If you’re looking for a template for growing older, not just gracefully, but with power and dignity, take a good listen to Buddy Guy’s Living Proof. The man isn’t afraid of the numbers that stack up to 74 – his current age, he revels in them, flaunts them, and proves beyond a doubt that age need not hinder or mellow any man or woman. Living Proof features some of the most aggressive blues guitar of Guy’s career, as well as juiced up vocals, and some of his best songwriting.
Guy sets the tone with the opening track, “74 Years Young,” in which he makes it clear he’s still a lover of life, music, and women. The song features an absolutely searing guitar interlude that most 24 year olds would kill to master. Guy follows that up with the autobiographical “Thank Me Someday.” In just under 6 minutes he describes his early years, growing up on a cotton plantation, with a 3rd grade education, teaching himself how to play and driving his family crazy in the process. By the 3rd track Guy, backed by horns and organ, takes you on a tour of his road life. There’s no slowing down with this Guy and he’s out to convince you that you haven’t heard his best, yet.
From one track to another, Guy’s guitar work sizzles. “Where the Blues Begins” pairs him with Carlos Santana, and Guy proves he’s adept at mixing blues rifts with Latin rhythms. “Key Don’t Fit” is one of those classic double entendre blues tunes about troubled love. Guy delivers it with lots of passion and just enough sly humor to let you know he understands exactly what’s needed to make this genre work. Guy’s blues have always played along the edges of heavy rock and roll, after all, the man has toured with Rolling Stones and probably taught them a lesson or two. “Guess What” a song that bluntly lays out the proof of a cheating lover, covers that dense rock/blues area.
Although Buddy Guy shows no sign of slowing down or mellowing he does offer a sentimental side. “Everybody’s Got To Go” is an acknowledgement of mortality. But the most moving song on Living Proof is Guy’s duet with fellow blues legend B.B. King. “Stay Around a Little Longer” features the pair riffing on life and counting their blessings. The spoken exchange of mutual admiration at the coda is one of the most moving I’ve heard on any album. Living Proof is superbly recorded and features sterling performances by all players. In a career that has featured a number of wonderful recordings, I’d argue that this might be Buddy Guy’s defining moment.