Buddy Guy's life story reflects the bittersweet beauty of the blues

Like the blues itself, the life of Buddy Guy has been all about joy and pain, beauty and sadness. And in his recently published autobiography, When I Left Home, the 75-year-old blues legend tells his tales of hardship and triumph with the same raw, truth-telling vibe you'll pick up from one of his searing guitar solos.

Guy's story starts off with his retelling of an impoverished--yet always happy--upbringing in a sharecroppers' shack in Louisiana, and ends with him inviting you to Legends, his successful blues club on the south side of Chicago. In between you'll hear about how he first got turned on to the blues, at age of 13, via John Lee Hooker's "Boogie Chillen", and later followed his heroes like Muddy Water and Little Walter to the Windy City, where he found work--though not a lot of it--playing in rowdy late-night dives and doing underpaid session work for the likes of Chess Records.

Some of the most intriguing glimpses into the rough-and-tumble world of Chicago blues involves Guy's memories of harmonica great Little Walter, who could apparently be one mean son-of-a-gun.

"He had scars from head to foot, and he was ready to cut anyone he didn't like," writes Guy. "That was just his way. He kept his feelings right in front of his face. Maybe that's why he was the baddest harp man who ever done slipped one of those things in his mouth."

Another blues legend you didn't want to mess with, apparently, was Howlin' Wolf. "If he don't think I'm playing right, he'll try to beat up on me like I'm one of his women," Guy quotes guitar legend Hubert Sumlin as saying about the Wolf.

The penultimate chapter of When I Left Home, "Alpine Valley", features Guy's remembrances of Stevie Ray Vaughan, who he credits with bringing back interest in the blues in the '80s. (I remember actually being turned on to Buddy's music myself after hearing Stevie rave about him.) Guy took Vaughan's tragic death hard, and recalls how--right after his doomed Alpine Valley performance--Vaughan suggested they make a record together.

"Rememberin' Stevie, I thought that if it did happen, it was gonna happen in blues heaven. I pictured the band--Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, Fred Belew, Little Walter, Stevie Ray Vaughan. That's a band worth dying for."

If you can wait that long, Buddy Guy (and Jonny Lang) play Coquitlam's Red Robinson Show Theatre Sept. 28. Find tickets here.

You can follow Steve Newton on Twitter at twitter.com/earofnewt.

Comments (4) Add New Comment
Pat
See him while you still can.

He's not the guitarist he was in his prime but, even at 76, his chops are unbelievable and his pipes are still strong.

With respect to BB King, who has not aged nearly as well, Buddy Guy is the last of the great blues men.
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Trevor Brace
Saw Buddy Guy in Grand Rapids, MI, June 2011. Finally after so many years, I got to see the legend in person. It was an amazing show, and Buddy has shown no signs of slowing down. As far as I'm concerned, the two greatest Bluesman to ever live are SRV and BG!
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Chris in San Diego
Buddy Guy is amazing. I got to first see him live when he opened up for Stevie Ray Vaughan in Austin, TX in early 1990. I think he almost stole the show, with his guitar and singing style. Over the years, I have really grown to appreciate Buddy Guy and realize he is a legend that belongs with B.B. King, Albert King, Freddy King and all the other greats. When you influence players like Stevie Ray, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, you have made your mark in music history.
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Kevin in Chicago
Other than their great friendship, which can't be discounted, I'm sure Buddy took Stevie's death especially hard as the word was that Stevie was taking that doomed helicopter back to Chicago to sit in with Buddy at Legends for a late night jam. RIP Stevie...
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