Thursday, September 21, 2006

T-Bone Walker... Beyond Cool...

Aaron Thibeaux “T-Bone” Walker 1910-1975
The inventor of urban, electrified blues

I still have a lot of vinyl records, but I don’t have a turntable anymore. Anne asks me, “Why do you keep all of these old records when you don’t have a record player? Can’t we get rid of them?” I just can’t bring myself to do it. I keep telling myself that eventually I’ll pick up a turntable on eBay or something…

I haven’t replaced all of my old collection with CDs, but there are some I have. One of my prized records, which I bought when I was about 18, was the complete set of recordings done by T-Bone Walker for the Imperial label between 1950 and 1954. The records were released on the Blue Note label. Recently I replaced these on CD - The Complete Imperial Recordings: 1950-1954.

T-Bone Walker was born in Texas in 1910 and raised in Dallas. The nickname “T-Bone” came form a corruption of his middle-name Thibeaux. He grew up listening to uncles and relatives who were musicians, and records by guitarists like Scrapper Blackwell and Lonnie Johnson. In Dallas, he served as the “lead boy” for family-friend and legendary blues guitarist Blind Lemon Jefferson, guiding him from tavern to tavern, where he would play for tips.

By the time he was a teenager, Walker had learned to play the guitar, banjo, and virtually every other stringed instrument he could get his hands on. Playing, singing, and dancing at carnivals and medicine shows around Texas and Oklahoma, he was earning his own keep. On this southwestern circuit, he became acquainted with the man who would later do for jazz guitar what he would do for blues guitar, Charlie Christian, who later became famous as a member of Benny Goodman’s orchestra.

Walker recalled, “Christian was playing his guitar and going to school. Whenever he’d go to school! We was really dropouts. Because we were making money, he wouldn’t go to school. We’d go dance and pass the hat and make money. We had a little routine of dancing that we did. Charlie would play guitar awhile and I’d play bass, and then we’d switch…. And then we’d go into our little dance. And his brother used to play piano with us, Edward Christian.”

Shortly before 1935, walker moved out to the west coast. It was there that he started playing amplified guitar. T-Bone Walker may not have been the first to record playing a true, amplified electric guitar, but he was among the first handful, and he claimed to have been the first to play one regularly in his act. ”I was out there four or five years on my own before they all started playing amplified… Oh, yes, I was before Charlie Christian on electric guitar. He was about the next one to have it.”

Walker’s exposure to the west coast also exposed him to a level of class and sophistication that he combined with his blues roots. Playing in Les Hite’s Cotton Club Band and with Cab Calloway, Walker learned to synthesize the Swing Band sound with the Blues.

Chicago is generally recognized as the Blues Mecca, but there were two distinctly different styles there. There was the South Side sound, harmonica driven, and characterized by bluesmen like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, and Sonny Boy Williamson. It had its roots right in the Mississippi Delta. It was a country sound. The other was the West Side sound, guitar and horn driven, and characterized by bluesmen like B.B. King, Albert King, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, and Magic Sam. It was more polished, urban, slick, and jazz-influenced than its South Side counterpart. T-Bone Walker was the primary influence on the West Side set, and also on other Texas bluesmen like Freddy King, Clarence “Gatemouth Brown, and Albert Collins.

With his crackerjack horn section, amplified guitar (designed to be as powerful solo instrument as the saxophone), smooth vocals, and ice-cream suits, Walker brought a sophistication to the blues. His influence on all generations of electric players was huge. If you hear T-Bone walker, you can hear him in Chuck Berry, and Chuck Berry can be heard in every Rock n’ Roll guitarist. His style might sound crude and simplistic with today’ ears, but at the time it was revolutionary, and bear in mind that he played with only two fingers on his fret hand. I also think he’s kind of fun to listen to because I can sort of sing along in the same key….

The song he is known best for is Call It Stormy Monday, which has been covered by innumerable bands.

Call It Stormy Monday
They call it stormy Monday, but Tuesday's just as bad
They call it stormy Monday, but Tuesday's just as bad
Wednesday's worse, and Thursday's also sad

Yes the eagle flies on Friday, and Saturday I go out to play
Eagle flies on Friday, and Saturday I go out to play
Sunday I go to church, then I kneel down and pray

Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy on me
Lord have mercy, my heart's in misery
Crazy about my baby, yes, send her back to me

I don’t know if this Rhapsody playlist thing will work for you guys or not. I’d be interested in knowing if anyone who is interested can play it successfully. The songlist I’m trying to play is:

1) I Got the Blues
2) Strollin’ With Bone
3) The Sun went down
4) Lollie Lou
5) Welcome Blues (Say Pretty Baby)
6) Street Walkin’ woman
7) Got no Use For You

My Rhapsody Playlist

T-Bone Walker Guitar, Vocals
Edward Hale Alto Saxophone
Maxwell Davis Tenor Saxophone
Jim Wynn Baritone Saxophone
Eddie Hutcherson Trumpet
Zell Kindred Piano
R. S. Rankin Guitar
Buddy Woodson Bass
Robert Sims Drums
Baby Davis Vocals (Got No Use for You)

The showboat antics imitated later by others, like Jimi Hendrix.


cowboyangel said...


Great post. You always write so thoroughly about your subject matter - very impressive. I'm ashamed as a Texan to know very little about Walker. I've heard of him but I'd never listened to him - until now. So, yes, the Rhapsody player thing works. I had to download it, but it didn't take long.

Charlie Christian I do know and love, but I didn't know he and Walker had hung out together. Great stories, by the way. Thanks so much for exposing me to some new music!

cowboyangel said...

Oh yes, DON'T get rid of those LPs. I had to over the years, because I moved around a lot, and I really regret it. You should definitely get a turntable!

Jeff said...

Thanks Guillame. I love Charlie Christian's playing too. Goodman's Orchestra was incredible.

I intend to hang onto those LPs. I'll pick up a turntable again someday. One thing I really miss about LPs was the cover art, especially inside a big double-album.

crystal said...

I was watching a movie tonight (The Rock) in which Nicolas Cage's character buys a Beatles vinyl album for $600 - he said it sounds better than CDs - is that true?

cowboyangel said...


You gotta check out the Yahoo homepage this morning, if you haven;t seen it already - talk about timing!


I know for a while, when CDs first came out, LPs definitely had a much warmer sound, and they didn't have such crisp separation between instrument, so that you got a more blended arrangement of tones. I think CD production quality has gotten better since then - deeper and richer, with more variation between highs and lows. George Harrison said that Beatles LPs, for example, had been mixed for vinyl, and that their sound had not trqansferred well to digital, but that was a while back, when he was still alive. :-( I don't know LPs and CDs stack up now. Jeff's in a better position to answer that. The other thing is that a lot of older material (in jazz especially) still hasn't been released on CD.

cowboyangel said...

Oh, yes, the album cover art was spectacular. I've actually thought of buying a couple of my old favorite LPs and framing the covers to hang on our walls.

Jeff said...

Hi Crystal,

That's a really interesting question. I'm fortunate in happening to own a few original Beatles' albums :-)

I pretty much second what Guillame says. Personally speaking, I thought the LPs had a rounder, fuller tone to them. When CDs first came out, I found the sound to be tinny and a little bit harsh. I have to admit, however, that by the late 1970's, the quality of vinyl LPs was really going downhill. CDs seem to be getting better, although I understand that a new format is coming out soon, and we'll have to do the replacement business all over again.

Jeff said...


You gotta check out the Yahoo homepage this morning, if you haven;t seen it already - talk about timing!

Wow! How about that? Is that fate or just serendipity? Weird, huh? Thanks for calling it to my attention.

crystal said...

Thanks for the explination, you guys. Album cover art ... what a collection that could be!

Liam said...

I'm coming rather late to this conversation, having been away from blogging for a few days.

I actually did get rid of my LPs, but that had a lot to do with moving around from country to country. I had hundreds stored in my mother's basement, and when I came back from Spain, I pulled them out, sad to see what horrible condition they were in. I do have to say that I'm not nostalgic for LPs -- it just seems that no matter how much you try to take care of them, they have a limited life span. CDs take up less space as well.

I had no problem accessing the rhapsody list -- it's nice to hear T-Bone again after so many years. That's one album I had on vinyl that I have yet to replace.

Jeff said...

Thanks Liam,

Don't worry about it, I can see that you've been otherwise engaged in various forms of "combat". :-)

Glad to know that you had collected some T-Bone at one time.

Just a point of curiosity from you guys concerning how this Rhapsody thing works... Did the number of "free plays" that are left on the player software tick down as you went through the playlist?

crystal said...

Jeff, how does the Rhapsody playlist thing work? It wouldn't play for me as it said my browser was too old ... sniff, sniff, I'm beginning to get low computer self-esteem :-(

Jeff said...


I bet your browser is too old. You're probably running Internet Explorer version 5.0 or 5.5.

When you click on the link it should take you to the Rhapsody page where you'd be prompted to download the player software, but the message I see on my work machine says:

"We're sorry. We currently only support the following browsers: Internet Explorer 6 and higher, Firefox 1.0.1 and higher, Safari 1.3 and higher and Netscape 8 and higher."

The link I put up to the Amazon page for the Imperial recordings has samples that can be played by Realplayer or Windows Media.

Sorry about that. :-)

JohnCVermont said...

Yo Cousin -

I am sorry that I am late to the party. Excellent posting on T-Bone. I definitely should do an extensive tribute set on my show. If you ever come to Vermont, you can co-host the show with me.

I know that you are a big-bucks, fancy-pants Technology Wizard. I would keep the LPs and get a turntable. In fact we just replaced our turntables at the radio station. If you want, you can come and play them here. ;-)

Cheers from Vermont.