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I always forget just how much I like Blues until I start listening to it again, though it can be hard to find it really pure and passionate these days. I have a couple of other Buddy Guy albums; one early on, his recordings for Chess Records, where he was a session player and though his desire to do so, was never allowed to cut loose (a mistake the head, Marshall Chess, recognised late on in the sixties when the likes of Hendrix, Clapton et al were crashing to stardom). The other, Damn Right I Got The Blues, from the nineties never quite cuts it. So what a pleasure it was to stumble upon Live At The Checkerboard Lounge.
Live At The Checkerboard Lounge is not quite a purist album but it's pretty close. Buddy Guy was approached by JSP Records, then with virtually no catalogue to produce a live album, as Guy at the time could hardly get a record deal. Blues was out of favour and so he accepted the offer, and Live At The Checkerboard Lounge was the result. The club, incidentally, Buddy Guy himself owned.
What's fascinating about Live At The Checkerboard Lounge is that unlike a lot of Blues albums where standards are wheeled out (not that I'm saying that this is a bad thing) most of the songs are Buddy's own compositions. And they're really raw blues, both traditional and modern yet never watered down as some can be. Perhaps this is because Guy's so on form. His vocals are impassioned and his guitar work exceptional. You feel here is Guy given the opportunity to let loose and bring his and Blues reputation back into favour. Whether he did or not, well, I'm inclined towards doubt but he does himself and the genre more than proud.
We open with Buddy's Blues (Part One) and it's a pleasure as it's a purely instrumental track. Buddy really puts in some effort, letting those classic Blues riffs fly. Blues, being for the most part a repetitive genre needs virtuosity to make it fly and Guy gives it in spades. It's so recognisably Blues it hurts but it's the kind of Blues that makes you move and reminds me of being in a Blues club in Chicago (where the Checkerboard Lounge is) and dancing practically on top of the band. Three pasty English twentysomethings dancing along with the local crowd (to the delight of the band). Well, Buddy's Blues makes you want to do the same. It's so rhythmical and energised and full of passionate fretwork that you can't keep yourself still. It's kind of short, four minutes, when the tracks on most of the rest of album are longer, slower burning and full of old fashioned Blues tension. Straight away with I've a Right to Love my Woman (can you get much more Blues titled than that?) and especially Tell Me What's Inside of You, which really pulls out all the stops with Buddy wrenching out long Bluesy riffs. It's exquisite Blues, both slow burning and an absolute delight, especially when Buddy allows himself free reign to let go.
We do get a traditional Blues standard in the always gorgeous The Things That I Used To Do, and Buddy's version here matches late lamented Freddie King's version. Being pretty traditional the song always requires strong vocals. King could do it and Buddy proves that he can too. He proves it again on You Don't Know How I Feel, which burns slower than any other track on the album. It's something special and you can hear the audience in the background loving it, supporting him and egging Buddy on. It's full of Bluesy yearning and hardship. Raw and beautiful, it slows flows like emotional tension except it refuse to reach any form of crescendo, which makes it all the more powerful.
We come into energy again with The Dollar Done Fell and Buddy's Blues (Part Two) and again we get raw passion pulsing from the band. In the former track Buddy gets going with the audience, fair talking fair singing to them, there's interaction going on between the two and you feel it's pushing both on and giving the performance that special feel. As the track ends Buddy again lays on that thick electric Blues guitar and it runs perfectly into more of the same in Buddy's Blues (Part Two) and again you just have to move and I think of that Chicago Blues Club (then think why did we only go on the last night?). There's such clarity to Buddy's fretwork that it can but impress, you really feel he's at his peak. The album has a feel of an artist working at their pinnacle, perhaps not in terms of critical success (which is usually the kiss of death) but in terms of artistry and passion for what they're doing because Guy is playing for his life, earning his daily bread and giving it his all. It really comes across and adds that special indefinable something.
Now I think something needs saying for his backing band, which put in a very good job of backing Buddy Guy up. I've no idea how they are, maybe members of the house band or something. Nevertheless they execute their job perfectly, they give Buddy the time and space to really open up, they provide the backing, the base on which Buddy is able to let fly. Nor do they get lost in Buddy's virtuosity; they reach a good balance with him.
One thing that may put people off is this is a live recording from the late seventies in a club by a small label and such it's not get that polished sound that people so often expect these days. It's not been remastered, the sound levels are a little low (but what better excuse than that to rack up the volume?) and sometimes the audience are kind of loud, but really: who cares? You feel as if they had cleaned the album up it would have lost that raw energy and you have to accept it warts and all or not at all. After a while you don't notice it again and sometimes, like when the audience start crying out, you feel almost like you're in there with them all.
If you want some passionate raw Blues then the Checkerboard Lounge is the place to go.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Buddy's Blues
2 I've Got A Right To Love My Woman
3 Tell Me What's Inside Of You
4 Done Gone Over You
5 Things I Used To Do
6 You Don't Know How I Feel
7 Dollar Done Sell
8 Don't Answer The Doo