T Bone Walker
His real name was Aaron Thibodeaux Walker. The nickname "T-Bone" is a bastardization of his middle name. He was born in Linden, Texas in 1910, and died in 1975. He was the first guitar player to play behind his head while doing splits, play with his teeth, etc. His shows were often populated with musicians wanting to learn his methods. He was a "guitar player's guitar player" and a great entertainer as well. He played gigs at now-defunct clubs in Galveston, Kemah, and Algoa, back in the high-stakes gambling era.
Suffice it to say Walker is the inventor of modern electric blues guitar. He first began amplifying smoking guitar lead solos for public consumption in 1940, and thus initiated a revolution so total that it has become universal.
BB King called him his primary influence. Gatemouth Brown, Pee Wee Crayton, Goree Carter, Pete Mayes, and other Texas guitars followed in his wake during the 40's and 50's. The lead guitar work invented and performed by early Texas guitarists became the basis for what we now call classic rock. The earliest and most innovative of them all was T Bone Walker. He could sing, dance (he was paid to dance professionally in Hollywood in the 1930s), and play. He composed music regularly on various instruments.
It seemed to come natural, they say. His stepfather, Marco Washington, played bass fiddle with the Dallas String Band, and T-Bone followed his stepdad's example by learning every stringed instrument he could lay his talented hands on. One notable visitor to the band's jam sessions was the legendary Blind Lemon Jefferson. During the early '20s, Walker led the sightless guitarist from bar to bar as the older man played for tips. Jefferson would "work it" with the guitar for drinks, while T-Bone "worked it" with the ladies.
Walker was exposed to some pretty outstanding guitar talent during his formative years; besides Jefferson, jazz great Charlie Christian was one of his playing partners.
In 1929, Walker made his recording debut with a single 78 for Columbia, "Wichita Falls Blues"/"Trinity River Blues," billed as Oak Cliff T-Bone. Pianist Douglas Fernell was his musical partner for the disc. It didn't sell.
T-Bone split for Los Angeles during the mid-'30s, where he bummed around with various groups. Around 1939, he concocted an electric guitar and amp setup, an unheard-of device.; He played clubs with his daring new toy after assembling his own small 5 piece combo, engaging in acrobatic stage moves, playing behind his back, to further enliven his show.
Capitol Records was a small label in 1942, when Walker signed on and cut "Mean Old World" and "I Got a Break Baby" with boogie master Freddie Slack hammering the 88s. This was the first sign of the T-Bone Walker that blues guitar aficionados know and love, his fluid, elegant riffs and mellow, burnished vocals setting a standard that all future blues guitarists would measure themselves by.
Chicago's Rhumboogie Club served as Walker's home away from home for a few years. He even cut a few sides for the joint's house label in 1945 under the direction of pianist Marl Young. Walker signed with L.A.-based Black & White Records in 1946 and proceeded to amass a stunning legacy.
The immortal "Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday Is Just as Bad)" was the product of a 1947 Black & White date with Teddy Buckner on trumpet and invaluable pianist Lloyd Glenn in the backing quintet. Many of Walker's best sides were smoky after-hours blues, though an occasional up-tempo entry -- "T-Bone Jumps Again," a storming instrumental from the same date, for example, prove that he wasn't just first - he was also one of the fastest guitarists.
Walker recorded prolifically, with classics like the often-covered "T-Bone Shuffle", "West Side Baby", "Glamour Girl", "Strollin' with Bones", "The Hustle Is On," "Cold Cold Feeling," "Blue Mood," "Vida Lee" (named for his wife), "Party Girl," and, from a 1952 New Orleans jaunt, "Railroad Station Blues". For a dozen years he produced hits. Then the hits stopped coming. The Elvis/Beatles era.
With his stage antics and persona, he never had trouble getting gigs. People who attended his shows always left talking about how great he was. He liked to chase women, but couldn't do so at home, under his wife's watchful eye, so he gladly toured a lot, from 1960-74, playing a lot of $500 club dates (I hasten to add, that was large money in those days).
Good Feelin', a 1970 release on Polydor, won a Grammy for the guitarist, though it doesn't rank with his best efforts. A five-song appearance on a 1973 set for Reprise, Very Rare, was also a disappointment. Persistent ulcers and a 1974 stroke slowed Walker's career to a crawl, and he died in 1975.
No amount of writing can convey the importance of what T-Bone Walker gave to blues and rock guitar players. He was the first true lead guitarist, and he was also undeniably one of the very best.