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How Buddy Guy Finally Broke Into The US Top 50 More Than 50 Years Into His Career

Buddy Guy

Photo: Scott Legato/Getty Images

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How Buddy Guy Finally Broke Into The US Top 50 More Than 50 Years Into His Career

Inside the perseverance that pushed this blues guitar hero's 'Living Proof' into his highest-ever chart position a half-century into his pioneering career

GRAMMYs/Oct 23, 2020 - 11:31 pm

"I'm 74 years young, there ain't nothing I haven't done," Buddy Guy claims on the opening track of his 15th studio album. It’s not an unreasonable boast. The Chicago Blues legend honed his craft as a sideman for all-time greats Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. In turn, he influenced Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and pretty much any guitar virtuoso who spent their teenage years devouring the music of Chess Records. And he’d already picked up five GRAMMYs, a National Medal of Arts and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by the time Living Proof hit the shelves in 2010. 

However, at the time of its recording, there was one thing that Guy hadn’t done: break into the US Top 50. Yes, despite shaping the history of blues music, the Louisiana native’s highest chart peak then stood at No.68 for his 2008 LP Skin Deep. He’d had to wait until 1991’s Damn Right, I’ve Got The Blues, more than 30 years into his career, to reach the Billboard 200 at all.

Thankfully and belatedly, the blues scene’s elder statesman finally got the chance to tick off this feat with a record that celebrated the struggle to get there. Indeed, serving as a taster of his 2012 memoir When I Left Home, Living Proof is a largely autobiographical affair which sees Guy both delve deep into his rich past and reflect on the time he’s got left.

On the aforementioned "74 Years Young," the adopted Chicagoan proudly looks back at his life on the road ("I’ve been all around the world, everywhere is home/ Drink wine with kings and the Rolling Stones"). Backed by some powerful gospel harmonies – courtesy of Fleetwood Mac backing singer Bekka Bramlett and early ‘90s one-hit wonder Wendy Moten – the spiritual title track acknowledges the faith that helped guide Guy through his tougher times ("I had no money, I had no clothes/ I had no shelter from the bitter cold/ When you’re too weak to walk/ He’ll carry you through").

And on the bluesy trudge of "Thank Me Someday," Guy takes it back to where it all began: the little tent room shack on the Louisiana cotton plantation where he taught himself how to master the six-string. It’s a charming origins story which also suggests that he’s still keen to inspire the younger generation ("I give the little ones my guitar/ I tell 'em, ‘Close your eyes and play/ Don't even worry about the neighbors").

It’s not the only personal tale which looks toward the future. "Stay Around a Little Longer" is a particularly touching duet between Guy and his longtime hero B.B King where both parties promise that they still have plenty more to give. The former soon proved these weren’t empty words: 2013 follow-up Rhythm and Blues posted his biggest first-week sales ever to peak at a record high of No.27.

Sadly, this joint effort proved to be one of the late King’s final recordings, although the pair did reunite on stage two years later with none other than Barack Obama for a White House performance of "Sweet Home Chicago." But as its title suggests, the plaintive ballad "Everybody’s Got to Go" indicates that Guy holds little fear about joining his musical inspiration on the other side, either.

Not that Guy sounded remotely like a man on the wrong side of 70. Sure, his gravelly voice may occasionally display the wear and tear that comes from playing smoky blues clubs for over half a century. Yet on the likes of "On the Road," a soulful stomper featuring Stax Records staples The Memphis Horns, and "Key Don’t Fit," one of several cheeky odes to his way with women, Guy unleashes the kind of full-throated growl that recalls Tom Jones in his Las Vegas-headlining era.

And then, of course, there’s the electrifying solos which would put any Guitar Hero champion to shame. You regularly half expect Guy to burst out of the speakers such is the ferocity of his technique, particularly on closer "Skanky," an instrumental slice of roadhouse R&B which builds to a feedback-drenched wall of noise. The slick, smooth interplay of Carlos Santana on the album’s second collaboration, "Where the Blues Begins," also highlights how much grittier and gnarlier Guy is than most of his peers. Far from mellowing in his old age, the blues pioneer seems more determined to pummel listeners into submission than ever.

Of course, Guy had an impressive caliber of musicians on hand to help him recreate the passion of his live performances in the studio, too. John Mellencamp regular David Grissom took on second guitar duties, while Double Trouble’s Reese Wynans and The Notorious Cherry Bombs’ Michael Rhodes appeared on keyboard and bass, respectively.

But it was the man behind the drum kit that proved to be Living Proof’s driving force. Tom Hambridge, who’d previously worked on GRAMMY-nominated efforts by Susan Tedeschi and Johnny Winter, not only provided the stomping beats. He also produced and co-wrote each of its ten tracks. The introspective lyrics of "74 Years Young" and "Stay Around a Little Longer" may sound like they’ve come straight from the horse’s mouth, but, in fact, they were penned by Hambridge in the wake of various casual conversations with Guy about his rags-to-riches life story. It’s a testament to both parties that you never question Living Proof’s authenticity.

Guy’s trust in Hambridge certainly paid off, anyway. As well as reaching a then-career best of No.46 in the U.S. charts, Living Proof also gave the icon his sixth GRAMMY and his fourth in the Best Contemporary Blues Album category. Rolling Stone, meanwhile, hailed it as the “best batch of blues Guy’s cooked up in years.” Little wonder then that after being asked what he considers to be living proof of in a press release to promote the record, Guy essentially answered: perseverance.

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

 
This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.

Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz & More Join Small Business Live Benefit Livestream

Brittany Howard

Photo: C Brandon/Redferns/Getty Images

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Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz & More Join Small Business Live Benefit Livestream

Proceeds from the event will be go toward loans to small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses, via Accion Opportunity Fund

GRAMMYs/Jun 16, 2020 - 04:13 am

This Saturday, June 20, artists including Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz and more will come together for Small Business Live, a livestream fundraiser event for small businesses facing challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Proceeds from the livestream will go to Accion Opportunity Fund to support small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses.

“Entrepreneurs of color are denied credit more often and charged higher rates for money they borrow to fund their businesses. We need to accelerate support to underserved businesses in order to reach our full potential,” Accion Opportunity Fund CEO Luz Urrutia said. “We have to decide what we want our Main Streets to look like when this is over, and we must act decisively to keep small businesses alive and ready to rebuild. This is a fun way to do something really important. Everyone’s support will make a huge difference to small business owners, their families and employees who have been devastated by this pandemic, the recession, and centuries of racism, xenophobia and oppression.”

Tune in for Small Business Live Saturday, June 20 from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. EDT on smallbiz.live. The site also provides a full schedule of programs and links to watch the livestream on all major digital platforms. To learn more about Accion Opportunity Fund, visit the organization's website.

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DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle And John Legend Win Best Rap/Sung Performance For "Higher" | 2020 GRAMMYs

DJ Khaled, Samantha Smith and John Legend

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

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DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle And John Legend Win Best Rap/Sung Performance For "Higher" | 2020 GRAMMYs

DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle and John Legend take home Best Rap/Sung Performance at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Jan 27, 2020 - 09:05 am

DJ Khaled, featuring Nipsey Hussle and John Legend, has won Best Rap/Sung Performance for "Higher" at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards. The single was featured on DJ Khaled's 2019 album Father of Asahd and featured Hussle's vocals and Legend on the piano. DJ Khaled predicted the track would win a GRAMMY.

"I even told him, 'We're going to win a GRAMMY.' Because that's how I feel about my album," DJ Khaled told Billboard. "I really feel like not only is this my biggest, this is very special."

After the release of the song and music video -- which was filmed before Hussle's death in March -- DJ Khaled announced all proceeds from "Higher" will go to Hussle's children.

DJ Khaled and co. beat out fellow category nominees Lil Baby & Gunna ("Drip Too Hard"), Lil Nas X ("Panini"), Mustard featuring Roddy Ricch ("Ballin") and Young Thug featuring J. Cole & Travis Scott ("The London"). Hussle earned a second posthumous award at the 62nd GRAMMYs for Best Rap Performance for "Racks In The Middle." 

Along with Legend and DJ Khaled, Meek Mill, Kirk Franklin, Roddy Ricch and YG paid tribute to Hussle during the telecast, which concluded with "Higher."

Check out the complete 62nd GRAMMY Awards nominees and winners list here.