Wednesday, January 16, 2008

T-Bone Walker – The Very Best of…

T-Bone Walker is another legend whose name I have heard bandied about for decades, but never knew very much about him or his music. I know that he was a big influence on Jimi Hendrix – both his playing and his wild stage show (many of his antics were taken directly by Hendrix – playing behind his head, with his teeth, while doing splits, etc) – but I never really knew what he sounded like.

This is a great collection of his tunes and it shows just what a super player and singer Walker was. The overall sound is much more jazzy/big-band than raw blues (though that is displayed, as well) and his tone is very clean, but man, what a player!

“Bobby Sox Blues” starts out with the big band sound, but “Mean Old World Blues”, while including a horn section, is pretty straight ahead blues with some amazing guitar licks! He croons through several numbers here – this is definitely not a raw blues comp! – but on “Hypin’ Women Blues” he is revvin’ it up with a jump’n’jive tune that he augments with proto-r’n’r riffs that certainly gave Chuck Berry some ideas!

As I said, this music is definitely not plantation blues or even Chicago Blues and I could imagine that I would have been disappointed as a teenager listening to this and hoping to hear semi-Hendrix-y guitars. But it is still phenomenal music!T-Bone’s original “Stormy Monday” is featured here and his voice caresses the melody as he plays some sweet guitar lines – really amazing and easy to see why this became his biggest hit and his trademark song.

“West Side Baby” is a slow blues, but a real guitar workout for Walker and showcases his mastery of accents and melody – in his voice and his instrument! Then he breaks out all the stops in the jumpin’ instrumental “Strollin’ With Bones”! I truly cannot imagine what this must have sounded like at the time – electric guitar itself was a fairly new instrument and this man throws out a dizzying array of notes that must have boggled the minds of the uninitiated! Wild stuff!

Some of these tunes just reach out and grab me – such as “Tell Me What’s the Reason”. I can’t really say why, other than it’s another jivey, up-beat number with more great playing! “Papa Ain’t Salty” continues with this – besides his obvious talent, he has an undefinable “something” that raises the bar on his music.

Just as I was about to write that “Play On Little Girl” is a more standard blues issue, I saw that this was recorded in Chicago in the 50’s for Atlantic and stars other legends such as Junior Wells on harmonica and Jimmy Rogers on guitar. Quite a departure from his earlier, more “urbane” recordings, but one that more modern blues enthusiasts will relate to – as are “T-Bone Blues” and “How Long Blues”. The comp closes with “T-Bone Shuffle” which is more of a return to his earlier sound and is another hot jumper!

All in all, a must for lovers of great guitarists and great blues and big-band music – as long as you don’t try to pigeon-hole your artists!