Songlines: ‘Don’t Know Which Way to Go’

My introduction to this song was on “Music From the Motion Picture Soundtrack – Rush” (Reprise 1992)

Eric Clapton composed and performed the score and included a few songs; he brought in Buddy Guy to take the lead on this complete makeover of a number that Guy had originally recorded in 1962. 

Guy turns in an incendiary performance running almost eleven minutes in length, his 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, this was one of Guy’s 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. 

Buddy Guy

Buddy Guy: vocal & guitar

Eric Clapton: guitar

Chuck Leavell: piano / Greg Phillinganes: organ /

Nathan East: bass / Steve Ferrone: drums

Buddy Guy with Eric Clapton and His Band – Don’t Know Which Way to Go –

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” (Prism Leisure 2001), one of the many semi-official releases of Fleetwood Mac’s April 27, 1968 show at the Regent Street Polytechnic; I have confirmed at least thirteen iterations, many with different track orders, (as of this writing, it appears that almost of those releases, including the Prism Leisure, are now out-of-print, but I believe 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.  Which is not to say that Guy was not an influence on Green; Guy was a favorite of many of Green’s contemporaries, with Stan Webb the most prominent of his acolytes.   

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; it was later reissued as “Blues From “Big Bill’s” Copa Cabana” in 1969.  

The original LP was a seminal release for British Blues musicians, with songs from the set being covered by Rory Gallagher (with Taste), Led Zeppelin, and Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac among others; for reasons unknown, 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…” 

As stated above, Guy was most certainly an influence on many a British guitarist, as well as American ones, but this was not the song that best displayed Guy’s guitar pyrotechnics.

Buddy Guy

Buddy Guy: guitar & vocal /

Otis Spann: piano /

Jack Meyers: bass / Fred Below: drums /

Jarrett Gibson: tenor saxophone / Donald Hankins: baritone saxophone

Recorded live at Big Bills Copa Cabana Club, Chicago, IL July 26, 1962

Buddy Guy – Don’t Know Which Way to Go –

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 thirty years later, it only seemed natural to have Guy bring equal focus to his guitar work. 

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. 

Cuby + The Blizzards

Harry Muskee: vocal / Eelco Gelling: guitar /

Herman Brood: piano /

(Possibly) Willy Middel: bass / Hess Waterman: drums

Unfortunately, this track is no longer available on line

The arrangement tracks Guy’s original recording closely as it too has piano. 

The vocalist, Harry Muskee sings hard, (too hard for my taste) but with seemingly little actual passion; the fact that English is his second language 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 Gelling’s 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 he drops the final line, the awkwardly phrased, “…don’t which way I’m going to”.

We have no way of knowing now whether Green’s guitar centered approach to the song was inspired by Cuby + The Blizzards’ recording or by personal preference and practical consideration. 

Green had backed John Mayall on many an Otis Rush song during his time with the Bluesbreakers and like Mayall, he 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 at this time.

Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac

Peter Green: guitar & vocal /

John McVie: bass / Mick Fleetwood: drums

Recorded live at Regent Street Polytechnic, London April 27, 1968

Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac – Don’t Know Which Way to Go –

It takes Green almost two minutes to unfurl the intro, slowly setting the mood and building his theme. By manipulating the volume and force of his attack, he vividly conveys the sense of a man too upset to speak, one struggling to regain his composure.

It is telling that Green’s performance runs only a minute longer than Guy’s but he still manages to sing all four verses and fit in a minute long break.

Green does attempt to emulate Guy’s impassioned vocal, but fares better letting his guitar tell the tale.

There is a brief moment of silence after the break before the audience offers up a round of applause, as if hesitant to break the spell that Green has cast.

It is unfortunate that the sound quality on this number is far poorer than on the songs in the set, (it is possible that the volume overloaded the microphones being used) but nothing can take away from the power of this performance.

As of this writing, there are no other recordings of Green performing this song. 

Was this night a one-off?  Was it a number that made a few appearances in their live set and then was dropped for another?  We have no way of knowing.

Almost sixty years since the song’s original recording, these are the only two covers that I am aware of.  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.

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