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T-Bone Walker Was a Legend Who Influenced Legends

Heinrich Klaffs
Wikimedia Commons

I chose T-Bone Walker’s “I’m About to Lose My Mind” as the opening theme for The Nine O’clock Blues…yes, the title suits my personality, but T-Bone Walker has influenced my own playing and many other Blues artists.

Aaron Thibeaux "T-Bone" Walker (May 28, 1910 – March 16, 1975) was a major innovator of Texas Blues, Chicago Blues, Jump Blues, and West Coast Blues. He was a great singer, songwriter, and guitarist who was equally adept at piano, banjo, ukulele, violin, and mandolin.

Walker was born in Linden, Texas, and, like Jimi Hendrix, was part African-American and part Cherokee. Both of his parents were musicians but it was his step-father Marco Washington who taught him to play so many different instruments.

T-Bone left school when he was 10 years old and by 15 had learned to be a performer by joining street bands in Dallas. He also learned the trade from family friend Blind Lemon Jefferson, who was a frequent dinner guest at their home. Walker became a protégé and seeing-eye guide for the now legendary Jefferson.

In 1929 Walker recorded for the first time as Oak Cliff T-Bone, from the neighborhood where he live and a corruption of his middle name. That first entry in a very long discography was "Wichita Falls Blues" backed by "Trinity River Blues." Soon after, T-Bone moved to Los Angeles, married Vida Lee and settled into the Central Avenue Blues scene.

On Central Avenue, Walker’s sound changed from the Texan, Blind Lemon inspired genre to something new and innovative. It was a very pleasant surprise to the public when he recorded his second album in 1942. Some say that the core of his best recording work came between 1946 and 1948 with Black & White records, when he recorded undoubtedly his best known piece, “Call It Stormy Monday.”

I also highly recommend the period from 1950 to 1954 when he recorded for Imperial Record’s Bluebird division.

I’m certainly not alone in my love of T-Bone Walker’s 1950 Bluebird era. No less a Blues figure than B. B. King has touted that period of Walker’s music as a major influence on the development of King’s own sound, although it was the earlier “Stormy Monday” that inspired B. B. to switch to electric guitar. Others who list Walker as a major influence include Rockers Chuck Berry and Jimi Hendrix. Notably, T-Bone Walker was known for playing his guitar with his teeth decades before Hendrix picked up the trick.

Walker passed away in 1975 after a decade long slow down in his career. He was later elected to the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

You can enjoy some music from T-Bone Walker this week on The Nine O’clock Blues. Also on this week’s show there’s music from James Cotton and Shemekia Copeland.

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