Blues Bytes


April 2007

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T-Bone Walker
T-Bone Blues

T-Bone Walker

T-Bone Walker was one of the earliest, if not the first bluesmen, to “plug in.” Walker, Charlie Christian and Eddie Durham were among the first guitarists to use electric amplification on their acoustic guitars, changing the face of modern music. In addition, his work led countless other blues musicians of the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s, such as B. B. King, Roy Gaines, Pete Mayes, Pee Wee Crayton, and hundreds more, to pick up a guitar, and has influenced many more over the past decades.

It’s safe to say that the blues would not be what is has become without the presence of T-Bone Walker. His near-decade tenure in the 1940s with Black & White Records (now owned by Capitol), coupled with his five-year stint (1950-54) with Imperial, comprise as fine and consistent a body of work as any musician, regardless of genre, has ever compiled.

Following his Imperial recordings, Walker recorded several sessions for Atlantic Records, the first session in Chicago in 1955, and the two subsequent sessions in Los Angeles in 1956 and 1957. The sessions were compiled and released by Atlantic in 1960 as T-Bone Blues. In the late ’80s, the session was reissued on CD with three bonus tracks.

The Chicago session features Walker with Junior Wells and Jimmy Rogers on a couple of tracks, and a horn section that includes Goon Gardner (alto sax), Eddie Chamblee (tenor sax), Mack Easton (baritone sax), John Young (piano), Ramson Knowling (bass), and Leroy Jackson (drums). It’s believed that Willie Dixon played bass and Francis Clay played drums on the Walker/Wells/Rogers tracks. These selections (“T-Bone Blues Special” and “Play On Little Girl”) represent Walker in a less urbane setting than usual. The other three tracks include an outtake (“Why Not”) that is thought to have led to one of Rogers’ biggest hits, “Walking By Myself.”

The first L.A. session, recorded in mid-December 1956, features Walker with Lloyd Glenn (piano), Billy Hadnot (bass), and Oscar Bradley (drums) and include some classics, like “Mean Old World,” with its lengthy guitar intro by Walker that was as good as anything he ever did. There’s also a remake of Walker’s best-known tune, “Call It Stormy Monday.” This song has been done to death over the past 50 years, but this version shows you that despite all the other versions floating around, it is clearly T-Bone Walker’s song (only Bobby Bland’s version for Duke Records approaches it and it’s a distant second).

The title track is also a remake, the original being considered the first blues recording to use electric guitar. The final two selections from this section are instrumentals: “Blues for Marili” (a jazzy tribute to Marili Morden, wife of Atlantic Records’ Nesuhi Etregun and a guiding hand during Walker’s formidable years in L.A.) and the lively “Shufflin’ The Blues.”

The final L.A. session, recorded the next December in 1957, features Walker and his longtime protégé R.S. Rankin (guitar), along with jazz guitar great Barney Kessel, Plas Johnson (tenor sax), Ray Johnson (piano), Joe Comfort (bass), and Earl Palmer (drums). The highlight is the dynamic instrumental “Two Bones And A Pick,” a spectacular guitar battle between the three guitarists. “Evenin’” features a moody vocal from Walker, while Rankin (Whatever happened to him?) takes the microphone for the bonus cut “You Don’t Know What You’re Doing.” The closing instrumental, “Blues Rock,” ventures into ’50s R&B with Plas Johnson’s sax leading things off.

T-Bone Blues was probably Walker’s last essential release. Though most of his following work retained its classy dignity, the times had changed and the popularity of his brand of blues had waned. He soldiered on, however, continuing to tour and record until his death in 1975 from the effects of a stroke suffered several months earlier.

Simply put, if you can only have one T-Bone Walker disc in your collection, T-Bone Blues would be an excellent choice.

--- Graham Clarke


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