Damn Right He's Got the Blues: Buddy Guy's Life Story

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Photo by Groovehouse
Buddy Guy at House of Blues, October 2009
When I Left Home: My Story
Buddy Guy with David Ritz
Da Capo Press, 320 pp, $26

Once the young kid in a stable of blues giants, Buddy Guy is now an elder statesman of the genre. And in this memoir, the story of his life is also the tale of the music itself of the past 50-plus years.

Born in 1936 in Lettworth, Louisiana, Guy spent much of his early years picking cotton with his family in accommodations that had no electricity until he was 13. But music was a passion, and his first attempt at making a crude guitar involved stringing wire from window screens over two tin cans with rubber bands.

Eventually, Guy's father would buy him a used guitar -- with only two strings - for $4.35. But he played it and cared for it like it was worth a million.

The meat of the book, and its most interesting parts, cover Guy's arrival in Chicago in 1957 and subsequent years playing, recording and hanging out with the Chess label's stable of larger-than-life stars such as Muddy Waters (who was like a second father to Guy), Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter and Otis Spann.

There's a treasure trove of stories here, including Houston's Lightnin' Hopkins explaining why he only took cash for performances and recordings up front so as not to be cheated by contracts and shady dealings. It's something Guy wish he'd listened to more -- especially after seeing the shrewd Willie Dixon's name alone as songwriter on a lot of sides, no matter how collaborative the process was.

Ritz, the musical journalist who has penned solid bios and autobios on Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye and Etta James, definitely gets Guy's "voice" and speaking patter down on the page, but his overusage of invented/remembered dialogue from decades ago is often suspect.

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George "Buddy" Guy is an American blues guitar player and a singer-songwriter. He is a pioneer of the Chicago blues sound and has served as an influential to some of the most notable musician of his generation. He was known for playing his guitar with drumstick or rolling into the audience while playing solos. He was ranked thirtienth in Rolling Stone magazine's list of the '100 Greatest Guitarist of All Time". He usually plays Chicago blues and electric blues kind of music

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