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According to Eric Clapton, John Mayer, and the late Stevie Ray Vaughn, Buddy Guy is the greatest blues guitarist of all time. An enormous influence on these musicians as well as Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck, he is the living embodiment of Chicago blues.

Guy’s epic story stands at the absolute nexus of modern blues. He came to Chicago from rural Louisiana in the fiftiesthe very moment when urban blues were electrifying our culture. He was a regular session player at Chess Records. Willie Dixon was his mentor. He was a sideman in the bands of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. He and Junior Wells formed a band of their own. In the sixties, he became a recording star in his own right.

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.

Published: Da Capo Press on
ISBN: 9780306821073
List price: $15.99
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If you're a fan of the blues, you must read (or listen to) this book. Buddy Guy is the "Big Poppa" of Chicago blues today, but that wasn't always the case. This book tells his story from leaving Louisiana to follow his music to Chicago. Buddy has certainly witnessed some crazy things in his life! What struck me the most about his story was that other people could tell, just by listening to him play, without knowing who he was, that he needed to keep playing. There was and still is something in him that comes out when he plays that complete strangers would even recognize and relate to.more
Written in Buddy Guy’s warm conversational tone, reading When I Left Home: My Story didn’t feel like reading a book but rather like sitting and listening to an old friend tell his story - or in this case stories -because to learn Buddy’s story is to learn about the blues, the people who made them, and Chicago, one of the pivotal places in the blues world. Coming from a family of sharecroppers who worked the cotton fields of Louisiana, Buddy fell in love with music at an early age. But it wasn’t through the radio or a record, it was through an old family friend who used to swing by the Guys every Christmas with his two string guitar. Too poor to own a “real” guitar, Buddy tried to improvise his own. Finally, Buddy’s father bought the old family friend’s guitar one Christmas day for the whopping price of $4.35. “Daddy handed over the money, and Coot handed me the guitar. Life ain’t never been the same since.” Buddy learned as much as he could on it. By this time the family had electricity, an old 78 record player and some blues records. But it was one particular record, “Boogie Chillen” by John Lee Hooker that Buddy loved. As Buddy says, “That’s the record that did it.” As a teenager Buddy was sent to live with an older sister who lived in Baton Rouge so that he could finish high school. A few things happened there that would be important to Buddy’s story. He saw a dynamic performer, Guitar Slim, who Guy would later try to emulate on stage. A total stranger walking down the street heard Buddy sitting on the front porch of his sister’s house picking out a new John Lee Hooker tune on his two-stringed guitar and offered to buy Buddy a “good guitar” – one with six strings. “What a difference between two and six! Was like I had a whole orchestra in my hands.” Then there was the day an old family friend visiting from Chicago told Buddy to come up north where the wages were better and where the blues artists he admired so much lived. “I didn’t think I was good enough to make a living picking the guitar up there, but I sure did dream of getting a glimpse of Muddy and Walter and them driving around in their fine cars. … And naturally, I dreamed of going to some beautiful nightclub and hearing them play in the flesh.”Arriving in Chicago turned out to be quite an eye opener for 21-year-old Buddy. He showed up in Chicago straight off the train with $600, the old family friend’s address, and his guitar. The promise of wages of two to three times what he was used to making in Louisiana turned out to be elusive. He couldn’t find a steady job doing anything (music or otherwise); living arrangements with his old friend were downright uncomfortable, and after a few months of steady unemployment, the money was soon gone and he was “straight up starving” and just about to call it quits and go back home. It was at this moment that a random guy driving down the street spotted Buddy carrying his guitar and asked, “Can you play the thing?” Before he knew it Buddy found himself on stage that very night at the 708 club, “one of the hottest blues clubs on the South side,” wowing the crowd with all of Guitar Slim’s stage tricks and improvising some of his own. “Looking back at this moment in my life, I know I was possessed. Maybe I was open to being possessed because I was scared and desperate. Maybe I knew my life depended on tearing up this club until folks wouldn’t forget me.” It was at this pivotal spot in Buddy’s life that he met “the Mud” (Muddy Waters) who would ask Buddy to come play with him. “The Mud” would become a surrogate father for Buddy (as it seemed he did for a lot of other Chicago blues guys) and soon Buddy was a fixture at Chess records as a session player. The rest, they say, is history.Rising from a life of abject poverty in the cotton fields of Louisiana to what other legendary musicians such as the late Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton consider “the greatest blues guitarist of all time” (says Clapton at one point “I’ve copied all your old licks. How am I going to learn your new licks if you don’t have a new record?”) would be pretty heady stuff for anybody, but through listening to Guy tell his story we are introduced to someone who embodies humility on a cellular level. He wouldn’t get a well-deserved Grammy until 1991 when he was 55 for his album “Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues" and after this a “slew of recognition. ... But when these prizes came in, I felt like they really belonged to Guitar Slim or Lightnin’ Slim or Lightnin’ Hopkins – the cats who came before me and never got the right fame or the right money.” Guy doesn’t merely pay homage to the “cats who came before me” he also has great respect and admiration for the old 60s rockers like the Rolling Stones (amongst others) who were quick to point to the blues artist who had such a great influence on them which in turn caused a blues revival in the 60s and early 70s. In the 80s, there were artist like Robert Cray leading a bit of a blues revival and selling records to a rock audience, but according to Guy it was the late Stevie Ray Vaughan “who really led the kids back to the blues.” And why do the blues keep coming back? “They got born again because they too good to stay dead.”Buddy’s conversational, no-nonsense style was incredibly engaging but his inclusion of a whole bunch of funny stories – about himself and others – was downright entertaining and there were times I had to just put the book down and laugh. He talks about his first club, Checkerboards, a place that was robbed so much he finally put up a sign: ” ‘Don’t break the front gate. Go around back. The door’s open there. Take what you want.’ Of course, I was in the back, waiting for them with a gun. But wouldn’t you know that’s when they stopped breaking in.” There are many funny anecdotes peppered throughout Buddy's incredible story, but there's also the heartbreaking loss of close friends like Muddy; Buddy's musical partner and friend Junior Wells; and the untimely death of Stevie Ray Vaughan. Through it all, though, good times or bad, is Buddy's humbleness, his love of people and his unwavering faith in the blues. "I'm believing that the blues makes life better wherever it goes - and I'll tell you why: even when the blues is sad, it turns your sadness to joy. And ain't that a beautiful thing?"more

Reviews

If you're a fan of the blues, you must read (or listen to) this book. Buddy Guy is the "Big Poppa" of Chicago blues today, but that wasn't always the case. This book tells his story from leaving Louisiana to follow his music to Chicago. Buddy has certainly witnessed some crazy things in his life! What struck me the most about his story was that other people could tell, just by listening to him play, without knowing who he was, that he needed to keep playing. There was and still is something in him that comes out when he plays that complete strangers would even recognize and relate to.more
Written in Buddy Guy’s warm conversational tone, reading When I Left Home: My Story didn’t feel like reading a book but rather like sitting and listening to an old friend tell his story - or in this case stories -because to learn Buddy’s story is to learn about the blues, the people who made them, and Chicago, one of the pivotal places in the blues world. Coming from a family of sharecroppers who worked the cotton fields of Louisiana, Buddy fell in love with music at an early age. But it wasn’t through the radio or a record, it was through an old family friend who used to swing by the Guys every Christmas with his two string guitar. Too poor to own a “real” guitar, Buddy tried to improvise his own. Finally, Buddy’s father bought the old family friend’s guitar one Christmas day for the whopping price of $4.35. “Daddy handed over the money, and Coot handed me the guitar. Life ain’t never been the same since.” Buddy learned as much as he could on it. By this time the family had electricity, an old 78 record player and some blues records. But it was one particular record, “Boogie Chillen” by John Lee Hooker that Buddy loved. As Buddy says, “That’s the record that did it.” As a teenager Buddy was sent to live with an older sister who lived in Baton Rouge so that he could finish high school. A few things happened there that would be important to Buddy’s story. He saw a dynamic performer, Guitar Slim, who Guy would later try to emulate on stage. A total stranger walking down the street heard Buddy sitting on the front porch of his sister’s house picking out a new John Lee Hooker tune on his two-stringed guitar and offered to buy Buddy a “good guitar” – one with six strings. “What a difference between two and six! Was like I had a whole orchestra in my hands.” Then there was the day an old family friend visiting from Chicago told Buddy to come up north where the wages were better and where the blues artists he admired so much lived. “I didn’t think I was good enough to make a living picking the guitar up there, but I sure did dream of getting a glimpse of Muddy and Walter and them driving around in their fine cars. … And naturally, I dreamed of going to some beautiful nightclub and hearing them play in the flesh.”Arriving in Chicago turned out to be quite an eye opener for 21-year-old Buddy. He showed up in Chicago straight off the train with $600, the old family friend’s address, and his guitar. The promise of wages of two to three times what he was used to making in Louisiana turned out to be elusive. He couldn’t find a steady job doing anything (music or otherwise); living arrangements with his old friend were downright uncomfortable, and after a few months of steady unemployment, the money was soon gone and he was “straight up starving” and just about to call it quits and go back home. It was at this moment that a random guy driving down the street spotted Buddy carrying his guitar and asked, “Can you play the thing?” Before he knew it Buddy found himself on stage that very night at the 708 club, “one of the hottest blues clubs on the South side,” wowing the crowd with all of Guitar Slim’s stage tricks and improvising some of his own. “Looking back at this moment in my life, I know I was possessed. Maybe I was open to being possessed because I was scared and desperate. Maybe I knew my life depended on tearing up this club until folks wouldn’t forget me.” It was at this pivotal spot in Buddy’s life that he met “the Mud” (Muddy Waters) who would ask Buddy to come play with him. “The Mud” would become a surrogate father for Buddy (as it seemed he did for a lot of other Chicago blues guys) and soon Buddy was a fixture at Chess records as a session player. The rest, they say, is history.Rising from a life of abject poverty in the cotton fields of Louisiana to what other legendary musicians such as the late Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton consider “the greatest blues guitarist of all time” (says Clapton at one point “I’ve copied all your old licks. How am I going to learn your new licks if you don’t have a new record?”) would be pretty heady stuff for anybody, but through listening to Guy tell his story we are introduced to someone who embodies humility on a cellular level. He wouldn’t get a well-deserved Grammy until 1991 when he was 55 for his album “Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues" and after this a “slew of recognition. ... But when these prizes came in, I felt like they really belonged to Guitar Slim or Lightnin’ Slim or Lightnin’ Hopkins – the cats who came before me and never got the right fame or the right money.” Guy doesn’t merely pay homage to the “cats who came before me” he also has great respect and admiration for the old 60s rockers like the Rolling Stones (amongst others) who were quick to point to the blues artist who had such a great influence on them which in turn caused a blues revival in the 60s and early 70s. In the 80s, there were artist like Robert Cray leading a bit of a blues revival and selling records to a rock audience, but according to Guy it was the late Stevie Ray Vaughan “who really led the kids back to the blues.” And why do the blues keep coming back? “They got born again because they too good to stay dead.”Buddy’s conversational, no-nonsense style was incredibly engaging but his inclusion of a whole bunch of funny stories – about himself and others – was downright entertaining and there were times I had to just put the book down and laugh. He talks about his first club, Checkerboards, a place that was robbed so much he finally put up a sign: ” ‘Don’t break the front gate. Go around back. The door’s open there. Take what you want.’ Of course, I was in the back, waiting for them with a gun. But wouldn’t you know that’s when they stopped breaking in.” There are many funny anecdotes peppered throughout Buddy's incredible story, but there's also the heartbreaking loss of close friends like Muddy; Buddy's musical partner and friend Junior Wells; and the untimely death of Stevie Ray Vaughan. Through it all, though, good times or bad, is Buddy's humbleness, his love of people and his unwavering faith in the blues. "I'm believing that the blues makes life better wherever it goes - and I'll tell you why: even when the blues is sad, it turns your sadness to joy. And ain't that a beautiful thing?"more
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