December 1st, 2012
Title: When I Left Home: My Story
Author: Buddy Guy with David Ritz
Publisher: Da Capo Press
Formats: Hardcover (320 pgs.), eBook, Audiobook
Release Date: May 8th, 2012
“Baby,” Lightnin’ told me, “I look out there into a sea of white cotton. Only it ain’t cotton- it’s college kids paying to hear the same sh*t I been playing down in Houston for years.”
This excerpt of a conversation with Lightnin’ Hopkins is a perfect example of why the new Buddy Guy autobiography is a great choice for any fan of the blues looking for a casual, fun and still informative read.
When I Left Home is an “as told to” style autobiography, but in this case it works well. The book reads as though you yourself have managed to get Guy to sit down over a cool drink and tell you about his life. Sometimes there are tangents about a crazy night in a Chicago nightclub or a pretty lady who ran him ragged, and sometimes it’s just a personal tour through the commercial evolution of the blues.
Starting with his earliest days living as a Southern sharecropper entranced enough with the sound of his neighbors two-string to jerry-rig his own guitars from cans and screen-door wires, and continuing through Guy’s current role as a laidback and respected elder statesmen of the blues, When I Left Home leaves you feeling as though you know the musician. The conversational tone of this book is so strong that when, on the last page, Guy invites the reader to Legends, his Chicago Club, you feel as though you could show up, slap him on the back and be instant friends.
Now with all this praise, it still must be said that this is not necessarily the clearest written book, and if you want to read a peer-reviewed educational resource on the history of Chicago blues, you probably have better options. This is an autobiography, however, and Guy seems to have made a lot of friends wherever he went, so if you want some insight into his peers, the street’s opinion on, say, Howling Wolf’s temper, Muddy Waters’ relationships with women, Lightnin’ Hopkins’ financial savvy, or a whole mess of bluesmen’s best dirty jokes, When I Left Home is the perfect choice for a light vacation read.
Reviewed by Dorothy Berry