It must be sublime to be a musical legend. At least that’s how Buddy Guy makes it seem, as Living Proof portrays Buddy’s gratitude for his existence with a furious showcase of his ability to devastate his guitar.
Much of this is down-the-line blues rock, which isn’t surprising considering he’s often cited as starting the genre by pushing blues songs and solos beyond their traditional three minute mark. The opening guitar solo of 74 Years Young is a thrash of chords that would probably be too heavy for the radio. It’s spectacular.
Living Proof also documents a life with honesty. In Thank Me Someday, Buddy counters his family’s original complaints about the noise he would make as a kid on his home made guitar. He stomps his blues and increases the volume in his solos as a tongue-in-cheek who’s-laughing-now to the parents. There is charm in spades across these tracks, even when he brags, as in On the Road (“Got a blue Mercedes/with a snakeskin top”) it’s stuffed with humour (“This ride of mine/got a ramblin’ soul/got a bar inside/to keep my cold cuts cold”).
The album’s finest musical moment is Stay Around A Little Longer, and it’s also maybe the one moment where he succumbs to sentiment. A sumptuous gospel song of thanks (“I thank the lord/for letting me stay around a little longer/I love the life I lead”), it rolls with organs, his vocals deep and full, as guitar trills punctuate moments beautifully. The only snag is the conversation he has with BB King as the track closes. They trade guitar solos and quips on how they’re still alive. “You still sound good” Buddy falsettos to BB’s guitar solo moment; “You ain’t so bad yourself, Buddy boy,” BB retorts, followed by some more lightning guitar playing. It’s probably not fair to criticise its sincere intentions, but it doesn’t add anything to the superb song.
Whilst Living Proof is very much the blues, Buddy Guy’s solos give this a rawness that swells with discord, and the result feels more akin to the avant-garde guitar days of Sonic Youth and Shellac. The instrumental ending of Skanky plods along with the kind of blues boogey woogey you want to throttle Jools Holland for over the first three quarters. Then, the fury is unleashed and it turns into an odd and wonderful juxtaposition of noise and blues standard. It’s surely not the first time this has been done and is probably as old as the blues tradition itself, but it feels truly exciting as it thrashes around. It makes Living Proof an album that balances tradition, humour and fury with exciting conviction.