‘The Damn Right Farewell Tour’: The Great Buddy Guy Hits The Road One Last Time

ON THE COVER: Buddy Guy performs at the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts in Greensboro, North Carolina, March 23. Photo by Luke Jamroz

At 86, Buddy Guy is leaving the road, but not the blues.

“If you don’t think you have the blues, just keep living,” Guy said with a laugh.

Guy is the last of a generation of innovative musicians that amplified the blues over the din of Chicago’s bustling streets creating an authentic, raw urban sound that captured the attention of the world and changed the face of rock ’n’ roll, R&B and hip-hop.

“Buddy Guy brought Chicago blues to its pinnacle,” Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones told Pollstar. “His phrasing, originality and style topped it all. Not only that, but he’s a great guy. I’m still recovering from our last meeting. Take it easy, Buddy!”

After playing live for half a century, Guy is saying bye to touring by performing across the globe. “The Damn Right Farewell Tour” plays Mumbai, India, the Samsung Blues Festival in São Paulo, Brazil, L’Olympia in Paris, Prague Congress Center in the Czech Republic as well as appearances at New York City’s Central Park, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater, the Hollywood Bowl, Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival and many more notable music halls and festivals leading up to the last stop of the tour on Nov. 20 at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

Paul Natkin Archive
DAMN RIGHT, WE GOT THE BLUES: Eric Clapton & Buddy Guy jam together on April 19, 1987, in Chicago. Photo by Paul Natkin / WireImage

“I feel honored to do this type of tour for him and with him,” said Guy’s agent for 42 years, Garry Buck of Reliant Talent Agency. “I know it matters. He is such an icon to so many people … He’s lucky to still be out there doing it and hopefully people will recognize our battle cry that you gotta see him. This is it – and there’s nobody like him.”

It’s the last full-scale tour of Guy’s storied career and the last time fans will witness the blues master at his finest – enthralling audiences with his untethered playing style: bending notes to the breaking point and the parry and pause of his impeccable timing.
Exit tours are commonplace, but the “Damn Right Farewell Tour” is something more. It’s a bittersweet sendoff not just for the nine-time Grammy winner, but the very bedrock of the format fashioned by Guy and his long-passed peers.

Gary Clark (L), B.B. King (C), Buddy Guy
RIDING WITH THE KINGS: Gary Clark Jr., B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Warren Haynes play during a celebration of Blues music and in recognition of Black History Month as part of their “In Performance at the White House” series in Washington, D.C., Feb. 21, 2012. Photo by Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images

Buddy Guy Embodies the Blues
The blues have taken Guy from the cotton fields of Louisiana to the White House, twice. The state highway that runs in front of the plantation where he envisioned a way out of poverty as a sharecropper was named in his honor in 2018.
“Most people get something like that named for them after they’re gone,” Guy explained. “I told the governor of Louisiana, what my mother told me, ‘Son, if you’ve got flowers for me, give them to me when I can smell them. I’m not gonna smell them on top of the grave.’ And I told the governor, ‘If you’re gonna give me a sign, let me see it.’”

Named Buddy Guy Way, the stretch of State Highway 418 runs past his former home – a wood shack with no running water or electricity – in Lettsworth (population 202). Those humble beginnings were top of mind when he performed during Red White and Blues at the White House for President Barack Obama on Feb. 12, 2012.

“My oldest sister, she said, ‘I’m going with you,’” Guy recalled laughing. “She said, ‘We’re a long way from the outhouse to the White House. I’ll never forget it. And when they named that highway where I was born, you don’t dream of that – coming out of the south and being Black.”

Humble and wry, Guy has vivid memories of those poignant milestones, but there are numerous others including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Americana Music Association Lifetime Achievement Award, Kennedy Center Honors, NARM Chairman’s Award for sustained creative achievement, National Medal of Arts and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005. He was inducted by B.B. King and Eric Clapton, who has described Guy as “the best guitar player alive.”

THE LIVING LEGEND: Buddy Guy gets into the moment at the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts in Greensboro, North Carolina March 23.
Photo by Luke Jamroz

Guy has released 50 live and studio records including 13 Top 10 Billboard blues albums. His latest, 2022’s The Blues Don’t Lie, was released by Silvertone/RCA Records and was produced by composer/drummer and longtime creative collaborator Tom Hambridge, who joins Guy for the Farewell tour.

“He’s on a mission because he is one of the last remaining blues legends, if not the last of his kind from the originals, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf,” offered Hambridge. “He’s the last standing and he wants to keep the blues alive and he wants to touch on a lot of these guys who taught him how to do it. It’s very important to him.”

Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues
Guy, who was born on July 30, 1936, moved to Chicago on Sept. 25, 1957. He taught himself to play on a two-string diddley bow, which he fashioned out of wire, a piece of wood and his mother’s hairpins. Later he was given a Harmony acoustic, which was later donated to the Rock Hall.

“They told me before I left Louisiana – my mom, dad, grand-momma, all of them – ‘Son, don’t be the best in town. Just be the best until the best come around,’” he said.

Guy was quickly embraced by Muddy Waters and after a brief run at Cobra Records, Guy signed with Chess Records (1959-1968). But fame didn’t follow. The label didn’t understand Guy’s unique style and he worked as a session player backing Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Koko Taylor and others. As late as 1967, he was a tow truck driver. He kept his guitar in the cab for pick-up gigs.

“What ain’t worth waiting for ain’t worth having,” said Guy. “I didn’t give up.”
Guy’s career took off during the blues revival of the late 1980s and ’90s sparked by Clapton’s request that Guy be part of the “24 Nights” all-star blues guitar lineup at London’s Royal Albert Hall. He subsequently signed with Silvertone Records and released his mainstream breakthrough Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues in 1991, which won Guy his first Grammy for Contemporary Blues Album (1992).

“When I first got to Chicago there were so many good guitar players, I almost wanted to give mine away,” Guy recalled. “But something I was doing was reaching the British. And they started playing the blues and every time they would come over – the superstars – they’d say, ‘I’ve been listening to Buddy Guy.’”

Guy’s artist fan club included rock royals Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Clapton, Jimmy Page, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Richards, Mick Jagger, John Mayer and Carlos Santana, who once said “From God to Buddy Guy to me.”

Last of the Originals
Fans are filling venues to capacity to see the charismatic performer one last time with sold-out shows that include performances at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium and Atlanta Symphony Hall, three nights at Massey Hall in Toronto, two nights at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney and the Palais Theatre in Melbourne, Australia.

According to reports submitted to Pollstar’s Boxoffice between April 7, 1982, and May 11, 2023, Guy sold more than 1.5 million tickets with a gross of nearly $66.7 million over the course of 1,150 shows. Buck, who booked the tour with Nicole Schapowal, said 128 shows are confirmed for the 2023 Farewell tour.

Guy could scale back and play the occasional festival and his annual residency at Buddy Guy’s Legends, the Chicago club he opened in 1989. But Muddy Waters made him promise to take care of the blues before he passed. And Guy keeps his word.

“He’s trying to cram a course in for the audience,” Hambridge explained. “Because he might be one of the last remaining guys to be able to do that authentically and show you exactly how those guys did it and they aren’t around anymore. It’s magical. It’s important and it’s a heavy thing that’s going down each night.”

CHIN-CHIN: Buddy Guy & Tom Hambridge (Buddy’s record producer and drummer) take part in their nightly ritual ahead of the show. Photo by Luke Jamroz

But Hambridge and Guy keep it light backstage with a nightly ritual that dates to Guy’s early days in Chicago, when he was too shy to perform for more than three people.
“Some friends, they said, ‘Boy, if you wanna sing, you gotta drink a couple shots of cognac,” Guy offered with a chuckle. “And then if you make a mistake, you won’t feel as bad.”

Each night in his dressing room Guy has two glasses, two shots, of high-end Rémy Martin for a toast with Hambridge.

“To this day, that’s a ritual. He has to have that shot. We have it and then the road manager knocks on the door and we walk to the stage,” Hambridge said. “He leaves the bottle and it starts again the next night five minutes before we go on in another city.”

Flying Without a Set (List)
Guy wanted to leave the road while he was still a consummate entertainer. “This is going to be hard, you know,” Guy admitted. “Before I left Louisiana, my mother told me, ‘Son, don’t ever wear a welcome out.’”

With decades of material, Guy has a deep catalog of emotionally charged, real-world lyrics and lessons to draw from for his “Damn Right Farewell Tour.” He could easily fill several hours but typically performs as many covers as he does originals – honoring his bygone peers and recognizing the rock icons who helped propel his career.

At a sold-out stop at the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts in Greensboro, North Carolina, Guy was backed by Hambridge (drums) and longtime virtuoso bandmates Ric Hall (guitar), Orlando Wright (bass) and Dan Souvigny (keyboards). The band is nimble given Guy doesn’t have a set list.

During the show, Guy plays a cream colored 1989 Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster. He only swaps instruments if a string breaks and it’s Connor Korte’s job to make sure a backup is ready.

“Eyes on Buddy,” said Korte a seasoned road veteran who ran sound at Buddy Guy’s Legends before joining the tour. “That’s my day-to-day thing.”

Korte said Guy’s playing defies description: “I don’t think anybody can really describe his playing. As soon as he hits the stage, it’s blues time. He feels it.”

Guy kicked off the March 23 Greensboro date with “Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues.” What followed as a history lesson on the blues and rock music.

Songs included Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man,” “I Just Want to Make Love To You” by Willie Dixon, Bill Withers’ “Grits Ain’t Groceries,” Al Green’s “Take Me To The River,” “I’m a King Bee,” which was done by both Waters and The Rolling Stones, “How Blue Can You Get” by B.B. King, John Lee Hooker’s classic “Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang (Boom Boom),” “Voodoo Chile” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience and “Little By Little” by The Rolling Stones.

“You don’t hear no blues like this no more,” Guy said to the crowd. His banter throughout the two-hour show was a pleasing mix of humor and personal reflections told with comedic precision. The stage was sparce except for a neon backdrop reminiscent of 1950s Chicago.

Buddy Guy gets up close and personal with fans as he plays in the
crowd at the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts in Greensboro, North Carolina March 23
. Photo by Luke Jamroz

The most poignant moment of the night came during his performance of “Skin Deep,” a song inspired by his mother. Guy was a pre-teen when he interrupted his mom while she was combing her hair. He told the story about catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror: “Mom, I think I’m good looking,” he recalled. “She never skipped a beat. She said, ‘That’s only skin deep, never forget that.’”

“Skin Deep” has a personal and timely message of kindness and acceptance. It was co-written by Guy, Hambridge and Gary Nicholson and was the title track of his 14th studio record released in 2008.

“I’ve been around a while. I know wrong from right,” Guy offered. “You got to treat everybody nice and right. That’s the thing, ‘cause if everybody would treat everybody nice, we wouldn’t have nuclear war. We’d have countries saying you’ve got bacon, I’ve got eggs, let’s share it and live – because you aren’t going to live forever, no ways.”

Making Room at the Table
Guy isn’t just honoring his mentors and the artist he inspired, he is using the farewell tour to help advance the careers of younger blues artists. “It’s time to give this younger generation of people room to come up and get the chance I had,” explained Guy.

Supporting artists on the tour include Hambridge, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Samantha Fish, Ally Venable, Robert Randolph, Eric Gales, Bobby Rush, Jimmie Vaughan, King Solomon Hicks, Los Lobos, Vintage Trouble and George Benson has a co-bill with Guy at Ravinia music festival Aug. 23 in Highland Park, Illinois. Christone “Kingfish” Ingram opened the Greensboro date with Gales as his guest.

Ingram watched Buddy Guy videos on YouTube and found a CD copy of Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues at Walmart.

“It’s one of my favorite blues albums to this day,” Ingram offered. “He drew me to his style. He was wild and always on 10, that’s what I like to call it.”

Guy funded Ingram’s first record, which was produced by Hambridge and received a Grammy-nomination in 2019. Guy met Ingram at a show in Portland, Oregon, and invited him on stage to jam with the band. “He’s helped me a whole lot and been a great mentor,” Ingram said. “He’s been that guy for me and I owe everything in my career to him.”

Ingram said Guy is “teaching me indirectly and he doesn’t even know. He’s like the Energizer bunny. Watching him walk through the crowd is the greatest thing for me. He’s moving fast and all the while he’s singing and working the crowd and playing. That’s the best part of the show.”

MAYBE YOU CAN TEACH THE BLUES: Buddy Guy makes one young fan’s dreams come true by inviting him on stage to play one of his guitars during the finale at the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts in Greensboro, North Carolina, March 23. Buddy Guy and 12-year-old Henry Martin are pictured with Greg Guy, Eric Gales and Ric Hall. Photo by Luke Jamroz

I Want to Play the Blues
In Greensboro, Guy left the stage during “Slippin’ In.” In the audience, 12-year-old Henry Martin made a beeline for the octogenarian as he made his way through the audience, who were all on their feet cheering.

“I was sitting pretty far away and I just ran down to see him,” said Martin, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who was at the concert for his birthday with his dad and grandfather. “I couldn’t move and Buddy started talking to me. He said, ‘Can you play guitar? Do you want to play mine?” Martin followed the icon through the crowd and backstage, Korte handed him a blue and white polka dot 2010 Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster – and a pick.

Martin joined Guy, Guy’s son Greg Guy, Gales and Ingram, who was playing Guy’s black and white polka dot ’90s Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster on stage for the jam band finale.
Martin learned guitar licks from YouTube videos before he started taking lessons six weeks prior. He said he was “shaking in his boots” but he powered through Metallica’s “Enter
Sandman” and beamed at the 3,000-cap audience.

“I’ve never seen anybody smile bigger,” said his mom, Melissa Martin. “And he hasn’t stopped smiling. He couldn’t fall asleep that night he was so excited … And it was a school night.”

At his next lesson, Martin told his guitar teacher, “I want to play the blues.”