Photo: Menu options at Market Fisheries
With his clubs, Guy has retained what so many successful musicians lose: a day-to-day connection to home. As he leads us on a tour through Chicago, he doesn’t just stop at historical sites to recount a vanished past. This city is a living place for him, and part of living is eating. And part of eating, for Guy, is Market Fisheries.
Founded by the Brody family in 1951, Market Fisheries specializes in bringing the South to the black Chicagoans who, like Guy, left it. Haim Brody, who runs the place now, sells 30,000 pounds of catfish a week, 2,400 pounds of buffalo fish and countless boxes of Nona Belle’s Genuine Golden Fry — a breading that Brody tracked down in Arkansas. A large window sign proclaims that we’ve reached “Gumbo Headquarters.” Over the decades, the store’s loyal customers have included musicians such as Waters, Wolf and Curtis Mayfield.
Guy discovered the store through a partner in whist card games. He moves through the place with the discerning eye of a lifelong fisherman, pressing his face next to the wire-mesh screen to have a closer look at an iced tray of perch.
“I’m on the road so much that when I’m home, I love the kitchen,” he says. “And every time I come here, I’m taking something home.”
Photo: Optimo Fine Hats owner Graham Thompson.
True to his word, he carries off a half-dozen bullheads. Having bought his fish, Guy heads to Optimo Fine Hats — located several miles to the southwest of Market Fisheries, just inside the city limits — where his burgundy fedora has just been cleaned and blocked. It’s one of roughly two dozen hats Guy has bought at Optimo over the years. Graham Thompson, who opened the shop in 1995, is a white son of suburbia who apprenticed himself to Johnny Tyus, the master hatter of the South Side. In his time, Thompson has served up bowlers, Milans, Montecristi Panamas and homburgs to the likes of Bo Diddley, David “Fathead” Newman and John Lee Hooker. It was while admiring a particular brim of Hooker’s that Guy first heard about the store.
Maybe it’s a measure of time as well as style that Buddy Guy wears a hat at all. Until well into his 50s, his trademark was a cascade of Jheri curls; Junior Wells was always the one who wore hats. Only in the last decade, with Junior Wells’ passing and Guy going gray, did a hat become part of his look.
Even in Guy’s eighth decade, though, there is no slowing down. Around noon, he heads home to fry up his bullheads for lunch and take the afternoon snooze that’s been part of his routine for decades. By nine or so, he’ll be back at his club, serving as the blues incarnate for the tourists and locals who come in looking for the genuine article. It may not be like the old times, when he would finish his club gigs at 4 a.m. and go straight to the studio because the producers liked the way the bluesmen played when they were still drunk from the night before. But, metaphorically if not geographically, you could say that the 47th Street of days gone by runs along Wabash Avenue, straight into Legends, where Buddy Guy has more reason than most to call his adopted city what the Robert Johnson anthem does: Sweet Home Chicago.