Buddy Guy – the guy who friends and admirers lovingly call “M.F.” – so overwhelmed the Rolling Stones while performing “Champagne and Reefer” on stage with the band in 2008 that Keith Richards took off his guitar and handed it to the bluesman.
“It’s yours,” he said.
That guitar – inscribed to Guy from Richards – now sits in Guy’s Chicago home.
It one of any number of eye- and ear-popping scenes from the new documentary “Buddy Guy: The Blues Chase the Blues Away.” Here’s Guy jamming with Junior Wells. Now he’s on a train with Janis Joplin. Look at Richards, Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood crammed on a tiny stage playing with Muddy Waters in Guy’s Chicago club.
Is that John Mayer?
Yes. That’s John Mayer.
Over 82 minutes, it follows the guitarist from the cotton fields of Louisiana to Chicago to England to Canada to the White House and back home again where city leaders named a road in his honor – his biggest honor he says.
Though the title – The Blues Chase the Blues Away – seems counterintuitive, it’s quickly contextualized when Guy says:
“Funny thing about the blues, you play ’em because you got ’em, but when you play ’em you lose ’em … the blues chase the blues away.”
Like most documentaries, this one uses archival and contemporary interviews to tell the subject’s story. But it also employs gorgeous folk-art paintings to illustrate Guy’s pre-Chicago days in the segregated south and a recurrent segment called “The Blues According to …” that features video footage of Lightnin’ Hopkins, Waters, Mayer, Willie Dixon, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, Cristone “Kingfish” Ingram and Gary Clark Jr. expounding on their chosen genre.
Guy comes off not only as one of the most-influential electric guitarists to have ever played the thing, but as a person anyone would want to befriend. In footage as a young man, a middle-aged man and an elder statesman of 84, Guy talks reverently of both his heroes (“the” Howlin’ Wolf, Waters, John Lee Hooker, etc.), the white Brits who idolized him (the Yardbirds, the Stones, et. al) and of Stevie Ray Vaughan, who regularly cited Guy as an influence and for whom Guy was making gumbo when he received word of SRV’s death from Clapton.
The guitarists had all played together at Alpine Valley the night Vaughan died.
Guy gets emotional in each of these interviews. He speaks – like he plays – from the heart. And he conveys a sense – unlike when he plays – of an inner peace that can come only from love and a life well-lived.
He done chased the blues away. The film does the same.