In his signature tune, the great blues guitarist Albert King sang that he was “born under a bad sign.” I don’t know whether Buddy Guy was born under any sign, good, bad, or indifferent, but his incendiary musicianship and quirky, genre-defying stage presence certainly put the audience at his recent UCSB show under the good sign of top-notch electric blues. Opener Quinn Sullivan, a 14-year-old boy who once approached Guy and told him he could play a little guitar, presented a serviceable set, the highlight of which was a scintillating cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing.”
Guy himself broke things wide open immediately upon taking the stage. His whoops, hollers, falsetto leaps, and horn-dog hiccups made the man’s cuckoo blues vocals the entertaining center of attention whenever he wasn’t — and sometimes even when he was — playing flat-out blistering blues guitar. He tickled the strings in innumerable sotto voce passages, relying on his band to keep the flame of the groove burning low while he tripped, flipped, and dipped through the voodoo of nearly unamplified musings, only to burst out of these nirvana-inducing meditations with loud shards of feedback-coated electricity.
Neither was the man reluctant to curse. Guy’s persistent f-bombs resounded through Campbell Hall, leaving people reeling and softened up for the next R-rated punch line. Fortunately, despite the R&B circuit shtick, there were more than enough moments of sheer, delirious soul-scorching blues. At 77 years of age, Buddy Guy still rocks harder than you. And that’s not a bad sign at all.