Guitar Shorty | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Guitar Shorty's been around: he cut his teeth in southern jukes, recorded briefly as a sideman for Chicago's Cobra label in the late 50s, and married Jimi Hendrix's stepsister in Seattle--he maintains that Hendrix appropriated some of his licks for "Purple Haze" and "Hey Joe." But he didn't record his debut LP, On the Rampage (Olive Branch), until 1989, and though that disc widened his reputation among blues aficionados, he's remained mostly a cult figure. His latest, Watch Your Back (Alligator), sounds calculated to catapult him into the mainstream. On the cover the grinning, chubby-cheeked trickster in a pastel suit has been remade into a battle-scarred hard-ass posing in front of a chain-link fence; the music has likewise been hardened (and occasionally, as on "Right Tool for the Job," dumbed down) by testosterone. But Shorty is too gifted to succumb to the temptation of relentless Neanderthalism: he may fire off notes in job-lot flurries with a molten-slag tone, but he doesn't waste them, preferring to create tension by juxtaposing tightly wound clusters against rhythm guitarist "Electric Vic" Johnson's elongated lines. When he does extend his phrases he slices them off with homicidal fury, letting the ensuing silence speak more eloquently than additional pyrotechnics would. The themes of his lyrics range from the passing of the days when men were men ("Old School") to unabashed declarations of less-than-noble intent ("What She Don't Know"). Word is Shorty's abandoned his trademark onstage flips and somersaults, but he's still among the highest-energy entertainers on the contemporary scene. Willie Kent & the Gents open. $15. Saturday, July 10, 9:30 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 312-427-0333 or 312-559-1212.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.

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