I’ve seen the big Texan Bluesman, Buddy Whittington a number of times in the past few years; and he’s never failed to impress me; so I’ll always try to see him play live if I can. My son James came with me too as he’s a big fan, and has seen the big man more times than me. This time, Buddy and his band had just returned from a tour of Europe where they’d all unfortunately picked up a cold bug. This gig at the Beaverwood Club, Chislehurst (another of promoter Pete Feenstra’s excellent venues), was booked at fairly short notice upon their return; but no cold virus was going to stop them playing!
We arrived quite early. Buddy was alone on stage tuning up; and then went off to get changed. At about 9pm, he returned with his band and climbed on stage. They consist of fretless bass maestro Peter Stroud (ex Peter Green’s Splinter Group); and well respected skin-beater Darby Todd – both excellent musicians; and always present as Buddy’s UK and European backing band. Tooled up with a Strat, it was a very relaxed Buddy who casually approached the mic and asked ‘What would you like to hear first – something kinda easy?’ That set the tone for what was to be a very low-key and friendly show throughout. I think that’s Buddy’s style. His gigs are like having a few mates round for an informal jam – and in a place like the Beaverwood, that is entirely feasible. That’s a vibe that I like.
The band began their two-part set with the mellow instrumental: ‘A-Flat Tyre’ (otherwise known as ‘For Crystal Beach’) – it certainly was ‘kinda easy’; and it was a kinda superb opener too! We were then treated to a fine show of both Buddy’s own compositions; and old classics – but with a unique Whittington twist. Highlights of this first half were: ‘I Had To Go See Alice’ (the amusing song about Viagra); ‘Pay The Band’ (during which Buddy’s sore throat failed to stop the high notes); ‘Greenwood’ (another fine instrumental, dedicated to one of Buddy’s heroes – Peter Green); and ‘Deadwood And Wire’ (about an experience whilst buying a guitar). The finale of the first part was a phenomenal cover of the classic Freddie King instrumental ‘Hideaway’. This is often covered, of course, but I was quite amazed by this version. It show-cased Buddy’s incredible skills. He took elements of other Blues classics as well as incorporating amusing licks that imitated everything from a clucking hen to a police siren! And at all times, Pete on bass and Darby on drums were tight and reliable. Brilliant!
Part-Two was, if anything, better than Part-One. We were treated to a mixed-bag of covers; Blues classics; and Buddy’s own compositions. These included a blindin’ cover of ZZ Top’s ‘Just Got Back From Baby’s’; a high-calibre take on Savoy Brown’s ‘Tell mama’ (haven’t heard this one for yonks); and a rousing version of the Bluesbreakers’ ‘All Your Love’. Some Blues classics sublimely covered were: ‘Maydell’; and ‘Help Me Through The Day’ (both featured on the band’s covers album, A Bag Full Of Blues, 2010). Several of these tunes hark back to Buddy’s days with John Mayall. We were treated to more of his own work too; including ‘Texas Trios’ (in which he name-checks every three-piece Blues band from his home state); the splendid ‘Pay The Band’; and finishing (after shouted requests from the crowd) with the amusing ‘Second Banana’.
There are a number of things I like about Buddy Whitt. (1) Firstly, his obvious and phenomenal skills at playing the geetar: He plays with a consummate, confident, and relaxed style that makes guitar-playing look effortless; playing some very complex parts with apparent ease. As a bit of a guitarist myself (albeit not a very good one) I sometimes watch famous axe-men and think to myself ‘Yeah, I know what he’s doing, and I know how he’s doing it’ (but I just can’t do it myself!) In Buddy’s case there were a number of times when I didn’t even know how he did what he did – I suppose that’s why he was on the stage and I’m just sitting here writing about it! (2) Song construction: We all know that Blues has its rules; and that those rules can be stretched by someone who knows exactly what they’re doing. But Buddy often pushes the Blues boundaries to new limits; taking in some very inventive fresh ground – yet never becomes wild or weird; and still remains firmly within the realms of the Blues. (3) Lyric writing: In subject his songs are often very deep and highly insightful. His skill with the English language produces tongue-twisting lyrics that are clever, meaningful, and at times amusing. And he never seems to sing these complex lines wrong – whilst simultaneously playing some tasty riffs too! And finally (4) Having met the man on a couple of occasions (including half-time at this gig), I know him to be a thoroughly genuine, approachable bloke who always makes a point of meeting and chatting to his fans, before, during and after his show. Top banana!
Thanks to the ‘Chislehurst Trio’ of Buddy, Peter and Darby for another great show; and to Pete Feenstra for making it happen! PTMQ
Here is a video from the gig by Steve Dulieu of Buddy and his boys playing their instrumental tribute to Peter Green, ‘Greenwood’ ….