Tribeca Film Festival 2021 Review: Buddy Guy: The Blues Chase the Blues Away

Year: 2021

Runtime: 83 minutes

Directors: Devin Amar, Charles Todd, Matt Mitchener

By Joan Amenn

Early on in this engaging documentary, Buddy Guy explains his understanding of the origin of the Blues, “You play them because you got them but when you play them you lose them. The Blues chase the blues away.” The question of what the Blues are and where they come from is revisited several times throughout the film which makes it clear that everyone has their own unique answer but Guy gives the clearest, most inclusive response.  He should know since he has spent his eighty-four years on this planet loving and pursuing the elusive essence of this musical style.

While his life is not exactly rags to riches he did indeed have a rough beginning in the fields of Louisiana. While white children rode buses to school, Buddy and his siblings had to walk miles. They also picked cotton to help feed their family and lived in a wooden shack that initially had no electricity. When his parents finally saved enough to wire the house they bought a record player. Buddy can still recall the first record he ever bought was by John Lee Hooker. That simple purchase changed his life forever.

From then on, Buddy Guy was obsessed with making music like his heroes did. He was inspired by Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Lightnin’ Hopkins and there was no stopping him from chasing after them all the way to Chicago, far from his home. He is an entertaining narrator and the film works best when it focuses on him simply telling the story of his life with humor and sometimes a flash of steel at remembered injustices.

The great irony of Guy’s life is that he had to leave his own country to be appreciated in another only to return home to find that his sound was mistaken as originating from where he had been. When the Rolling Stones came to the US they were surprised and amused to find that Americans thought they had created the Blues. They were instrumental in helping Guy, Hooker, Waters and Howlin’ Wolf get the recognition they deserved. When Guy opened a small Blues club in Chicago, business picked up after Mick Jagger and Keith Richards showed up to hear Muddy Waters play. There are several memorable scenes in this documentary but Jagger and Richards joining Waters on stage is definitely a must see.

Overall, Guy has had an incredible life which he humbly acknowledges. His goal has always been to keep Blues alive and even though the style may be evolving as the next generation reinterprets it, the music is still going strong. The same could be said for Buddy Guy himself.

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