One of the first concerts I went to was an evening show of the Boston Globe Jazz Festival in early February, 1969. The artist on the bill that I was most excited about seeing was B.B.King. Though I was months away from purchasing my first B.B.King album (Live and Well, bought at 2:30 am in a Times Square record shop), I was an avid reader of Down Beat magazine and knew much about the King of the Blues.
In just about every interview of B.B.King I’ve ever read, especially those over the years in Guitar Player magazine, B.B. always mentioned the influence that T-Bone Walker had on him. That’s how I first heard about the Father of the Electric Blues Guitar.
Aaron Thibeaux Walker was born in Linden, Cass County, Texas on May 28, 1910. On December 5, 1929, under the name Oak Cliff T-Bone, he made his first recordings singing and playing acoustic guitar: “Trinity River Blues” and “Wichita Falls Blues” for Columbia Records. In the late 1930’s, he started performing with an electric guitar and in July of 1942 made his first recording singing and playing electric: “Mean Old World Blues,” this time for Capitol Records. His biggest hit came in 1947, “Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday Is Just As Bad),” recorded on September 13 in Hollywood, CA for the Black and White label.
B.B.King described the sound of T-Bone Walker’s guitar as “the prettiest sound I think I ever heard in my life.” He also said: “I can still hear T-Bone in my mind today, from the first record I heard. He was the first electric guitar player I heard on record…He made me so that I knew I just had to go out and get an electric guitar.” Chuck Berry and Jimi Hendrix also both owed much to T-Bone, not only in their playing but in their stage act and showmanship as well.
If you’ve never heard T-Bone Walker, may I recommend a few titles? First, of course, the hit, “Call It Stormy Monday,” and then try “T-Bone Shuffle” and “T-Bone Jumps Again,” the later a jumping-indeed, full band instrumental. The songs “I’m Gonna Find My Baby” and “That’s Better For Me” feature guitar solos in their introductions that are full of classic T-Bone guitar licks and that great sound.
In the All Music Guide to the Blues, Bill Dahl wrote: “No amount of written accolades can fully convey the monumental importance of what T-Bone Walker gave to the Blues.”
T-Bone Walker passed away on March 16, 1975 in Los Angeles, CA.