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« Sex/Violence/Ratings | Main | Elsewhere »

September 12, 2006

T-Bone Walker

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

The Texas-born bluesman T-Bone Walker (1910-1975) was one of the founding giants of modern American popular music. Electrifying a hollow-body guitar and using it as a lead blues instrument? That was a T-Bone innovation. Acting out a sweetly-insinuating, sexy-gentleman number onstage? T-Bone may not have invented the persona, but he certainly moved the game forward a number of steps. Playing the guitar behind his back, and dancing across the stage while soloing -- moves many of us associate with Chuck Berry? T-Bone got there first. "They Call It Stormy Monday (but Tuesday's Just as Bad)"? That's a T-Bone song.

If, listening to T-Bone, a lot of the licks seem familiar via many other guitarists,well, there's a very good chance that T-Bone was the man who laid them down first. He was a kind of music-history hub through which scores of influences entered and exited. T-Bone himself learned from Blind Lemon Jefferson and Charlie Christian. At a later date, B.B. King and Jimi Hendrix picked up a lot from T-Bone.

Aside from his importance and his large influence, I simply love his music: the quiet sophistication of it; the humor and confidence that are worn so lightly; the sinking-into-it love of dirt, juice, and grit. Though T-Bone spent much of his life in California, he grew up near Dallas and he never seems to have lost a Texan's heartiness, directness, physicality, warmth, and approachability. He was an after-hours kind of gent and dude, but he was always a downhome one. And his bursts of gung-ho humor and libido, his canny, effortless-seeming, mellow vocal stylings, and his hilariously lusty and witty mood shifts all help give his performances zing and color.

I've been thinking about T-Bone Walker mainly because of a superb little performance video that I ran across on YouTube:

Cool yet hot, funny yet moving, smooth yet gritty -- my word! I have a hard time imagining how popular music can be more lovable than this.

* Here's the All-Music Guide's entry on T-Bone Walker. This inexpensive Rhino compilation CD is a good place to start exploring T-Bone's music.

* More blues: I wrote about visiting the Mississippi Delta and loving the Delta blues here and here.

* Only semi-related but what the heck: I wrote about another earthy genius, the ultra-quirky Bahamian guitarist-singer Joseph Spence, here.



posted by Michael at September 12, 2006


Also only semi-related, here’s a link to a fun piece from slate, with a slew of youtube links, about the recent Gnarls Barkley hit “Crazy,” and the numerous cover versions that have quickly sprung up

Posted by: Alec on September 12, 2006 7:20 PM

That a fascinating clip, Michael.

I think that it's the first time I've seen T-Bone play. Every jam session includes, of course, a rendition of "Stormy Monday."

Two observations. Jesus, he holds that guitar like a country Dobro player.

And, he's not a pure blues player. His chord voicings include some jazz shadings. A true blues player will never go beyond adding the 6th or the 7th to the chords. T-Bone keeps adding the 9th and shades toward major 7ths. In other words, he's pretty sophisticated.

The video approach was great! I think that I'll steal some of those ideas and try them in my upcoming videos. Loved the B&W, and the casual pace was such a relief from the frenzy of contemporary video.

I know that you've written at some length about and artist's need to market and shill. But, aren't you tired of the hysterical screeching of egotists with nothing to offer but hype? Seems to me that they are drowning out the people who really have something to say and something to offer.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on September 13, 2006 9:21 AM

Thank you for the great T-Bone Walker performance.
T-Bones Playing set the standard for Electric guitar Blues. His jazz infused chord progressions never get old. Not just your standard I IV V. He led the way for all of us to swing the blues. All roads to understanding and playing the Electric Guitar Blues. Start at T-Bone Walkers Door.

Posted by: Dominic Mauricio on September 23, 2006 12:27 AM

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