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T-Bone Walker 3/1975

T-Bone WalkerMarch 16, 1975 – T-Bone Walker was born Aaron Thibeaux Walker on May 28, 1910 in Linden, Texas. American blues guitarist, pianist and singer/ songwriter.

In the early 1920s, as a teenager learned his craft amongst the street-strolling stringbands of Dallas. Walker’s parents were both musicians. His stepfather, Marco Washington, taught him to play the guitar, ukulele, banjo, violin, mandolin, and piano.

Walker left school at the age of 10, and by 15 he was a professional performer on the blues circuit. Initially, he was Blind Lemon Jefferson’s protégé and would guide him around town for his gigs and by 1929, Walker made his recording debut with Columbia Records billed as Oak Cliff T-Bone, releasing the single “Wichita Falls Blues”/”Trinity River Blues”. 

Walker played in carnivals as a teenager — singing, dancing, playing banjo, accompanying such well-known blues singers as Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, and learning how to put on a show — a skill his daughter Bernita says he mastered.

“He would do the splits in time with the music that he was playing. And his facial expressions were just phenomenal. And the women would scream and holler. And even the men were clapping like, ‘Go, Bone.’ And I would just sit there smiling because that was my dad doing those great performances.”

But T-Bone Walker was also a ground-breaking blues guitarist, says one of those who’s followed in his footsteps: guitarist Duke Robillard.

His songs included “Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday Is Just as Bad)”, “T-Bone Shuffle” and “Let Your Hair Down, Baby, Let’s Have a Natural Ball”. He was the idiom’s first true lead guitarist and undeniably one of its very best.

By the early 1960s, Walker’s career had slowed down, in spite of a hyped appearance at the American Folk Blues Festival in 1962 with pianist Memphis Slim and prolific writer and musician Willie Dixon, among others. However, several critically acclaimed albums followed, such as I Want a Little Girl in 1968. Walker recorded in his last years, from 1968 to 1975, for Robin Hemingway’s Jitney Jane Songs music publishing company, and he won a Grammy Award for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording in 1971 for Good Feelin′, while signed by Polydor Records, produced by Hemingway, followed by another album produced by Hemingway: Walker’s Fly Walker Airlines, which was released in 1973

Modern electric blues guitar can be traced directly back to this pioneer, who began amplifying his sumptuous lead lines for public consumption circa 1940 and thus initiated a revolution so total that its tremors are still being felt today. He was the childhood hero of Jimi Hendrix, and Hendrix imitated some of Walker’s ways throughout his life including T-Bone’s flamboyant playing style with the guitar behind his back and legs and with his teeth on stage.

Walker’s career began to wind down after he suffered a stroke in 1974. He died of bronchial pneumonia following another stroke in March 1975, at the age of 64.

He won a Grammy Award in 1971 for “Good Feelin” and was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980, and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987  and in 2011, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him at number 67 on their list of “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”.

He died of bronchial pneumonia following a second stroke on March 16, 1975 at age 64.

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