No law says you gotta be happy. Lucky for Phil Guy—or else these 2.5 hours would be in heavy violation.
Because every mad molecule of Classic Chicago Studio Session 1982 and Live in 1985 with Jimmy Dawkins is hardcore blues, from the pent-up tension in his guitar’s every move to those envenomated sentiments embedded into heavyset shuffles and heavyset grinds.
Sentiments such as this: “They tell me love is like quicksand, and you can’t stop me when I’m sinkin’ down,” which Guy snaps out in “Love Is Like Quicksand.” Then he tacks on the extra buzzkill—“and you always treat me wrong”—as a parting shot before the avalanche of bent notes and jagged riffs come crashing in. Even when significantly slowing the beats per minute, the sharply stinging “Texas Flood,” a festering “Ice Around My Heart,” and the burliest, bruisingest “Garbage Man Blues” (“Early this morning, I saw my baby making love to the garbage man”) are no cheerier or any less intense.
That is not a happy man … thankfully. Because he sure makes for one fired-up bluesman.
Sprawled over a pair of CDs, this collection is quite the harvest.
And an especially valuable harvest at that, given how undervalued and underheard Phil Guy (1940-2008) remains to this day. Somehow, for his mighty strengths—and for being oh so close to mega-fame—he never became the household name as did his older blockbuster brother, Buddy Guy. Buddy was on Phil’s records. Phil was on Buddy’s records. Both were on Junior
Wells’ records. Still, no mega-breakthrough. There was room for only one Guy at the tip-top.
Phil was younger than Buddy by four years. Although both shared the gene for punishing Fender guitars, Phil was more of a Tele man than his Strat-loving sibling. And he was funkier, too. One look at him told you so: Phil sported a monster Afro. Or, more aptly, a monster Afro sported Phil. If further proof is needed, turn on his stomping version of Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man” that gets its backbone to slip from grafting on Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.”
It was a Friday in mid-March when the Classic Chicago Studio Session 1982-half of this collection was cut (and from where all the forementioned songs, except the Reed-Jackson mashup, stem). Phil was flanked by brother Buddy, on second guitar, along with saxophonist Maurice John Vaughn, keyboardist Professor Eddie Lusk and harpist Larry Cox. “Bad Luck Boy”
ransacks Albert King for nine long, loose minutes as the band forms a buffet line to bite off solos for themselves. “Winehead Woman” is instead a curt, dense, raucous smack.
It was a Sunday in mid-May when the Live in 1985-half shook the stage of London’s 100 Club. Guy and fellow Chicago guitarist Jimmy Dawkins were on the road together overseas, with this show being the final whistlestop in their U.K. tour. Guy first takes a few—seething “Sadie,” hankering “Let Me Love You, Baby”—before locking down rhythm guitar for Dawkins’ lead.
They get “Easy Baby” oscillating with that Magic Sam-kind of swinging release. “That’s Alright” strolls. “You Gotta Love Somebody” and “Dust My Blues Jam” account for 18 minutes of groove between them. Yet for as dominant as Guy’s thorny barbwire and Dawkins’ steely slashes are, the true taskmaster is Michael Scott, Magic Slim’s drummer, who lays down beats like concrete slabs.
Rounding out the Live performances are a few choice souvenirs from an early-1990s BBC broadcast that evaded release. Guy sounds particularly raunchy here; downright nasty, in fact, when growl-confessing “I Once Was a Gambler” with a divinely overdriven guitar in his hands. A gnarly godsend to cap off an illuminating meet-and-greet with the other Guy, who was always
his own man.
Label: JSP Records
Release Date: 9/23/2022
Reviewed by Dennis Rozanski