Buddy Guy with David Ritz
When I Left Home – My Story
Da Capo Press – 2012
Reviewed by Joseph Jordan, Senior Journalist at The Golden Gate Blues Society
Oh, the stories he can tell.
Other than B.B. King, there is no one in the blues world that is better known or more respected than Louisiana-to-Chicago’s Buddy Guy.
Since the mid-fifties, he’s blazed a fundamental trail of vital rhythm and lead guitar playing and amazingly raw and steady vocals to pile up one of the most impressive careers in the history of mid-period and contemporary blues.
Now 76, (July of ’36) and in the wonderful twilight of his career, but with all his personal and professional faculties, all of them, intact, this club-owner (Legends), recording artist, (Silvertone & Jive), and pioneering Chicago Blues player, George “Buddy” Guy has co-written a biography that is, all clichés aside, a must read for any modern blues fan.
Released in May of this year, Buddy’s “When I Left Home” is a masterpiece of story-telling and a primer on the history of pre- and modern Chicago blues. Co-authored with stellar biographer David Ritz (Ray Charles, Etta James, Marvin Gaye and others,) Guy tackles his extraordinary life and times with the sharp-edged, cutting style that is also a trademark of his innovative playing.
You name it, most of the legends of the post-war genre are within the pages by way of informative quips, lengthy professional endeavor and frequently hilarious life situations. B.B. King, Muddy (of course), Junior Wells (whom Guy teamed up with for over twenty-years,) Little Walter, Lonnie Johnson, Gatemouth Brown, John Lee Hooker, his mentor Willie Dixon, Ike Turner, and Guy’s biggest influence, Guitar Slim, along with a most generous host of others, including contemporary players such as the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and the late Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Buddy covers his early life, his sexual dalliances, his marriages, his kids and grandkids and much more. He was the middle child of five children, and lived with his share-cropping family in Lousiana’s deep south, and he picked cotton along side them when he was eight-years old. Guy grew up in a house with no electricity and no running water. He went on to become a dedicated house guitarist at the legendary Chess Records in Chicago and later was a club-owner of note in that same town. He played all the clubs, Theresa’s, The Checkerboard Lounge, Silvio’s, the F& J and many others, just to get his music over.
Guy and Ritz’ writing is fluid and clean, without embellishment or hyperbole. Then again, there is no need to embellish, as Buddy Guy has lived this story. It’s that rare gem of a page-turner biography and highly informative tome.
The book includes 16 marvelous pages of black and white photography (showcasing everything from the now 76-year old Guy’s beloved father to Buddy’s publicity photos,) and a compendium of all things Guy (“the blues chase the blues away” and “My health is good, my fingers still work, and my voice has held out. My fans haven’t left me.
They accept what I offer and give back plenty love. What else can a man want?”)
Guy will receive the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors in December, 2012.
Blues fans will eat this book up, if they give it a even a glance. From Guy’s shit-eatin’ grin on the front cover to the Keith Richards’ quote on the back flap, and all of the 280-pages in-between, “Buddy Guy – When I Left Home,” is a God-send.
Joseph Jordan is a writer and Friends volunteer.
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