Documentary Review: ‘The Torch’

Greetings again from the darkness. When Buddy Guy pops up on my playlist, I can feel it. After watching Jim Farrell’s documentary, I now know why. Sure, Buddy Guy has won 8 Grammy Awards, been inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, been awarded a Kennedy Center Award, and the Presidential National Medal of Arts. He has also influenced most every known guitar player from Hendrix to Clapton to Beck to Page to Stevie Ray Vaughan to John Mayer, and so on. But it’s not until you watch him play that it all comes into focus. Buddy Guy finds joy in playing, and he also carries the burden of keeping the blues alive.

Howlin’ Wolf died in 1976. Muddy Waters died in 1983. When BB King died in 2015, the legacy of the blues fell to Buddy Guy, and now he’s doing what he can to ensure it lives on … he is 85 years old, after all. So part of Farrell’s documentary is about the legacy of the blues and Buddy Guy, and part of it focuses on Buddy’s mentoring of guitar phenom Quinn Sullivan. We get some background on both men. Buddy was born and raised on sharecropper farm in Louisiana. He was crafting his own instruments by age 7 using wire, string, nails, and rubber bands. After playing with Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters for Chess Records, he will forever be associated with Chicago blues. Sullivan, a natural guitarist, first played on stage with Buddy in April 2007, at the age of seven. Since then, the two have bonded, performed, and recorded together.

Sullivan is truly the heir apparent, and Farrell includes footage of Quinn and Buddy performing live on stage together … quite a musical experience for those in the room. We also see the two chatting it up – Buddy telling his stories and Quinn soaking it in. And as amazing as it is to watch them on stage, it’s a rare treat to be allowed in the studio to film them recording a song. Farrell includes some interviews (Carlos Santana and others), and Buddy’s reverence for Howlin Wolf and Muddy Waters is understandable. We are left with the hope that Buddy’s polka dot playing days continue for many years and that Quinn Sullivan appreciates the torch being passed to him.

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