Roy Buchanan – Guitar Innovator

Roy Buchanan – Guitar Innovator

For me, Roy Buchanan is and shall always be, a naturally gifted guitarist with an exceptional and unmeasurable tone dominance. Furthermore, he had an amazing way of interpreting those special notes or moments in a song while making them his own. Sure, there are many other great guitarists that has “this magic” as well.

But for me, his music takes you to a higher level of consciousness. And then he would build on it. And then slowly bring you back to the rest of the band. Then you think to yourself, where the hell did, he just take us? Just Legendary! Dare sometimes his covers were better than the originals. Seriously, he owned the songs he played and then some. He had an arsenal of techniques that he used as his will. Wowing audiences through and through. 

Rebel With a Guitar

A lover of all styles and genres of music, Buchanan refused to be pigeonholed into any particular musical genre. In fact, he considers himself just an ordinary working guitarist with the guitar skills to play any style of music. An everyday musician hitting the pavement, playing music to survive and pay the bills. While he stays away from the spotlight, he still gains the respect of anyone who came to see him play.

Ultimately, Roy Buchanan to this day remains a cult figure and sadly didn’t get the acclaim that he deserved. Still today Roy Buchanan remains a cult figure, as the guitarist’s guitarist. His unique sound, style and tone can’t be claimed by anybody else of his era. His style of playing would often intimidate other players at times. He even turned down a gig with The Rolling Stones.

The Early Years

Born in Ozark, Arkansas, and was raised there and in Pixley, California, a farming area near Bakersfield. Initially at age seven, he starts out on the steel guitar, before switching to guitar in the early 50s, and starts his professional career at age 15, under the wing of Johnny Otis and starts playing for his rhythm and blues revue. Later in 1958, Buchanan makes his recording debut accompanying Dale Hawkins on the song “My Babe.”

Two years later, during a tour through Toronto, Buchanan leaves Dale Hawkins band to play for his cousin Ronnie Hawkins and tutor Ronnie’s guitar player, Robbie Robertson. Buchanan plays bass on the Ronnie Hawkins single “Who Do You Love?” Later Buchanan returns to the United States, still as a member of Hawkins’ group. Who later gains fame as the rock group “The Band.”

Then, in 1962, Roy’s trademark harmonics are introduced on “Potato Peeler”, his groundbreaking single with drummer Bobby Gregg. In the mid-sixties, exhausted by life on the road, Roy settles down in the Washington, D.C. area, and starts his own group, The Snakestretchers, and begins a residency at the “Crossroads Club” in Blades Burg, Maryland. In 1971, already riding on word-of-mouth reputation that included accolades from Eric Clapton, Merle Haggard, the Rolling Stones and John Lennon. Roy “broke” nationally as the result of an hour-long National Public Television documentary. Entitled “The Best Unknown Guitarist In The World.” The show won Roy a contract with Polydor and began a decade of national and international touring.

Going back into the Studio

He cut five albums for Polydor and three for Atlantic, while playing virtually every major rock concert hall and festival. The major labels gave him fame and fortune, but no artistic freedom. Finally, disgusted with the over-production forced on his music, Roy quit recording in 1981, vowing never to enter a studio again unless he could record his own music his way. Four years later Alligator Records steps in and gives him total artistic freedom on “When A Guitar Plays The Blues” which releases in 1985. “Dancing On The Edge” in 1986 and in 1987 his album “Hot Wires”. 

The Guitar Legend Has Left The Building

While there are still debates on how he really passed. The official ruling was suicide by hanging in a cell at the Fairfax jail in Virginia on August 14, 1988. Either way, it’s a tragic end for this musical genius. Roy’s life was both ordinary and legendary and even though he didn’t get the commercial success he deserved, he still remains one of the most authentic musicians to date. Without the hype and over the top antics, just a guitarist that wowed audiences who were lucky enough to see him live and inspiring up and coming musicians along the way.