The title of Buddy Guy’s must-read autobiography, When I Left Home (out May 23 from Da Capo Press, $26), suggests a straightforward account of the blues guitarist’s life, from his childhood picking cotton on a Louisiana farm through his rise to fame as the global touring star he is today. But what makes the breezy and revealing book special is its ability to bring history—Guy’s own, as well as that of Chicago blues—to life.
The author, age 75, tells of guitar battles in South and West Side clubs, playing backup for giants like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, cutting his first singles with Ike Turner, his roughhouse days at Chess Records, running the famed Checkerboard Lounge (“a spiritual blessing but a financial burden”), and his tumultuous but fruitful partnership with the late Junior Wells. Particularly poignant is a recollection from his days on the farm: “The first music that touched my heart wasn’t made by man. It was the music of the birds. . . . Why were they pretty?” We’re all better off that he dedicated himself to finding out.