T-Bone Walker – Electric Blues Pioneer
T-Bone Walker – Electric Blues Pioneer. Many musicians and Blues fan a like owe this man a lot! If it wasn’t for him and other Blues artists paving the way, we wouldn’t have the rich blues history today. While we have many over the top electric blues guitar players, he’s the first to take the leap by performing the electric blues. More or less, ground zero for electric blues. Even better, he combines the blues with swing music, jazz and beyond in his long and prolific career.
Artists He Inspires Along the Way
Not only does T-bone Walker inspire the likes of B.B. King, Freddy, and Albert. But also Duane Allman, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Hendrix, Chuck Berry and even modern Blues artists like Duke Robillard, Ronnie Earl and many more! Like B.B. King, Walker is a living link to prewar blues for the future generations.
Not only is Walker a brilliant musician, but he’s also a great showman that had the musical swagger that made people pay attention and eventually copy along the way. He was years ahead of his time. Furthermore, he didn’t play his guitar like anyone else.
During the 40s and 50s practically every Blues guitarist who played in the standard tuning tried to sound like T-Bone on the guitar. “He used a lot of double timing in his soloing, which at that time was something only horn players did, you never heard a guitar player do it — very unusual and very innovative. He’d be playing actually twice as many notes per beat.” – Duke Robillard.
The Early Years
Growing up in Linden, Texas, his parents were also musicians. Abandoned shortly by his father, his mother, Movelia moves to Dallas and soon remarries a man named Marco Washington who is also a musician.
While growing up in Dallas, his stepfather teaches him to play the guitar, banjo, mandolin, and violin. So, not only does he tear up the guitar making it cry out for mercy but, also most likely he did the same with the other instruments.
Walker would also participate in family jams, often joined by the legendary bluesman, Blind Lemon Jefferson, a friend of the family. By the age of fifteen, Walker is performing professionally on the blues circuit, initially as a protege of Jefferson’s.
In 1929, Walker makes his recording debut with a single for Columbia Records, “Wichita Falls Blues” – ”Trinity River Blues.” By 1935, Walker marries the love of his life Vida Lee. They have three kids.
In July 1942, he signs to the new Capitol label and begins recording as part of Freddie Slacks fifteen piece band. He cuts his first two classics, “I Gotta Break Baby” and “Mean Old World” showing his easy swinging vocals and his distinctive guitar sound and riffs that become classic T-Bone.
While, the second world war puts a damper on recording music, his career is put on hold. But, he’s still is a major performer in clubs and concerts.
Performing At The American Folk Festival
Just to point out what an exceptional and versatile artist T-Bone Walker is. Here he’s performing “Don’t Throw Your Love On Me So Strong” in 1962 at the very first American Folk Festival. Backed by musicians Willie Dixon, Memphis Slim, and Jump Jackson, it just makes this performance even more amazing! This tasty tidbit of a video is from the Horst Lippman’s TV show called “Jazz gehört & gesehen” (Jazz heard & seen) on a German TV station. Just watching this video, you can see just how he inspires so many artists.
The Sixties, European Tour, Later Years
Things turned around for T-Bone in the sixties by playing folk clubs, colleges and more European festival tours. T-Bone continues to record through the sixties till around 1968. In 1970, T-Bone receives a Grammy Award for his album “Good Feeling” recorded in 1968. In 1975, he passes away from pneumonia. Some suggest it’s from his issues with alcohol abuse throughout his life.
Credits: Duke Robillard Quote -T-Bone Walker interview with NPR about the song Stormy Monday.