There are plenty of blues men and women who never received the respect or attention they deserved, and perhaps no one was more criminally underrated than late blues guitarist and singer Phil Guy, a genuine blues brother to the legendary Buddy Guy and longtime player on the Chicago and world blues scenes. An inspiration to Robert Cray and others, Phil’s been gone for nearly nine years now, but friends and family have done their best to help keep his memory alive through an annual International Phil Guy Day that coincides with Phil’s April birthday as well as various prostate cancer awareness programs such as those Buddy performed earlier this year in both Chicago and Memphis, joined for the latter by harmonica player Bobby Rush.
But there’s nothing quite like being able to see and hear Phil himself again playing the blues, as a new DVD from UK music collection specialists JSP Records makes possible. Recorded at London’s 100 Club in early 1999, My Blues, Baby includes Phil both performing and being interviewed, providing a terrific look at Phil’s talent, history, and personality for any fan of the blues, Chicago or otherwise.
Kicking things off with a cover of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help Me” with its groovy, “Green Onions”-like bassline, Phil and the band are all already having a good time, with Phil reminding us of two things right from the start: first, that, like his brother, he could really make his guitar sing, and secondly, that, also like his brother, he was a fine showman, chatting up the audience leading into and during the song, dancing his way across the stage, and encouraging the crowd to clap their hands and stomp their feet.
That’s followed by the slow, smoking original “It’s Too Late Baby”, a “blues with a feeling” number on which Phil sounds a bit like older brother Buddy, including telling his guitar to “shut up” just as Buddy sometimes does (such as on his recent Record Store Day release “Sick with Love”). Phil also shows that he is an able frontman — something he indicates in the later interview that he never really had the desire to be — by allowing the other band members frequent opportunity to show their stuff, as, for example, with keyboardist Bob Hall here and throughout the program.
Most of the songs on My Blues, Baby are covers, some rather straightforward — such as the crawling “Long Distance Call” (Muddy Waters), which Phil delivers complete with some Waters-like facial expressions, also sprinkling in a little “She’s Nineteen Years Old” at its end; “The Things I Used to Do” (Guitar Slim); “Downhome Blues” (Z.Z. Hill); a “Killing Floor” (Howlin’ Wolf) that starts with Guy doing his best impression of Wolf’s deep voice before dancing around the stage to Hall’s boogie woogie playing; and a “Steppin’ In” (Denise LaSalle), a number Buddy also often performs, by which point the band is really cooking — while others tend to be more unique, often funky, takes on the originals, including the shuffling “Darlin’ You Know I Love You”, a “Money” (Berry Gordy) with another Booker T-ish groove and Guy strutting around the stage and blubbering, and a “Boogie Chillen” (John Lee Hooker) with a bit of a James Brown flair on which Hall helps take off some of the edge with his boogie piano before Guy mixes in a little of Hooker’s “Boom Boom”.
As good as all of that is, it’s on the two originals that Guy shines most: the aforementioned “It’s Too Late Baby” and a similarly slow “Garbage Man Blues” that’s anything but trash and allows Guy to demonstrate what he can do on guitar.
The sound and video quality of the DVD are both respectable, relying on frequently tight shots often filmed at angles to provide diverse, interesting visuals. Phil’s powerful, dynamic vocals range from those of brother Buddy to other Chicago performers like Muddy Waters, Magic Slim, and Lurrie Bell, with Phil often employing a call-and-response between his guitar and vocals.
An edited, half-hour interview with Phil follows the musical portion of the DVD, where Phil talks about growing up in Louisiana as the son of a sharecropper; becoming interested in playing guitar and what attracted him to the blues; which brother started playing guitar first; what made Phil’s sound different; getting his start with Raful Neal’s band; his guitars; backing Buddy throughout the world, including a tour of Africa; playing with other blues artists like Junior Wells, Koko Taylor, Big Mama Thornton, and Son Seals; and “the Chicago sound” of Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, and Sonny Boy Williamson vs. the Louisiana style of blues, in addition to offering reflections on artists such as Janis Joplin, Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan, and Bonnie Raitt. Perhaps the only flaw of the DVD is that it isn’t clear to what blues player or players Phil might be referring in some of the final segments of the interview; the interviewer’s questions aren’t included in any of the exchange, nor does Phil mention the name(s) of the individual(s) about whom he’s speaking, so quick titles on these couple of segments of the interview could go a long way towards helping to provide some better perspective.
In the DVD’s liner notes, promoter and JSP Records founder John Stedman recalls Phil as the “most powerful and intense on stage…of all the artists I toured and promoted…and the absolute king of that hard slow blues burn”, which you can easily hear for yourself on songs like “It’s Too Late Baby”. We may be a bit biased (in that Guy has long been one of our very favorite bluesmen), but the truth is they just don’t make them like this anymore, so you’ll be wise to make My Blues, Baby your blues too!