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Buddy Guy: ‘President Clinton made me cry’ during D.C. tribute

Buddy Guy (center) takes applause fellow award winners   David Letterman DustHoffman  NataliMakarovKennedy Center Honors. | John Paul

Buddy Guy (center) takes in the applause of fellow award winners David Letterman, Dustin Hoffman and Natalia Makarova at the Kennedy Center Honors. | John Paul Filo~CBS photo

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Updated: January 25, 2013 6:12AM



The Kennedy Center Honor is the highest recognition of Buddy Guy’s illustrious career.

And the segment saluting the Chicago blues icon on the 8 p.m. Wednesday airing of “The 35th Annual Kennedy Center Honors” on WBBM-Channel 2 is an illustrious postcard to the city. There are vintage shots of the city circa 1960s, and a resplendent view of Buddy Guy’s Legends (where he begins his monthlong residency on Jan. 3). Bonnie Raitt brings the tuxedoed crowd to its feet with guest guitarist Gary Clark Jr. on a scorching cover of “Sweet Home Chicago” at the John F. Kennedy for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

“When these things come to you this late in life you have to get excited,” Guy said in a Friday interview. “I was aware of some people who got a Kennedy Center honor like Oprah Winfrey, people who are much more well-known than I am. I had to pinch myself to see if that really was me.”

President and Mrs. Barack Obama were seated with the honorees in the Presidential Box of the Opera House at the Kennedy Center after hosting the traditional White House reception for the honorees.

Host Caroline Kennedy introduced honorees Guy, Dustin Hoffman, David Letterman, Natalia Makarova and Led Zeppelin (John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant) with a quote from poet Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Congratulate yourselves if you have done something strange and extravagant and broken the monotony of a decorous age.”

Guy, 76, fits that bill.

“This was the first time I ever sat down and talked to Jimmy [Page],” Guy reported. “He told me I turned him around. When they first saw me, those British guys didn’t know a Stratocaster could play blues — until I went there. Now I’m going to seek out Jimmy and invite him to sit in on an album. I understand they [Zeppelin] don’t play much together much anymore.

“All those British guys did so much for us black musicians in America. There was a television show here called ‘Shindig’ [which ran between 1964-66 on ABC]. They were trying to get the Stones to play. Finally, Mick said he would play but only if he could bring Muddy Waters. He was offended the producers of ‘Shindig’ didn’t know who Muddy Waters was after they named their group after one of his famous records,” 1950’s “Rollin’ Stone,” an update of “Catfish Blues.”

In introducing Guy, actor Morgan Freeman (and owner of Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Miss.) quoted Eric Clapton, who said, “We owe him [Guy] everything.” Jeff Beck also guests during the Guy tribute segment.

Guy watched the tribute with his older sister, Annie Mae Holmes. They were seated next to Letterman. A couple of times, Letterman and Guy whispered exchanges.

“I did his show several times and I know him very well,” Guy said. “One time somebody sang ‘Fever’ and gave credit to Peggy Lee. I told him, no, it was written by Little Willie John. Some people aren’t old enough to remember that. When I’m sitting there and something like that comes up I have to correct them.”

Guy tributes also included Tracy Chapman covering “Hound Dog,” first recorded by Big Mama Thornton and popularized by Elvis Presley.

“I did that with Big Mama Thornton in 1965 in London,” Guy said of the Arhoolie release that also included Big Walter Horton on harp. “I played guitar behind her. Big Mama’s teeth fell out on stage as she was recording it live. She picked them up and put them right back in her mouth. She didn’t miss a beat.”

Spoiler alert: Chapman’s teeth did not fall out.

During the performances Guy appears deeply engaged with Jimmie Vaughan and Clark Jr. covering Guitar Slim’s “The Things That I Used To Do.” Slim was Guy’s first musical hero. Raitt and a full band close the musical segment with “Sweet Home Chicago.”

“I knew Bonnie Raitt before she knew how to play,” Guy said. “Bonnie was Dick Waterman’s girlfriend at age 17.” Waterman was a promoter and an editor of Broadside magazine.

“We weren’t making any money and we would have to stay at Dick’s house. She was there, I knew her parents. Dick would go to Mississippi and get Fred McDowell and Son House, the guys who taught Muddy how to play and bring them to his house. They’d get up in the morning and be dragging that whiskey. As a matter of fact all the British guitar players figured you had to be drunk to be a blues player.”

Guy was in Washington Dec. 1 and 2 for the Kennedy Center events. The honorees attended a White House State Department dinner on Dec. 1, and the show was taped Dec. 2. At the beginning of the broadcast, Guy’s name is flanked on a wall by Kennedy Center honorees Robert De Niro on one side and playwright Edward Albee on the other.

Guy said President Obama was too busy to chat about hometown issues but they exchanged plesantries during photo ops. “I’ve had quite a few awards but this is the biggest one,” Guy said. “I was in the club last night and a special guest came in and said she would love to come in January and sing a few songs.” Wait and see.

What was the most memorable moment of the weekend for Guy?

“President Clinton made me cry on Saturday [at the dinner] ” Guy answered. “He spoke like he knew me from a child. He went all the way back to the farm [in Louisiana] where I was. He made me drop tears. He even plugged the [Chicago] club.

“He told me personally he wanted to be there just to announce me. He talked like he was still president. He was pointing his finger in my direction by what I had accomplished and what I deserved. My God, how could I come from picking cotton and sitting here listening to the former president and the president of the United States talking about you?

“That’s a long ways from sharecropping and making less than 50 cents a day.”



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