted Scarlet Rivera while walking on the street with her violin case and asked her on a whim to join the session.
It had been a series of frustrating recording sessions until this day. On this night, Dylan returned to Studio E with a smaller group of musicians from previous sessions, retaining Rob Stoner, Scarlett Rivera, Emmylou Harris and drummer, Howie Wyeth.
For the most part, this group of musicians would form the core of the Rolling Thunder Revue. The difference became apparent early on in the session, when a usable take of "Isis" was recorded on the first try.
Both Dylan and Stoner were pleased with the session. The more intimate sound was much closer to the sound of the completed album. Five of the nine songs from Desire were recorded on this night, as well as a slow version of "Isis," the single-only release "Rita Mae" and a successful take of "Golden Loom" that was later released in 1991.
Of the participating musicians, only Emmylou Harris was dissatisfied with the results. It would also be her last session, as she had prior commitments with her own career. The following night, Dylan held another session, this time recording three songs. From this session, Dylan recorded the master take for "Isis" as well as master takes for "Abandoned Love" and "Sara."
Dylan's wife Sara, the subject of the song that bore her name, also accompanied him to this session.
Ronee Blakley recorded the "Hurricane" master with Dylan later in October.
Desire would not be released until early the following year. In the meantime, Dylan embarked on the first leg of a North American tour with the Rolling Thunder Revue. During the course of the tour, which received heavy media coverage, Dylan and his band unveiled songs from Desire in addition to reinterpreting past works.
Howdy Doody’s 40th birthday party, Los Angeles, 1987
Photo by Frank Beacham
Buffalo Bob Smith, host of the NBC children’s TV show, Howdy Doody, died 25 years ago today at the age of 80.
I knew Bob Smith and wrote this obituary about him and some other children’s heroes 24 summers ago. I still miss them all.
Death of a TV Pioneer
It was a tough summer from those of us who grew up in the golden age of television. We lost our favorite singing cowboy, Roy Rogers; Robert Young of "Father Knows Best;" Shari Lewis, the voice of Lamb Chop and, of course, Buffalo Bob Smith, the creator of Howdy Doody.
In the 1950s, when television was a fledgling new medium, it's hard to underestimate the impact these TV pioneers had on us kids. Though the image of Roy and Dale singing "Happy Trails" is still indelible in my mind, no single TV performer had as much influence on me as Buffalo Bob Smith.
Laugh if you will, but you probably wouldn't be reading this column today had it not been for my friends in Doodyville. I entered Howdy's television world daily and reveled in the antics of Clarabell, Phineas T. Bluster, Dilly Dally, The Flubadub, Chief Thunderthud and Corny Cobb.
To me, Buffalo Bob Smith was a mentor and confidant. And, to this day, I clearly remember those commercials: Wonder Bread, Hostess Twinkies and Cream-Filled Cupcakes, Welch's Grape Jelly and Ovaltine.
It was Howdy that drew me to work in television and to become a writer. I owe a gratitude of debt to him.
One of Howdy’s sponsors, Blue Bonnet Margarine, offered a paper cutout version of the show’s characters and television studio. When assembled, one had a replica of Howdy's sets, cameras and even a boom microphone. I played with this toy for hours, "producing" make-believe Howdy shows.
This led to construction of a bigger set on a covered porch in our home. My "studio" took up the whole room and was complete with puppet stage and cardboard television cameras with lenses made from paper towel tubes.
Neighborhood kids sat in the makeshift "Peanut Gallery" and we put on endless shows. From that time on, there was never any doubt that I would eventually work in film and television.
Howdy was just a warm childhood memory until November, 1983 when an article appeared in TV Guide titled "Howdy Doody: the First Hippie." In a tongue in cheek way, the article suggested Howdy was responsible for the rebellious 1960s.
Most thought the idea was nothing but media trivia. But as the story was picked up by other news organizations, it was taken seriously by many people with nothing better to do. This caused an annoyed Buffalo Bob Smith to refute the "charges" on national television.
A Miami-based production company I owned at the time was summoned to Buffalo Bob's home in Ft. Lauderdale to record his response for TV's Entertainment Tonight. I've forgotten Buffalo Bob's comments that day, but I could never forget the man.
Buffalo Bob Smith was as charming as I remembered him from childhood. When the interview was finished, he sat at his piano and played and sang from his Doodyville repertoire. I remembered every word and sang along, to his great delight.
Then, he took me into his small home office. There, in a glass box, hung the original Howdy Doody puppet. He opened the box and allowed me to hold Howdy, work his strings and otherwise stand in awe of this tiny doll who so influenced my childhood. I remember the experience as pure magic.
I kept in touch with Buffalo Bob after that special day. I later moved to Los Angeles. In 1987, Fries Entertainment produced a television special there to celebrate Howdy's 40th anniversary.
I was invited to be in the Peanut Gallery. This time the "Peanuts" ranged in age from 2 to 45. Many of the older participants brought Howdy dolls and memorabilia from their own childhood.
Buffalo Bob, who turned 70 about the time Howdy turned 40, seemed ageless as he warmed up the new Peanut Gallery. The original Howdy, Phineas T. Bluster and Dilly Dally puppets were operated from an industrial "cherrypicker" suspended high above the studio sets.
The actors who originally played Clarabell, Corny Cobb and Chief Thunderthud were back in costume. As I watched these characters come back to life, it was like opening old attic trunk of toys undisturbed since childhood.
Growing up in a small South Carolina town, my first exposure to mass media was radio, magazines, phonograph records and Saturday movies. Television sets were seen only in store windows. In the late 1940's, when Buffalo Bob started his daily show, there were few television sets in the United States and no other programs for children.
On Dec. 31, 1953, the first NBC affiliate television station went on the air in my hometown. Shortly after that, my family bought its first black and white TV set. The Howdy Doody Show began each weekday afternoon at 5:30. As a five-year-old, I was glued to the box waiting for the words: "Say Kids! What Time is It?"
Good storytelling with strong characters through a powerful new technological medium in a time of innocence. Those are the elements that combined to make the Howdy Doody Show the powerful phenomenon that it was.
As a child of the 1950s, Howdy and Buffalo Bob impacted my life in ways I still don't fully understand. But it was my amazing good luck as an adult to count my early childhood mentor as a friend.
Frank Beacham, Hoody Doody and Buffalo Bob Smith
On this day in 2003 — 20 years ago — the last of 21,529,464 Volkswagen Beetles built since World War II rolled off the production line at Volkswagen’s plant in Puebla, Mexico.
One of the 3,000-unit final edition, a baby-blue vehicle was sent to a museum in Wolfsburg, Germany, where Volkswagen is headquartered.
The car produced in Puebla that day was the last so-called “classic” VW Beetle, which is not to be confused with the redesigned new Beetle that Volkswagen introduced in 1998. The new Beetle resembles the classic version but is based on the VW Golf.
The roots of the classic Beetle stretch back to the mid-1930s, when the famed Austrian automotive engineer, Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, met German leader Adolf Hitler’s request for a small, affordable passenger car to satisfy the transportation needs of the German people.
Hitler called the result the KdF (Kraft-durch-Freude)-Wagen (or “Strength-Through-Joy” car) after a Nazi-led movement ostensibly aimed at helping the working people of Germany. The car would later be known by the name Porsche preferred: Volkswagen, or “people’s car.”
The first production-ready, Kdf-Wagen, debuted at the Berlin Motor Show in 1939. The international press soon dubbed it the “Beetle” for its distinctive rounded shape.
During World War II, the factory in Kdf-stat (later renamed Wolfsburg) continued to make Beetles, though it was largely dedicated to the production of war vehicles. Production was halted under threat of Allied bombing in August, 1944 and did not resume until after the war, under British control.
Though VW sales were initially slower in the United States compared with the rest of the world, by 1960 the Beetle was the top-selling import in America, thanks to an iconic ad campaign by the firm Doyle Dane Bernbach.
In 1972, the Beetle surpassed the longstanding worldwide production record of 15 million vehicles, set by Ford Motor Company’s legendary Model T between 1908 and 1927. It also became a worldwide cultural icon, featuring prominently in the hit 1969 movie, The Love Bug, which starred a Beetle named “Herbie.” It was also seen on the cover of the Beatles album, Abbey Road.
In 1977, however, the Beetle, with its rear-mounted, air-cooled-engine, was banned in America for failing to meet safety and emission standards. Worldwide sales of the car shrank by the late 1970s and by 1988, the classic Beetle was sold only in Mexico.
Due to increased competition from other manufacturers of inexpensive compact cars, and a Mexican decision to phase out two-door taxis, Volkswagen decided to discontinue production of the classic bug in 2003.
The final count of 21,529,464, incidentally, did not include the original 600 cars built by the Nazis prior to World War II.
Photo by Jacques Lowe
David Sanborn is 78 years old today.
An alto saxophonist, Sanborn has worked in many genres. His solo recordings typically blend jazz with instrumental pop and R&B. He released his first solo album, Taking Off, in 1975, but has been playing the saxophone since before he was in high school.
Sanborn has also worked extensively as a session musician, notably on David Bowie's Young Americans (1975).
One of the most commercially successful American saxophonists to earn prominence since the 1980s, Sanborn is described by critic Scott Yannow as "the most influential saxophonist on pop, R&B and crossover players of the past 20 years."
Though often identified with radio-friendly “smooth jazz,” Sanborn has expressed an intense dislike for both the genre itself and his association with it.
Here, Sanborn performs “Comin’ Home Baby” at the Java Jazz Festival, 2012.
Photo by Patti Dahlstrom
On this day in 1986 — 37 years ago — news was revealed that RCA dropped John Denver from its roster after the release of his single, “What Are We Making Weapons For.”
Variety reported the song had upset the record company's new owner, General Electric, one of the largest defense contractors in the United States.
Seven Magic Points, Norway
The rusty red swirls of the circular, iron sculpture Seven Magic Points in Brattebergan, Norway mirror the rippling aurora above
Photo by Rune Engebø.