When eventually, someone writes the history of blues music, T-Bone Walker’s name will loom large. There’s no doubt about that. T-Bone Walker was, without doubt, one of the most innovative and influential blues guitarists ever. He was a true musical pioneer. 

T-Bone Walker was pioneer of firstly, the jump blues, then the electric blues. His music evolved, in an attempt to stay relevant. That’s why T-Bone Walker is remembered as a musical pioneer, who released groundbreaking music. That may seem like a bold statement, but it’s not. It’s the truth. 

After all, T-Bone Walker was one of the first artists to wield an electric guitar. He honed and tamed the electric guitar and made that sound his own. That’s why nearly forty years after T-Bone Walker’s death he’s remembered not just as one of the best blues guitarists, but one of the top guitarists in musical history. What some people forget is that T-Bone Walker was also a flamboyant showman.

It was T-Bone Walker that Jimi Hendrix saw playing his guitar with his teeth. This was T-Bone Walker’s party trick. When he decided to showboat, T-Bone Walker played his guitar with his teeth. A young Jimi Hendrix saw this. He was awe struck. Here was  a guitarist who could do things other guitarists could only dream of. For the young Jimi Hendrix, it was as if T-Bone had thrown down the gauntlet. 

Jimi Hendrix went away and eventually, was able to play the guitar T-Bone Walker. His party trick was playing the guitar with his teeth. As the audiences watched, they thought this was new. It wasn’t. T-Bone Walker had done this before. He played his part in the rise and rise of Jim Hendrix.

After all, if Jim had never seen T-Bone play, would he have ever reached the heights he did? The same can be said of other artists T-Bone influenced.

Apart from Jimi Hendrix, T-Bone Walker influenced several generations of musicians. Among them are B.B. King, The Allman Brothers and Chuck Berry. Then there’s a generation of British musicians who grew up listening to artists like T-Bone Walker. This includes Eric Clapton, John Mayall, The Animals and Rolling Stones. Each and every one of these artists owe a debt of gratitude to the late, great, T-Bone Walker, whose 1959 Atlantic Records debut T-Bone Blues was recently reissued by Rhino. By 1960, T-Bone was forty-nine. His story began fifty years before the release of T-Bone Blues.

It was in May 1910, that T-Bone Walker was born Aaron Thibeaux Walker. Both T-Bone’s parents Movellia Jimmerson and Rance Walker were musicians. So, was T-Bone’s stepfather Marco Washington. Rance, like T-Bone’s mother, was a member of the Dallas String Band. He taught T-Bone to play guitar, banjo, violin, ukelele and piano. T-Bone couldn’t have asked for a better of a musical education. By the time T-Bone was a teenager, his career as a musician began.

Having left school aged ten, T-Bone became a professional musician when he was a teenager. His mentor was Blind Lemon Jefferson, who was a family friend. Blind Lemon helped T-Bone establish himself on the local blues circuit. Then when T-Bone was nineteen, he made his recording debut in 1929. He wasn’t billed as T-Bone Walker. No. Instead, he was billed as Oak Cliff T-Bone, when he released the single Wichita Falls Blues. This was the first recording in a career that lasted six decades.

By the time T-Bone was twenty-five, he was living in Los Angeles. He was married with five children. Sometimes, T-Bone was the guest vocalist for the Les Hite Orchestra. All the time, T-Bone was developing his musical style. 

When T-Bone signed to Capitol Records in 1942, this was the start of one of the most important periods in his career. T-Bone’s sound was constantly evolving. So much so, that his single Mean Old World was a game-changer. His sound was totally unique and inimitable. This lead to T-Bone being referred to as a flamboyant, innovative and influential. Sometimes, T-Bone would play his guitar with his teeth, above his head or behind his back. Audiences were shocked and awe struck. Nobody had played a guitar like this. Then in 1947, T-Bone released a track that’s since become synonymous with him.

This was Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday Is Just As Bad). It was released on the Black and While label, which T-Bone has signed to in 1946. For two years between 1946 and 1948, T-Bone was releasing some of the most successful and pioneering music of his career. This included 1946s Bobby Sox Blues and West Side Baby, which gave T-Bone top ten hits. Having released some of the most important music of his career at Black and White, the fifties saw blues music fall out of favor and T-Bone flit between record companies.

Back then, this wasn’t new. Many artists signed one-off deals with labels. This was the case with T-Bone. He released several singles for Imperial and in 1959, released his debut album Sings The Blues. A year later, in 1960, T-Bone Blues was released on T-Bone Blues on Atlantic. It comprised eleven recordings from the fifties.

Of the eleven tracks on T-Bone Blues, T-Bone wrote eight tracks. This includes Two Bones And A Pick, T-Bone Shuffle, Stormy Monday Blues, Blues For Marili, T-Bone Blues, Shufflin’ The Blues,  Play On Little Girl and Blues Rock. T-Bone also cowrote Mean Old World with Michael Goldsen and Papa Ain’t Salty with Grover McDaniels. The only cover version was Evenin,’ which was penned by Harry White and Mitchell Parish. These eleven tracks were recorded by T-Bone during the fifties.

This means that different line-ups play on different tracks on T-Bone Blues. The rhythm section included bassists Billy Hadnott and Joe Comfort, drummers Earl Palmer and Oscar Bradley and guitarists Barney Kessel and R.S. Rankin. They were joined by pianists Lloyd Glenn and Ray Johnson. Tenor saxophonist played on three tracks. T-Bone played guitar and added his inimitable vocal. Nesuhi Ertegun was credited as producer. T-Bone Blues was then released in 1960.

When T-Bone Blues was released in 1960, it was to widespread critical acclaim. T-Bone Blues was the perfect showcase for the master of the electric guitar. That was the case from the opening bars of Two Bones and A Pick, right through to Why Not, Mean Old Little Girl and a remake of the T-Bone Walker classic Stormy Monday and Pappa Ain’t Salty. During the eleven tracks, T-Bone and his small, tight and talented band feed off each other, driving each other to greater heights. That’s apparent on T-Bone Blues, which I’ll tell you about.

Two Bones and a Pick opens T-Bone Blues. It literally bursts into life, with T-Bone and his band combining blues and R&B. T-Bone is joined by guitarists R. S. Rankin and Barney Kessel. Both play important parts. R.S Rankin delivers the first guitar solo and Barney the second. The rhythm section and piano drive the arrangement along. Later, during the third guitar solo, T-Bone delivers some flamboyant, flashy guitar licks. He’s very much star of the show. That’s until a growling saxophone joins T-Bone. It matches him every step of the way. It’s like a musical duel. They drive each other to greater heights, resulting in a blistering fusion of blues and R&B.

Slow, and moody describes the introduction to Mean Old World. As T-Bone unleashes some driving, crystalline licks, the bass propels the arrangement along. Drums played with brushes provide the heartbeat. Meanwhile a melancholy piano meanders along. Taking centre-stage is T-Bone’s guitar. His fingers flit up and down the fretboard. Having set the scene, T-Bone delivers a despairing vocal “Some day, I’ll be six feet in the ground…it’s a Mean Old World.” Not only does this track showcase T-Bone’s guitar skills, but his vocal prowess and songwriting talents.

T-Bone Shuffle sees T-Bone and his band slow things down. The rhythm section and grizzled tenor saxophone unite. They combine blues and jazz. Before long, T-Bone’s vocal enters. He toys with the lyrics, before delivering a sassy vocal. Then when his vocal drops out, he delivers a searing, chiming guitar solo. Behind him, the rest of the band are in the groove, and are yin to T-Bone’s yang.

Stormy Monday Blues is, without doubt, T-Bone Walker’s most famous song. He rerecorded this track in the fifties. A pounding, driving rhythm section and piano set the scene for T-Bone. His vocal is tender and wistful. The way he delivers the lyrics, it’s as if he’s lived them, and survived to tell the tale. When his vocal drops out, he delivers some sparse, searing, crystalline licks. He takes care they don’t interrupt his vocal. Behind him, his band play slowly and thoughtfully. They take care to compliment T-Bone Walker, as he delivers a career defining song.

Just T-Bone’s chiming guitar opens Blues for Marili. Soon, a driving, dramatic piano and the rhythm section join him. Although the piano plays an important role, T-Bone is unleashing a guitar masterclass. The rest of his all-star band are content to let T-Bone play a starring role, as he delivers some of his best licks on T-Bone Blues.

T-Bone Blues has a wonderfully melancholy sound. Partly that’s down to the slow tempo, stabs of piano and the moody bass. Along with the drums, the bass anchors the track. T-Bone jams along with the rest of the band. His bands flit up and down the fretboard. All of a sudden, he delivers a searing lick. Then later, T-Bone delivers a worldweary vocal. He sings “ yes I love my woman, she’s so mean to me…I love my woman, I don’t care what she does to me.” The way T-Bone delivers the lyrics, it’s as if he knows he’s being mistreated, but can’t stand to walk away.

Shufflin’ the Blues is vintage T-Bone Walker. That’s the case from the opening bars. As his band provide a uptempo backdrop, T-Bone dawns the role of guitar hero. His guitar chimes and chirps. Other times, he duckwalks his way across the arrangement. It’s no surprise that T-Bone Walker influenced Chuck Berry. That’s apparent here. Later, T-Bone reaches new heights. He’s encouraged by whoops and hollers, as T-Bone proves that he’s a master of the electric guitar.

Evenin’ has a dark, broody, late-night sound. Blues and jazz collide head on, as a heartbroken T-Bone delivers a vocal full of hurt and regret. Meanwhile, his band provide a late-night, smokey sound. Washes of crystalline, chiming, searing guitars and a braying horn provide the perfect accompaniment to T-Bone, as he unleashes a soul-baring vocal.

Play On Little Girl is another of the slower tracks. A bluesy harmonica joins the rhythm section. They set the scene for T-Bone’s grizzled vocal. It’s needy, insecure and full of emotion, as he sings: “I love my baby, I really do.” When his vocal drops out, a bluesy harmonica takes centre-stage, soaring above the arrangement. Later, it accompanies T-Bone as the song reaches a dramatic crescendo.

Slow, bluesy and sultry. That describes Blues Rock. Partly that’s because of the tenor saxophone. It plays a starring role. It drops out when T-Bone’s guitar enters. He unleashes another of his trademark guitar solos. Slowly, and carefully, his blistering guitar solo unfolds. Later, it plays second fiddle to the growling saxophone.  Just like T-Bone’s guitar, it plays a starring role in Blues Rock’s success.

Papa Ain’t Salty closes T-Bone Blues, an uptempo track. Straight away, T-Bone lays down some searing, crystalline licks. Meanwhile, his band play as one, providing a driving, mesmeric backdrop. Stabs of  jangling piano and braying horns join the rhythm section. They set the scene for T-Bone, he delivers a rueful, weary vocal. Regret and hurt fill his vocal, as he asks: “why pretty baby did you have to go?” This is one of T-Bone’s best vocal. Heartfelt and tinged with heartbreak, T-Bone and his band ensure T-Bone Blues finishes on a high.

T-Bone Blues is a case of all killer and no filler. That’s what people had come to expect of the blues legend. From the opening bars of Two Bones and A Pick, right through Why Not, Mean Old Little Girl and a remake of the T-Bone Walker classic Stormy Monday, to Pappa Ain’t Salty, T-Bone Walker and his tight, talented band never miss a beat on a career defining album. 

Of all the albums T-Bone Walker released, T-Bone Blues was the best album of his long and illustrious career. No wonder. His searing, driving, blistering licks are accompanied that inimitable, world weary voice. It’s a voice that sounds as if its lived a thousand lives. Add to the equation a band that’s features some of the best musicians of the day. That’s why T-Bone Blues was a coming of age for T-Bone Walker. 

Sadly, T-Bone Blues which was recently released by Rhino, was T-Bone Walker’s only album for Atlantic Records. Indeed, T-Bone Walker didn’t release another album until 1965.

By then blues music was briefly back in fashion. A new generation of British musicians had been inspired by the blues, and name checked artists like T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, Little Walter and Howlin’ Wolf. As a result, these blues players careers enjoyed a renaissance. Sadly, this didn’t last long. Before long, blues had fallen out of fashion. However, some music doesn’t fall out fashion. This includes T-Bone Blues, a truly timeless album.

Released in 1959, fifty-five years ago, T-Bone Blues was a career defining album for T-Bone Walker. It was the greatest album of his long and illustrious career. So the reissue of T-Bone Blues is to be welcomed. My only criticism is that the running order is wrong. There’s the original version of T-Bone Blues, plus four bonus tracks, Why Not, T-Bone Blues Special, You Don’t Know What You’re Doing and How Long Blues. However, they’re in no apparent order. For blues purists, it would’ve been preferable if the original running order had been used, with the four bonus tracks tagged on the end. However, that’s a minor gripe. What’s important is that T-Bone Blues has been reissued.

For a newcomer to T-Bone Walker, then T-Bone Blues is the perfect starting point. To accompany T-Bone Blues I’d recommend the underrated Every Day I Have The Blues, which was recently reissued by Ace Records. However, the album that introduced many people to T-Bone Walker was T-Bone Blues.

It’s a reminder of one of the most innovative and influential blues musicians. That’s not all. T-Bone Walker was a flamboyant showman, who inspired a generation of musicians with his 1959 career defining album, T-Bone Blues.



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