It’s not every day a legendary blues musician comes to your high school. But it helps if he’s your grandpa.
When teacher Kathryn Guelcher learned one of her student’s was Buddy Guy’s grandson, her jaw dropped. She sent Gregory Guy home with a request for a visit.
Of course, Buddy Guy's really busy, so it took months to arrange a date. There were several attempts.
"It’s really embarrassing, but I thought there’s nothing to lose here," Guelcher said. "I drew a stick-figure scenario of this room, so I had a stick-figure Buddy Guy with his stick-figure polka-dot guitar, and then like a bunch of kids saying, 'Oooh, yeah, wow,' and 'That’s my granddad,' and I said 'Please, please, please, please'."
Gregory Guy sent her a text message with the date his grandpa would appear at Carl Sandburg High School in Orland Park.
"I said to my husband, oh my God, oh my God, I think Buddy Guy’s coming," Guelcher said. She's been so excited, she hasn’t slept much. But she downplayed it for students, just in case something came up on the Grammy-winning musician's schedule.
What she didn’t know yet is that Buddy Guy (as he would soon point out in his speech) has never missed a gig. He came early.
"I’m feeling humbled and excited and I’m trying not to be anxious because he’s so cool," Guelcher said.
Guy gave the command performance on behalf of his grandson to about 50 students. A few teachers and staff snuck in, and later, a guitar class joined them. Most of the students rushed to sit up front, a high honor from high-schoolers.
Gregory Guy introduced his grandfather. Buddy Guy sat on a stool next to him in a brightly patterned sweater and khakis.
He looked like someone's trim grandpa, until you saw his hands. The big rings on his fingers spelled out his initials, "BG" and the word "blues" in diamonds.
Guy told the students there are songs to be found everywhere, even in people talking about their problems in a restaurant.
"My producer, every time me and him sit down and talk, he comes with his pad and pen, he says man, because every time you say something, there’s a song," Buddy Guy said. "I didn’t know that ‘cuz I just figured I was never a good guitar player, never a good song writer, I just tried to follow the greats that I learned everything from by watching and listening."
He was strikingly humble and open with the students. Guy said he was so frightened at an early gig, he couldn’t face the audience and got fired. He still gets stage fright. But he told the students, they don’t need alcohol or anything else to find their courage.
"This was my little thing to hide behind," he said. "But that was a poor excuse. So you don’t need nothing to learn how to play a guitar, but keep it in your hand as much as you can, or the keyboard or the drums, whatever you want to do, just keep doing it."
Someone asked Guy to play. He was hesitant without his band or his famous polka-dotted guitar. He explained he likes the feel of his own instrument.
But his grandson pulled out his own guitar.
"What kind of guitar did you bring? I think he set up all of this, didn’t he?" Buddy Guy said to the students, who laughed.
Guy started tuning the guitar, and gently chided his grandson for not playing it more -- he could tell from the tension of the strings.
There was no amp, so Guy started strumming, unplugged. Staffers ran to get an amp from the band room, and Guy's music soon filled the school auditorium.
One of the students, Najeeb Dababneh, kept yelling out requests.
"Now guess what," Guy told him. "Come up here, I want to hear you play. You can play this I know."
Guy played a few bars from "Sunshine of Your Love." Dababneh said he didn't want to play that song.
"Just play man, you sound like I did when I was your age. I was afraid to do everything. Go ahead," Guy told him.
"You got no pick, nothing. We going to use our fingers, we gonna go old school?" Dababneh asked.
"Whatever man, you want my pick?" Guy asked.
"Yeah, can I please, of course," Dababneh said.
"You can have it because I already autographed it," Guy said to laughter.
Guy gave him his stool, and Dababneh sat down and played for a legend.
Dababneh said he was terrified. But he understands now how professional musicians feed off the energy of a crowd because he enjoyed being up there so much.
"I knew I would never have this chance again. I’m so glad I did it, because it got rid of some stage-fright, and I got to play for Buddy Guy, and hopefully, he enjoyed it," Dababneh said.
As he played, Buddy Guy nodded his head in time, then applauded for Dababneh when he was finished.
Student Chris Sigel called this the best experience of his life. He was raised listening to the blues.
"Music is something that should be appreciated and artists are getting older and older," Sigel said. "We need to value their contributions as much as we can, especially if they’re still alive because we can lose them at anytime."
He said he'd like to see more events like this to introduce the blues to a new generation, and help save the art form.
"I think introducing kids my age and younger to artists like Buddy Guy or B.B. King, I think it will broaden their perspective and bring more to their music palette," Sigel said. "They need to appreciate more than just what they hear on the Top 40 stations because that’s not real music. This is real music."
Even Guy’s grandson, Gregory, who’s used to seeing him perform, was touched by the experience.
"Today was a good experience for me, first time ever being onstage with my grandfather as he was performing in front of my friends," Gregory Guy said. "Big change. Now I’m more confident around people."
After, students and teachers rushed to get Buddy Guy's autograph. The line soon reached all the way along the stage in the auditorium and into the aisle.
Guy stayed until the last autograph was signed, and the last photo taken. He left thanking the crowd as they thanked him, and wishing everybody a good time.