“When I Left Home: My Story by Buddy Guy” (with David Ritz; Da Capo, $26) tells the epic life story of one of the greatest players at the absolute nexus of modern blues. Guy recounts his journey from the “middle of nowhere” Louisiana to blues central Chicago and stages all over the world, playing with the likes of Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Keith Richards and his friend and idol, B.B. King.
“I followed the blues ever since I was a young child,” explained Guy. “Followed the blues from a plantation way out of nowhere to the knife-and-gun concrete jungle of Chicago. The blues took my life and turned it upside down. Had me going places and doing things that, when I look back, seem crazy. The blues turned me wild. The brought out something in me I didn’t even know was there. So here I am — a 75-year-old man sitting on a bar stool in a blues club, trying to figure out exactly how I got here. Anyway you look at it, it’s a helluva story.”
Guy was 13 years old when he heard John Lee Hooker’s “Boogie Chillen” in 1949. his family, sharecroppers in Lettsworth, La., had just gotten electricity, and while the little electric bulb didn’t change much in their home, the phonograph sure did. “Boogie Chillen” uncovered something in Guy he didn’t know was there — a desire to play music. After inventing a few contraptions — window screen wires strung over tin cans and rubber bands stretched out and tacked to the wall — Guy’s father bought him his first guitar, a worn instrument with two strings, for $4.35. Guy’s life, he says, “ain’t never been the same since.”
In 1957, Chicago was home to Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Sonny Boy and Howlin’ Wolf — and 21-year-old Guy was eager to join them. Armed with his Les Paul Gibson and a rough demo cut he made at a local radio station in Baton Rouge, Guy moved to the big city to make blues his life. Unable to find a job, a gig or a way to talk to a record producer, Guy decided to call his father for a train ticket back home to Louisiana six months after his arrival. That same night, a stranger invited him to the 708 club, where Guy was asked onto the stage to play some blues alongside Otis Rush. A few hours later, after an electrifying performance that had the audience screaming for more, Guy was sitting in Muddy Waters’ red Chevy.
Guy began playing steady gigs across Chicago, building a reputation with his wild-man-on-stage persona, working as a songwriter and sessions guitarist for the Chicago blues men he admired and collaborating with Junior Wells. Guy wouldn’t record his own record until the late 1960s, but by that point he had already influenced Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. The winner of six Grammys and Billboard magazine’s Century Award, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.
“When I Left Home” tells Guy’s picaresque story in his own unique voice, that of a storyteller who remembers everything, including blues masters in their prime and the exploding, evolving culture of music that happened all around him.