Blues musician Buddy Guy is coming to Ithaca to play at the State Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Sunday. About a year ago, he released his autobiography, “When I Left Home: My Story,” in which he explains his journey from growing up in rural Louisiana to becoming a critically acclaimed Chicago guitarist.
Contributing Writer Karla Lopez spoke with him about his upbringing, his music and his interests beyond the blues.
Karla Lopez: It’s been almost a year since you published your autobiography, “When I Left Home: My Story.” How do you feel about it?
Buddy Guy: I just told the truth about [my life], you know. It took a long time, because a lot of people was telling me, “If you write a book, if you tell a lot of lies, you might sell a lot of books,” and I had refused until they finally came and said, “OK, let’s do the book,” and I just want the facts of life, you know. I just wanted the truth about my life.
KL: It’s true that you first learned how to play the guitar on a two-string diddley bow? What made you pick up that bow?
BG: I really don’t know, to be honest with you. My parents was so poor I didn’t know what a guitar was. My first time was like, a rubber band. I was stretching it, putting it to my ear, and I would hear something. My mother had an old wood house … Well, I would drive a few tacks in the wall, and I would just — screen from a screen — I would stretch ’em tight, and I could hear that then, so I guess that was in my blood from day one. I was always excited by that kind of sound.
KL: Yeah, you’re playing a show in Ithaca very soon. Have you been here before?
BG: Oh yeah, I used to come there when they had blues clubs there … As a matter fact, that’s exactly where I was the year Michael Jackson won all the Grammys and Muddy Waters had died. Had to be 1983, and that’s when I cried, ’cause I saw Muddy Waters’ picture flashed on national television. That was hard to see a blues guy on there. They always show us when we gone, not when we’re livin’.
KL: Like Muddy, you’ve also achieved so much success and praise. How do you keep yourself grounded after all these years?
BG: Well, I think it has a lot to do with I was brought up on a farm, and I was brought up to respect and give respect. And I was always taught that I still was a plain old Buddy that my mother birthed July 30, 1936. Because if you be a firefighter, baseball player or whatever, she always told me, “Don’t forget where you came from,” and I live with that every day now. You know, I go to the grocery store, I don’t let nobody shop for me, and people look at me, “What are you doin’?” You know I put gas in my car, “What are you doin’ that for?” I say, “Hey, my car runs outta fuel just like yours, and I have to eat just like everybody else.” I’m just an old, common person. I grew up with it, and I didn’t let the music change business.
KL: If you weren’t a musician, what do you think you would be doing right now instead?
BG: You know, I used to work on cars a lot when you could work on a car. Now I don’t even look under the hood, because everything’s electronic, but I love to mess with old cars. Like a letter here now from the mayor where I live at — I learned how to cook not by school, [but] by watching my mom, you know. And I fixed the gumbo just before Easter, and I take it to Mass, and he sent a letter yesterday sayin’, “If you don’t play — if you don’t be keepin’ up with your guitar, you could be a chef,” so he must have liked it. So I like cookin’, and I like messin’ with cars.
KL: OK, I have to ask, do you have any guilty pleasure songs?
BG: Well, to be honest with you, you know, I tap my feet at any kinda music … So I just love music. In fact, when hip-hop came out, I was just rappin’ my feet. They was talkin’ so fast I didn’t even know they were usin’ a lot of profane, and I said, “Oh my god, I better stop that,” ’cause they don’t let a blues player say things like that.