Thursday, August 1, 2013

Readin': When I Left Home

I was in the US from July 11 through July 28; in Meriden, Connecticut from the 11th through the 15th and then in Seattle from the late evening of the 15th through the morning of the 28th. While I was at home I did quite a bit of reading. I had ordered a couple of books via the Internet and they had arrived wh.ile I was in Jordan. There they were, just waiting to be read.

I've been a Buddy Guy fan ever since I saw Buddy Guy and Junior Wells at The Shaboo Inn in Willimantic during my undergraduate days at UConn. This year Buddy published his memoir, When I Left Home, which he wrote with David Ritz (who has previously cowritten biographies of Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin, among others). For a 76-year long journey (Buddy turned 77 just last week), this is a relatively short retelling.

Buddy spent the first, and most formative part of his life in and around Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the son of a sharecropper. The house he first lived in had no electricity or running water. The first 'guitar' he had was one he made from two tin cans and wire stolen from the window screens of that house. He eventually received a guitar as a gift from a friend of his father's who thought "He could do something with it". He most certainly did!

Buddy left Louisiana for the growing electric blues scene of Chicago in September of 1957 (when I was just 5 years old and starting kindergarten at St. Joseph's School in Meriden) when he was 21. He spends a major portion of the book talking about the early years in Chicago, trying to get established in a city rife with talent. The list of people he worked with is a Who's Who of Chicago blues music; Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Pinetop Perkins, Howling Wolf, Willie Dixon, Hubert Sumlin. Muddy Waters served as a surrogate father while he was getting established.

Buddy developed something of a split musical personality as a result of the two main strains of his work life; playing in blues clubs on the South and West sides of Chicago and doing session work at Chess Records. Buddy was a wild entertainer in the clubs, starting his shows from outside the club or even in the bathroom by virtue of the 150' cord on his electric guitar. In the Chess studios he was a quiet session man, "Just tell me where to sit and I’ll do the rest — quietly."

Buddy very matter of factly talks about his influence on the British blues/rock scene and casually  mentions a raft of people who learned from, and idolized, him; Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Ron Woods, Keith Richards, and Jimi Hendrix among them.

Guy spends a lot of time writing about his personal and professional relationship with the mercurial harmonica player, Junior Wells. I was particularly interested in this section as that was where I first became familiar with his music. Watching someone perform on stage, you have no idea what they are really like, what they think, how they feel about things. It was great to get his view of things.

For the past 10 or 15 years Buddy Guy has been putting out some of the best music of his career and getting some late, though well-deserved recognition (6 Grammys and induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame). Sweet Tea (2001), Blues Singer (2003), Skin Deep (2008) and Living Proof (2010) are some of his best work and they were all recorded after he turned 60!, I particularly like Sweet Tea as it was recorded very simply using old instruments and amplifiers and has a real 'old time' feel to it. Buddy covers this section of his life, surely one of the most creative times in his career, in just 5 pages.

Buddy released a new album, Rhythm & Blues, just after I left the US. I'm going to have to wait until December to pick up a copy when I return there.

When I Left Home was a quick read. I finished it in just two days. It told a really great story of one of the most influential bluesmen of the 20th century and was well worth the time.

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About Me

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I'm currently 60 years old. I currently work as the learning management system specialist for American University of Madaba in Madaba, Jordan. I was originally certified as a high-school English teacher and taught school for 13 years (1 year of substituting, 1 year of 7th grade, 2 years of a combined 5th, 6th, 7th grade, 9 years of 8th grade). I've worked for hardware and software companies for the past 23 years doing training, training materials development, certification test development and other education related stuff. My wife and I have raised four children to adulthood; some of them live at home at the moment, but that won't last (they're too independent for that). We live at home with 2 Golden Retrievers, 2 black cats, a crazy cat, and, during the winter, 70,000 coho salmon.