If you’ve seen one of Buddy Guy’s full out, wild man blues performances, you might not expect the humility and modesty that underlies the life story he tells in When I Left Home. With David Ritz as co-author, Guy recounts key memories in his life, many of them involving meaningful encounters with blues musicians he admired. While I consider Buddy Guy one of the major blues performers alive today, he points humbly to such towering figures as Guitar Slim, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins and B.B. King as the originals from whom he learned. B.B. is the only one of these bluesmen who are still living.
Buddy Guy was born George Guy on July 30, 1936 in Lettsworth, Louisiana. While today Guy is a highly successful performer, award-winning recording artist and blues club owner, much of his book details the struggles to eke out a living while performing and recording. For many years he drove a tow-truck in Chicago, because he couldn’t make enough from playing in clubs and as a sideman in Chess Records studio recordings. These struggles are typical of blues musicians of his generation who often earned little or nothing from their recordings and couldn’t earn a living from performing.
The style of the book captures Buddy Guy’s voice as he talks about his life and you can feel his presence. It’s a breezy and enjoyable read. This is by no means a complete autobiography, but rather highlights of a life. Guy deserves a more detailed biography that will fill in his rich history as a bluesman. Nevertheless, When I Left Home succeeds in giving us a flavor of this remarkable life.
Buddy Guy tells good stories, but the real story is in his high-energy guitar playing and singing. He’s at his best live–he’s a consummate showman, so don’t miss a chance to see him perform. You’d never guess from the intensity and enthusiasm of his performances that he was almost 77, but you never know when your “last chance” to see him might come.
Buddy Guy will play this summer on Saturday, June 15 at Blues on the Fox in Aurora, IL and at the Ravinia Festival on Saturday, August 17, 2013. Every January, he plays Thursday through Sunday at his club, Buddy Guy’s Legends in downtown Chicago.