‘Don’t Know Which Way to Go’
My introduction to this song was on Eric Clapton’s soundtrack to the movie “Rush” (released in 1992). An incendiary performance running almost eleven minutes in length, Buddy Guy’s soul baring vocal is matched and then raised by his lead guitar work.
Backed by Clapton and his band, with Chuck Leavell and Steve Ferrone stand-outs on piano and drums, Guy turned in one of his strongest, most focused performances, culminating in an almost four minute break with Guy taking slightly less than the first half before handing it off to Clapton who had not put anything this powerful to tape in years at the time.
I didn’t give much thought to the track after that until a few years later when I picked up a copy of “Live in London ’68”, one of the many semi-official releases of Fleetwood Mac’s April 27, 1968 show at the Regent Street Polytechnic. (as of this writing, it appears that most of those releases, including that one, are now out-of-print, but it’s original issue, “London Live ’68” (Magnum 1986) is still available).
Aside from ‘Stone Crazy’ from a one-off session with Aynsley Dunbar, Jack Bruce and Rod Stewart, this recording is the only other cover of a Buddy Guy song in Green’s catalog. Of Green’s contemporaries, it was Stan Webb who most often paid homage to Guy.
My curiosity piqued, I began looking into the number’s origins, discovering that Guy’s original recording of the number was a live performance, part of a radio broadcast featuring a number of Chess artists and released under the misleading title “Folk Festival of the Blues” in 1963 and reissued as “Blues From “Big Bill’s” Copa Cabana” in 1969.
A seminal release for British Blues musicians, this collection has yet to be released on CD.
In reading about that collection or Buddy Guy, it was not uncommon to come across quotes such as this, “…his ‘Don’t Know Which Way To Go’ the inspiration for British guitarist like Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck…”
Guy was most certainly an influence on many a British guitarist, as well as American ones, but this was not the song that they drew from.
The original featured very little guitar, the main instrument being Otis Spann’s piano, (it is important to note that Guy’s vocal on the original carries the same sense of tension and release that his guitar playing conveys on the latter recording) yet when Clapton brought him back into the studio to recut the song twenty-eight years later, it only seemed natural to have Guy bring equal focus to his guitar work.
Green’s guitar centered approach to the song was mainly a practical consideration.
He had backed John Mayall on many an Otis Rush song during his time with the Bluesbreakers and like Mayall, Green understood the limits of his vocal range, and knew he could never match Guy’s fevered testifying.
Within a few short years, Green would be able to match the levels of subtlety and beauty in his guitar playing with his vocals, i.e. ‘Jumping at Shadows’ and ‘Before the Beginning’, but capturing the vocal equivalent of his tortured playing on numbers similar to this one, such as ‘Worried Mind’ remained elusive.
On the nights that Green captured that lightning in a bottle, the results were stunning.
Surprisingly, it is the first released cover of this song, (to my knowledge, Fleetwood Mac’s is the only other commercially available) that most closely parallels Guy’s approach in 1991. The Dutch blues band Cuby + The Blizzards released the song as the B-side to their single ‘Distant Smile’ in late 1967. The single was released in England in February of 1968.
The arrangement tracks Guy’s original recording more closely than Green’s, especially as it too has piano. The vocalist, Harry Muskee sings hard, but with little actual passion, (the language barrier may be coming into play here), as he seems to be making up the first verse as he sings each line, as it bears little relation to the original; he then skips the original’s second verse to go straight to the third.
Guitarist Eelco Gelling, opened the number with a brief intro of stinging notes, then holds back for most of the first verse, allowing pianist Herman Brood to support Muskee. Gelling bridges the verses and comes on a little stronger in the second verse before going into the break.
As with Muskee’s vocal, there is a sense of deliberation to his playing, as if this is not his first language; his “accent” is good, but perhaps too good. He does not sound like a “native speaker”, the notes don’t flow naturally; it is all too studied.
Although he follows the basic outlines, Muskee also take some liberties with the lyrics of last verse as they build to the big finale, complete with a moment’s silence before Muskee drops the final line, the awkwardly phrased, “…don’t which way I’m going to”.
If anyone knows of any other versions of this song, especially from the mid to late sixties, please let me know; I’d love to hear how others many have approached it.