If you're wondering where it all began for electric blues guitar, there's not much of a need to look beyond Aaron Thibeaux Walker. Born in Linden, TX, on May 28, 1910, and better known as T-Bone, a corruption of his middle name, this was the man who took blues guitar to heights never previously imagined by plugging into an amplifier and letting his fingers do the talking. An early career as a hawker and dancer on the medicine show circuit, where with a body as nimble as a rubber band, he'd excite crowds with dazzling steps and splits, the framework was in place for one of blues' most creative and entertaining performers. A close friend of the Walker family in the 1920's was none other than the celebrated Blind Lemon Jefferson, a powerful and highly popular Texan who was startling his own crowds with deft finger skills on the guitar and making strong selling 78's for the Paramount label. Jefferson would play for Movelia, the youngster's mother, and others who gathered at their residence, and T-Bone was further influenced by being Jefferson's eyes when the blind entertainer would play on the streets of Dallas and surrounding areas for tips. This was an education that wasn't available in school, and even if it were, by being of African-American descent, Walker's chances would have been stripped to the bare minimum.
Proper Records of the UK has a reputation for issuing strong box sets, with a number of them focusing primarily on blues, which is where we come in. New for 2002, this is a welcomed package boasting 90 tracks spaced over 4 CD's with a total playing time of well over four hours. It's all here... the crisp, single note picking to the thick, rippling chords that startled legions of listeners and influenced scores of players. So influential was T-Bone Walker that it's been said his artistry has impacted everyone who has picked up an electric guitar since. For a modern connection, the lineage would be something along the lines of T-Bone influencing Guitar Slim, who influenced Buddy Guy, who influenced Jimi Hendrix, who influenced Eric Clapton...
Disc one begins with Walker's first session, in 1929, as Oak Cliff T-Bone, and while "Trinity River Blues" and "Wichita Falls Blues" are in the Leroy Carr/Scrapper Blackwell mode, the distinct voice is clear and easily recognized over his acoustic guitar and some fine piano. "T-Bone Blues" stems from 1940, when Walker was fronting the Les Hite Orchestra, but it's Frank Pasley's Hawaiian guitar that steers this cut and the first taste of T-Bone's capabilities are found in "I Got A Break Baby" and "Mean Old World" from a 1942 date where the guitar playing is succinct and incredibly developed. A 1945 trip to a Chicago studio produced six tracks that appeared on the Rhumboogie label and feature Marl Young's full band backing Walker as he pries classic phrases with rich distorted tones from his guitar. "T-Bone Boogie" is a frightening slice of jump blues and the simply dazzling array of licks that flow in the final minute are testament to his artistry and influence. Also aboard are a few cuts from the Mercury imprint and some classic sides that originated on the Black & White label.
The second platter leads off with Walker in Los Angeles for a 1947 session where he was joined by Lloyd Glenn's shimmering piano and Bumps Myers' throaty tenor sax for "I Know Your Wig Is Gone" and the rewarding instrumental, "T-Bone Jumps Again," packed with kiltering rhythms and taught guitar work. In a career that spanned over five decades, Walker is most remembered for "Stormy Monday," which is here along with the blistering "Hypin' Woman Blues," featuring humorous lyrics and Willard McDaniel's potent abilities at the piano, but it's the dexterity of T-Bone that speaks most frequently. Never at a loss for the perfect note, rhythm cluster, or sweltering cross-section of notes, Walker and his solos hit targets left and right with a number of harder to find tracks appearing over the course of the four discs including "She Had To Let Me Down," the nimble "Long Skirt Baby Blues," and Walker's patented shuffle on "Midnight Blues ."
Kicking off disc three is the perennial favorite, "T-Bone Shuffle," where Walker's guitar dips and dives with ease over a chugging groove and "The Time Seems So Long" is a virtual handbook of not only knowledge of his instrument , but timing, tone, taste, and relaxed intensity; all items T - Bone was never in short supply of. Comical touches flavor "She's The No-Sleepin' est Woman" and "Plain Old Down Home Blues," both containing witty lyrics and more impressive guitar while "You're My Best Poker Hand" ignites with a superior introduction courtesy of Bone. Another favorite shows up with "Glamour Girl" but the standout is "Strollin' With Bones" from the Imperial label waxed in 1950, a riveting shuffle laced with exceptional telepathy among Walker and his charging band. A storm of guitar licks pelt the senses while everyone hits stride with dynamics, horn blasts, lurching breaks, and incredible power... and if the drive and sincerity of "You Don't Love Me" don't hit you right where it hurts, you're as good as dead!
The fourth and final CD hits the gate with "Baby, You Broke My Heart" and T-Bone's flair for playing against the grain shines on "Alimony Blues" where the band pushes ahead while the guitar defies logic. "Life Is Too Short" offers more dexterity and the slow, searing groove allows Walker to shine vocally but the kicker here could be "Welcome Blues" with smoldering guitar accompaniment and Maxwell Davis serving up blazing tenor. "Tell Me What's The Reason" sizzles with excellent fretwork and the cream rises to the top for "Street Walkin' Woman," a bristling shuffle with hefty tone and a bag filled with six-string phrases and the sets shuts down with "I Got The Blues" where Bone takes it in the alley with some grit that retains the charm.
Proper Records gets big points for this effort considering the high cost of the massive Mosaic set (if you can find it) and the too-short EMI double-disc, even at its cutout price. Putting together an easily affordable 4-CD set with better than four hours of music and crisp sound rates highly in many books, but add liner notes that are informative, plus complete session details and the deal gets better. T-Bone Walker was indeed "The Original Source" for modern electric blues guitar and the proof resides here. For more information, go to: www.proper.uk.com where you can find this set and many others, plus liner notes and discographies reprinted from the booklets that join these packages.
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This review is copyright © 2002 by Craig Ruskey, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.
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