Buddy Guy with David Ritz

Buddy Guy with David Ritz
When I left Home: My Story

Decapo Press (0306819570)

By Georgetown Fats
August 2012

Long before the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Jimi Hendrix strapped on their guitars, cranked up the volume and reveled in the distorted overtones of musical notes careening through an overdriven tube amplifier, stood Buddy Guy - a musical genius in his own right who paved the way for many blues rock stars.

When I left Home: My Story starts off with a very healthy dose of Guy’s upbringing in Lettsworth and Baton Rogue, Louisiana. Given Guy’s very modest roots, it is hard not to be intrigued by a man who was compelled to follow his dreams and by parents who wanted more for their children then they had in their own lives. Given the biographical nature of the Grammy award winning Living Proof disk, it is hard not to have the Tom Hambridge penned Buddy Guy song “74 Years Young “careening around your brain while reading the beginning of When I left Home: My Story.

And there lies one of the issues with When I left Home: My Story: while compelling, many of these stories have been told before either through song or musical urban legend.

On the matter of the great Willie Dixon, while Buddy does show him some respect, Guy portrays Mr. Dixon as far more interested in assuring himself songwriter credits than stewarding other blues artists through the recording process. Given the Dixon family’s work with “Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven” on the grounds of the former Chess Studios, their work within the legal system attempting to recoup back royalties for blues artists, and the fact that Mr. Guy does contribute both time and memorabilia to Willie Dixon’s Foundation, it seems to be a curious way to paint a picture of a man who is no longer here to defend himself.

And then, there is the second-hand account of Willie Dixon’s portrayal of John Lee Hooker; that Willie Dixon had limited respect for the songwriting ability of the-great John Lee Hooker.

Guy confirms the legend of Muddy Waters making sure a hungry Buddy, his future protégé, was properly fed upon their initial meeting, while also refuting a Keith Richard’s claim about how Leonard Chess treated “The Mud” at the legendary Chess Studios. Guy also shows a genuine respect for Little Walter and Guy’s own long-time collaborator Junior Wells; both deeply troubled individuals whose final financial situations Guy manages some palpable anger over.

While it is reassuring to hear a great musician express humility, the rate at which Guy passes credit to “his Daddys” (he quickly credits his sound and performance style to Guitar Slim) and the lack of breadth in the details of the rehashed stories creates far too light of a read. When I left Home: My Story could have used another 100 pages or so with more detail rather than Guy’s brisk rehash.

While aided by David Ritz’ ability to shape taped conversations and interviews into a conversational biographical piece, When I Left Home: My Story would have also benefitted from the coauthor pushing the author for more detail.

If you’re a Buddy Guy fan, which I am, When I left Home: My Story will be a worthwhile read, but if you’re looking for material not on display through previous interviews or musical legends, it comes up a bit short having left far too much meat on the bone.

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