Strollin' with T-Bone Walker Part 1                                            click here for T-Bone Walker PART 2
This article appeared in Premier Guitar in March 2009
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Strollin’ with T-Bone Walker  (PART 1)



Aaron Thibeaux “T-Bone” Walker:  b.1910 (Linden, Texas);  d. 1975


There are few figures in our pop music history that have provided such long-term excitement, such far reaching influence to artists of many styles, and such inspiration about the electric guitar as has T-Bone Walker. The list of stars that site Walker as their chief influence seems unending: Stevie Ray Vaughn, Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Gatemouth Brown; all regarded T-Bone as one of their principle guitar heroes and influences. Chuck Berry commented that everything you see him do on the stage came from T-Bone.


Laying the foundation for modern urban blues, the electric archtop-playing Walker bridged a gap between blues and jazz guitar styles, and played in a manner that borrowed stylistic cues from both traditions. Although he is credited with moving the acoustic blues style to the electric guitar, his signature style really came from combining that with the influences of both jazz and the 1940’s style jump-swing bands. Four or five players stand out as the first ones who transferred the blues to electric guitar; but Walker boasted that he beat them all and claimed to be the first in the late 1930’s!


It is no wonder his harmonic vocabulary reflects both jazz and blues: in his early days he was mixing with the likes of Charlie Christian, Ma Rainey, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and other earlyTexas performers. In the 40’s when he fronted his own bands, his choices for sidemen were the best jazz players he could find. Writers refer to his style as the smoother “California Style” blues. Although he has some of the grit of earlier blues players as well as that harmonic language, his interest in chordal lines, jazz style improvised single-lines, rhythmic jazz phrasing, and playing with a smooth clean tone are all elements more akin to jazz guitar playing.


His star burned the brightest through the 40’s. Following that decade, his career was slowed down by popular growing interest in rock and roll, and declining health, probably related to alcoholism. A devoted European audience and tours to Europe helped keep his career alive in the 60’s. Health issues that were the likely complications of alcoholism took their toll when he died of a stroke in 1975.


Glamour shots over his career show him with Gibson guitars: ES-250, ES-5, and in the 60’s the Barney Kessel Regular model.


Come on back next month for T-Bone Part 2, and even more signature Walker phrases for you to woodshed!

* Misprints in the notation that were present in the PG published article have been corrected below.