Buddy Guy unplugged

Talkin' the blues

08/29/2012 8:10 PM

By Bill Motchan

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Buddy Guy shares a laugh with Chicago Public Library's Christopher Popa.

Last night I strayed from the West Loop to the South Loop for a terrific program at the Harold Washington Library: Buddy Guy on stage, but without a guitar. Instead, he was “talkin’ the blues.”

The speaking engagement for the 76-year-old bluesman was an opportunity to promote his autobiography, “When I Left Home: My Story.” Guy talked about a wide range of subjects, including growing up poor in rural Louisiana. He was pumping gas for $8 a week, when a talent agent heard him play guitar and offered $18 a week. Guy jumped at the opportunity.

He was incredibly shy, and initially turned his back to the audience while onstage. To combat the jitters, he drank a little “schoolboy scotch” with Coca-Cola.

“As B.B. King says, it’s good for what ails ya,” Guy said, drawing laughs from the overflow crowd at Harold Washington Library’s Pritzker Auditorium. Guy also received extended applause for a comment on guns. As a boy, he was given a gun, but with very specific instructions.

“I was told, this is for wild game only, and never to be pointed at anybody,” he said.

Guy tries to nurture young talent, but said he always stresses that kids need to stay in school, and get a good education. He also implied that kids today might be better served if their parents didn’t spare the rod.

“Bill Cosby was once asked what happened if he didn’t do his homework,” Guy said. “He got hit. It was the same thing with me—my mother would say, go get me a switch.”

Guy paused, and with a smile, said, “So I’d get her the SMALLEST switch I could find.”

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