Guy King Goes 'Uptown'

Apr 10, 2016

Credit Roman Sobus / Roman Sobus Photography

Chicago’s Guy King spices his blues with Jazz & R&B, the "uptown" sounds he devoured growing up in his native Israel.  When he moved to the United States in his early 20’s, those sounds became the foundation of his own music.

“As a young teenager, what I really got into was definitely B.B. King and Albert King.  It was definitely Ray Charles before that.  The other kind of blues really came later. These things had the horn arrangements, the background vocals.  I call it like a certain dance floor for me to maneuver.”

Unlike England in the 1960’s, King says there was no American blues and R&B revival in Israel when he was a teen.  He said he was naturally drawn to those styles.  However, like a lot of those Brits in the 60’s, once he heard contemporary blues, he began digging deeper into those songs.

“My brother had an Eric Clapton CD I really liked.  There was a track or two where I went ‘what is this?’  And it’s ‘Ramblin on My Mind’. And you search back and see it was Robert Johnson.  And I said ‘I had to find that’”

Through Clapton King discovered Stevie Ray Vaughan, who idolized bluesmen like Freddy King, and B.B. King.  But for Guy King, it was Albert King’s music that motivated him to buy music, though he says in his part of Israel, that was an ordeal.

“I came from a rural area of Israel, a small village. So I had to walk across a field to get to a bus station to take the bus to Tel Aviv, which was about an hour. Then I had to take another bus to get the record store.  Then when I got the store they laughed at me.  They said ‘you can’t get Albert King here.’  We can order it but it will take a month to get to the store.”

King said he has memories of hearing Ray Charles and Louis Armstrong on the radio in Israel.  Even though many don’t consider those artists to be blues, King says he did. 

“Something like ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ or “Georgia on my Mind’ or ‘Cryin’ Time’ some people don’t call the blues.  I do.  I remember coming home from school and hearing these songs on the radio, public radio.  I was fortunate enough to have a friend/guitar teacher in the village who gave me a recording of Albert King’s ‘Blues Power.’ This started changing a lot of the way I looked at things.”

Those sounds added depth and knowledge to his style, and are front and center on his just released Delmark Records album "Truth."  King said the album title was inspired by author David Ritz, who had penned the biographies of, among others, Ray Charles, B.B. King, and Marvin Gaye.  Their meeting was serendipitous. Ritz happened to be in Chicago to meet with Buddy Guy about a biography.  They were at Guys famous “Legends” club in Chicago’s Loop on a day King happened to be performing.

“Buddy interrupted his conversation with Ritz to take him downstairs.  He said ‘there is someone I want you to hear.’  I remember I sang ‘Georgia on my Mind.’ He came to me and said ‘man you sounded great, I really like your stuff.  My name is David Ritz.  Here’s my card.’  I said ‘the David Ritz who wrote Brother Ray!?’  He said ‘yeah, I’m in town writing about Buddy Guy.’”

He says they met the very next day and wrote five songs over two hours.  They later connected again in Los Angeles and wrote three more, including the title track to his new album.

“The song came from me wanting to write something different. I wanted to write about something truthful and simple.”

You can hear samples of songs from “Truth” and hear King talk about the key role producer Dick Shurman had in making the album by clicking the play button below.