Why Buddy Guy loves peas
Blues icon Buddy Guy’s guitar playing is instantly identifiable as it’s loud, vibrant and a whole lot of fun.
The same could be said of his taste for decor, with a polka dot pattern appearing not only on the shirts he often wears on stage, but most notably on his signature Fender Stratocasters and Jim Dunlop Cry Baby wah pedal. Randy Rhoads only played one black, white-polka-dot guitar; Buddy made a full statement about it. And it turns out there’s a deep family connection behind the look.
“The polka dots are because it’s my mum’s style, Isabell Guy,” Buddy told me in a never-before-seen excerpt from a 2015 interview.
“There’s a long story behind it,” he says. “I promised her I was going to buy her a polka dot Cadillac to make her feel better, because she had a stroke and she had never seen me play, so I always I felt like I was lying to him about being a musician! I was going to be famous and go back to Louisiana in a polka dot Cadillac to show him that I had made it.
It’s sad to imagine that the woman who gave us this great blues never saw him play, not even once.
“She saw me with an acoustic guitar at home but she never saw me play after I left Louisiana and moved to Chicago,” Buddy shares. “Actually, she never saw me play in Louisiana either, because she had a stroke before I left, and I hadn’t made any records until I arrived in Chicago in 1957. I so finally got the guitar company, Fender, to make me a polka dot guitar, and they’ve done quite a bit of it now.
Guy donated his original Harmony acoustic guitar to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but the Fender Buddy Guy Standard Stratocaster is still going strong in the Fender catalog. The current iteration has a supple V neck profile, 9.5 inch radius maple fingerboard, and standard Strat pickups. You can also order a Fender Custom Shop version, as actor Jason Momoa recently did.
Like his penchant for polka dots, Buddy’s love affair with the Strat goes way back.
“What happened was Eric Clapton and the other British guys saw me and in 1965 and they were laughing about it! Him and Jeff Beck, they said, “I didn’t know a Strat could play blues!” “, he recalls.
“I said, ‘What do you mean, man?’ Because he became so famous. They got hooked ’cause they saw me throw it on the floor, you know what I mean? I was kicking it with my feet and it was always fair, man.
Guy then told one of his favorite Strat stories: he was on tour in Africa and his guitar was strapped to the roof of the car. He took off in a gust of wind and hit the road.
“I said, ‘Well, that’s the end of my guitar,'” he laughs. “We turned around, came back and picked it up – I had to jump into the street to stop a lorry running over it. I picked it up and there was a touch out of tune. The E string was a bit flat. And until someone stole it from me, it was still good!
While Jason Momoa’s Custom Shop Buddy Guy Strat replica was a heavily relic work, Buddy was something of an early pioneer in that department.
“After the Brits made him more famous than us, they started making them look like a nuisance,” he says.
“We scratched them because we couldn’t afford to buy a new one! We didn’t scratch them on purpose! In fact, we smoked a lot, and those keys, okay, were our ashtrays. If you’re going to play a solo, you put your cigarette under the string there, and sometimes you forget and it burns and puts burn marks on all the tuning knobs. Then some Brits saw it and fell in love with it, and then the company started making them like that!
“But the way I see it, that first scratch on your guitar, your new car, your shoe, after that you don’t have to worry about it getting scratched because you already have it.”