T-Bone Walker: T-Bone Blues

Vinyl reissue of mid-50s set from the putative inventor of the guitar solo includes 'national treasure' Stormy Monday and two bonus tracks

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T-Bone Walker was born Aaron Thibeaux Walker in Texas in May 1910, of African American and Cherokee descent. He came from a musical background, where Blind Lemon Jefferson was regarded as a family friend. He was taught to play guitar by his stepfather and the adopted name, T-Bone, is simply a corruption of his middle name, Thibeaux.

Like his contemporary, B.B. King, Walker cut his teeth in his mid-teens on the chitlin’ circuit – a collection of performance venues throughout the eastern, southern and upper Midwest of America. He made his first recording for Columbia in 1929 and subsequently moved to Los Angeles to work the clubs.

A move to Chicago in the early 1940s brought more sustained club work and an opportunity to work with jazz musicians such as Woody Herman and Sarah Vaughan. He recorded his most famous song – Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday Is Just As Bad)in 1947 for Black & White Records. Other songs to have chart success during this period were Bobby Sox Blues and West Side Baby. Walker then recorded for Imperial Records without great commercial success.

A move to Atlantic resulted in him recording T-Bone Blues in three separate sessions between 1955 and 1957. The album was eventually released in 1959. For these recordings, Atlantic took some chances and dispatched Walker to Chicago for a 1955 session with Junior Wells and Jimmy Rogers, which resulted in the great track Play On Little Girl. Further sessions in Los Angeles in 1956-7 produced the fine instrumental Two Bones And A Pick – with Walker duelling it out with nephew R.S. Rankin and jazz guitarist, Barney Kessel. However, Stormy Monday Blues remains Walker’s flagship offering, with Jimmy Witherspoon describing it as a “national treasure”.

The folk/blues revival of the 1960s produced mixed results for Walker, despite appearances on the American Folk Blues Festival European tour and some critically acclaimed recordings. He won a Grammy Award for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording in 1970 and released his last album in 1972. He died from a stroke at the age of 64 in 1975.

Walker’s place in the history of the blues is secure enough but the fame and musical longevity that surrounded other artists such as B.B. King, John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf eluded him. Supporters claim that Walker can be credited as the source of single-line, horn-type blues soloing and the first true electric guitarist. That is probably a claim too far, but there is no denying Walker’s contribution to the genre as illustrated in this fine 180g vinyl issue, which adds two tracks – Teen Aged Baby and Bye Bye Baby – to the original LP.

Discography
(1) Two Bones And A Pick; (2) Mean Old World; (3) T-Bone Shuffle; (2) Stormy Monday Blues; Blues For Marili; (4) Teen Aged Baby; (2) T-Bone Blues; Shufflin’ The Blues; (1) Evenin’; (5) Play On Little Girl; Blues Rock; (3) Papa Ain’t Salty; (4) Bye Bye Baby (37.13)
Walker (v, g) all tracks with:
(1) Ray Johnson (p); Plas Johnson (ts); R.S. Rankin, Barney Kessel (g); Joe Comfort (b); Earl Palmer (d). Los Angeles, 27 December 1957.
(2) Lloyd Glenn (p); Billy Hadnott (b); Oscar Bradley (d). Los Angeles, 14 December 1956.
(3) John Young (p); Mack Easton (bs); Goon Gardner (as); Ransom Knowling (b); LeRoy Jackson (d). Chicago, 21 April 1955.
(4) Lee Allen (ts); Herb Hardesty (bs); Wendell Duconge (as); Dave Bartholomew (t); Walter Nelson (g); Frank Fields (b); Cornelius Coleman (d). Los Angeles, June 1954.
(5) Jimmy Rogers (g); Junior Well (hca); Willie Dixon (b); Francis Clay (d). Chicago, 21 April 1955.
Waxtime 772311