I stayed up late last night reading When I Left Home: My Story by blues guitar great Buddy Guy. Its a fun book to read, and yes you can knock it out in a few hours.
The best part of the book is Buddy’s recounting of his early days in Chicago, hangin’ and playing with blues luminaries like Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Otis Rush and of course Muddy Waters.
I’m not going to tell you the whole story, you should read it yourself, but after a few pretty miserable months Buddy finally got his chance. He was shy by nature and insecure, and he hadn’t eaten in a couple of days when a friend gave him a couple of drinks and pushed him onstage with Otis Rush.
Rush asked him what he wanted to play. Buddy called “Things I Used To Do” by Guitar Slim. Rush told him to start and that he would come in behind him.
I started, but because some magic happened, Rush never did play with me on that song. He just let me go. I believe he had to let me go. I believe no force on earth could have kept me from letting go. See, the spirit of Guitar Slim entered my soul–not just the spirit, but the showmanship. I wouldn’t sit down, I couldn’t sit down, and after I played the opening notes I watched myself move to the edge of the stage and jump into the crowd, just as I’d seen Slim do.
People went crazy.
Back in those days it was standard for the guitar players to sit down. But before he moved to Chicago from Lettsworth, Louisiana, Buddy had been impressed with Guitar Slim, who he heard play live in Baton Rouge. Buddy writes about when he saw Guitar Slim, he heard the guitar but there was no guitarist on stage. He turned around to see Guitar Slim being carried in on the shoulders of a “giant fat man” while he played his guitar. According to Buddy:
Guitar Slim never sat down. He played his guitar between his legs, played on his back, played it jumping off the stage, played it hanging from the rafters. Wasn’t nothing Slim wouldn’t do and nowhere he wouldn’t go with that beautiful old Strat of his.
So when Buddy got his chance he did it like Guitar Slim. Hungry, broke, and ready to head back home to Louisiana, he got his chance and he gave it all he had. Was it the notes he played? OK sure, that was part of it. But more than that it was how he played those notes. He put on a show, got the crowd going, and the next thing he knew he was sitting in a car, eating a salami sandwich with Muddy Waters giving him encouragement.
So he stayed in Chicago.
As he started to get gigs He got himself a long guitar chord and he made his entrance from the parking lot, or the men’s room, or any place that seemed good. He always stood up, and put on a show when he played live.
Unfortunately, Leonard Chess always kept a lid on Buddy’s explosive quality in the studio, and those early records he played on don’t really show us what it was like to hear the true Buddy Guy in the early days.
Leonard Chess has admitted that was a mistake.
So take a lesson from Buddy Guy…play it like you mean it, and put on a show! It’s show business after all.
Here’s Buddy on Guitar Slim: