T-Bone Walker - the first man to play the electric guitar with his teeth

The pioneering US guitarist was one of the first to go electric – and he turned the blues a different colour

 

The 1930s were a fast-moving decade for music. The arrival of the electric guitar in 1931 brought a whole dimension to the production of sound. The already versatile acoustic guitar could be amplified tenfold and create sounds previously unheard. This was boom boom time for the innovators. A world of possibilities opened up to the more sonically inclined of the gospel, jazz and blues players.

Electricity brought new potential for emotional impact to the instrument. T-Bone Walker was one of those whose ears were tuned to future prospects and fame. The lightning flash that the invention of the charged-up guitar brought was perfect timing for him. He was ready for the jump.

He had good schooling. Both his parents were musicians and his early teens were spent acting as a guide for the highly innovative Blind Lemon Jefferson who was one of the very first Texas bluesmen to be recorded. T-Bone Walker was effectively on the scene for starter’s orders. By the age of 14, he was dancing and singing professionally in medicine shows.

His own career was primarily a live orientated one. The stage and not the studio was his haven. But he had the nous to realise that the energy an audience gave him could be corralled in the studio. This compilation is a document of just how often he nailed it in such a fine fashion.

His live recordings are vivid examples of a forceful player with presence. It’s mighty real. There’s blood in this music. His stomping feet are the foundation of many a killer groove. His comfort with his chosen alien machine garnered the attention of Charlie Christian. That an extraordinary acoustic player of Christian’s ability was influenced by Walker’s style is indicative of his standing among his peers.

Walker made it hard for others not to take notice. He so perfected this new-fangled instrument that he was the first to fool around with it in a playful way.

Jimi Hendrix wasn’t the first to play the guitar with his teeth. That was T-Bone’s piece de resistance. He turned the blues a different colour.

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