When I Left Home

My Story

by David Ritz and Buddy Guy

When I Left Home

Hardcover, 280 pages, Perseus Books Group, List Price: $26 | purchase

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Book Summary

A great blues guitarist chronicles his eventful life, from his modest upbringing in rural Louisiana to his rise to prominence in the Chicago blues scene to his becoming a lasting influence on famous musicians.

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Excerpt: When I Left Home

Preface

I get up at break of dawn. Been doing that my whole life. That's what happens when you grow up on the farm. Circumstances might change, but if you a country boy like me, you still hear the rooster.

My house is way on the outskirts of town in the far suburbs of Chicago on fourteen acres of land. Looking out the backyard I see trees everywhere. Got a thing for trees. I like watching how the leaves turn color in the fall, how winter frosts over the branches, how little buds break out in spring and new leaves come to life in summer. The seasons got a rhythm that connects me to the earth.

First thing on my mind are beans. Thinking about going to the store to buy beans. If I find some freshly shelled beans, I'll jump over the counter to get 'em. Get to the supermarket when the doors first open. Someone might recognize me, might say, "Buddy, what you doing here?" I say, "Hey, man, I gotta eat like everyone else. Gotta get me some fresh beans."

When the weather's warm, I want melon. But you can't sell me melon without seeds. Just like you can't sell me white-and-yellow corn. I don't fool with no food that's messed over by man. On the way home, if I see a stand on the side of the road, I'll stop to see what they got. If they got corn and I spot a little worm crawling over the top, I'll buy it. That means the corn hasn't been sprayed with chemicals. It's easy to clean out the worm, but how you gonna clean out the chemicals?

I'll spend the rest of the day in the kitchen. Maybe I'll cook up a gumbo with fresh crayfish. When I was a boy, crayfish tail was bait. Now it's a delicacy. The rice, the spice, the greens, the beans — when I get to cooking, when the pots get to boiling and the odors go floating all over the house, my mind rests easy. My mind is mighty happy. My mind goes back to my uncle, who made his money on the Mississippi River down in Louisiana where we was raised. My uncle caught the catfish and brought it home to Mama. That fish was so clean and fresh, we didn't need to skin it. Mama would just wash it with hot water before frying it up. I can still hear the sound of the sizzle. And when I bit into that that crispy, crackling skin and tasted the pure white of the sweet fish meat, I was one happy little boy. That's the kind of food I'm looking for. I'm looking today, and I'm looking tomorrow, and I'll be looking for the rest of my life.

My life is pretty simple. If I'm off the road and not getting ready to go off to New York or New Delhi, I'll spend my day shopping and cooking. Maybe the kids will come over. Maybe I'll eat alone. At 2 p.m. I'll take me a good long nap. After dinner I'll get in my SUV and see that I've put some 200,000 miles on the thing. If it's low on gas, I'll take the time to drive over to Indiana where gas is a couple of cents cheaper. I'll remember that one of my first jobs off the farm was in Baton Rouge pumping gas. Back then the average sale was $1. Today it'll cost me $120 to fill the tank. Ain't complaining — just saying I've seen some changes in these many years I've been running this race.

Around 7:30 I'll head into Chicago. My club, Legends, sits on the corner of Wabash and Balbo, right across from the huge Hilton Hotel on the south end of the Loop. It's a big club that can hold up to five hundred people, and I'm pleased to say that I own the building that houses it. I go in and take a seat on a stool in the back. I say hello to the men and women who work there. Two of my daughters run the place, and they're usually upstairs going over the books. Occasionally a customer will recognize me, but to most everyone I'm just a guy at the bar. That's how I like it. I don't need no attention tonight — I'm not playing, I'm just kicking back. I'm feeling good that I got a place to go at night and that Chicago still has a club where you can hear the blues. Live blues every night. Can't tell you how that warms this old man's heart.

Funny thing about the blues: you play 'em cause you got 'em. But when you play 'em, you lose 'em. If you hear 'em — if you let the music get into your soul — you also lose 'em. The blues chase the blues away. The true blues feeling is so strong that you forget everything else — even your own blues.

So tonight I'm thinking about how the blues change you and how they changed me. Thinking about how I followed the blues ever since I was a young child. Followed the blues from a plantation way out in the middle of nowhere to the knife-and-gun concrete jungle of Chicago. The blues took my life and turned it upside down. Had me going places and doing things that, when I look back, seem crazy. The blues turned me wild. They brought out something in me I didn't even know was there.

So here I am — a seventy-five-year-old man sitting on a bar stool in a blues club, trying to figure out exactly how I got here. Any way you look at it, it's a helluva story.

From When I Left Home: My Story by Buddy Guy with David Ritz. Copyright 2012 by Buddy Guy with David Ritz. Excerpted by permission of Da Capo Press.

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