Buddy Guy with David Ritz, When I Left Home: My Story (Da Capo Press)

Buddy Guy with David Ritz, When I Left Home: My Story (Da Capo Press)

“If I started in on what had become my live style—twisting the notes real hard, playing riffs that sounded like they came from outer space, letting the tape buzz and bleed with different combinations that caught your ear—Leonard [Chess] would say, ‘Buddy, you’re doing too much. Play less. Calm your ass down.’”

That’s from page 139 of Buddy Guy telling his own story, and that’s the crux of the matter. Buddy Guy is no fool, and he is no truly out-of-control auteur. He knew how to calm his ass down, play less, and walk away with some of Leonard Chess’ money at the end of a few hours. But he also knew what he had, and he never neglected it, never lost sight of it.

Written in collaboration with stalwart music bio specialist David Ritz, the man who might just be the greatest living six-string electric guitar player portrays his life as mythology, which might offend without his perpetual humility, laced with humor, and without all the bona-fide myths surrounding him. Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Little Walter, and Junior Wells were all his best friends by turns, although Junior Wells was so sharply divided against himself he couldn’t decide—or control—whether to be someone’s best friend or worst enemy.

Guy’s life, like the blues, is made up of stories, and these stories have hammers in them, and straight razors, guns, and women more violent, or (and) more masochistic than any man you’ve heard of. A lot of it takes place after the sun goes down, which is when blues people are supposed to come alive, but Buddy Guy confides that in those days, at least, the Chicago steel mills and slaughterhouses ran 24-7 and a shift was always coming off duty ready for the blues. You could find yourself a hot set with Muddy Waters, and some dicey liquor, right around breakfast time.

It’s sad to find out that Buddy Guy couldn’t record the way he wanted to for so long. But something is better than nothing, and I refer a discerning listener to, for arbitrary starters, “I Smell a Rat” from his Stone Crazy! album. Bonus points to Guy and Ritz for leaving in five pages of John Lee Hooker stuttering. You won’t believe how well a stuttering man can tell a joke until you wrap your head around those.