T-Bone Walker is best known for composing “Stormy Monday,” but the late guitarist’s impact extended far beyond writing one of the enduring classics of the blues.
Walker, who died in 1975 at 64, played a pivotal role in shaping the modern blues sound. He pioneered the electric guitar in the late 1930s and established it as a lead instrument playing single string solo lines rather than just rhythm chords.
His acrobatic performing style--including splits, flips and playing guitar behind his neck--reportedly was a major influence on Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley.
Though Walker was initiated into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, none of the early recordings that made him famous had been available on an American album for 15 years. That changed with the recent release of “The Complete Recordings of T-Bone Walker, 1940-1954.”
The package (available as nine LPs or six CDs) marks the first blues/R&B; venture by Mosaic Records, a Connecticut-based mail order company with a sterling reputation for comprehensive, limited-edition reissues of major jazz figures. ( Mosaic Records, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, C o nn., 06902. (203) 327-7111.)
The limited-edition boxed set ($90 for the CDs, $81 for the LPs) includes a booklet with a full discography and essays by Los Angeles band leader Billy Vera and Helen Oakley Dance, the author of “Stormy Monday: The T-Bone Walker Story,” a 1987 biography that was just republished by Da Capo Books.
And a rock fan listening to Walker’s guitar on 1947’s “On Your Way Blues” or 1950’s “Strollin’ With Bone” might easily identify it as Chuck Berry. “The Natural Blues” has the kind of classic guitar solo and arrangement that Texas bluesmen and rockabilly cats have been going to school onfor decades. And the package provides the first opportunity for today’s fans to hear the original version of “Stormy Monday.”
Aaron Walker was born in Linden, Tex., in 1911, and his family moved to Dallas when he was 4. Walker was Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “guide boy” as a youth, leading the influential singer-guitarist around Dallas. Walker later played guitar in traveling shows featuring the great early blues singers Ida Cox and Ma Rainey.
Walker moved to Los Angeles in 1935 and cut the first song on the Mosaic package in 1940 with the Les Hite Orchestra. After World War II ended, he hit his stride. His first postwar recordings were for Chicago’s Rhumboogie label, but he found his niche when he signed with the Los Angeles-based Black & White label in 1946.
“Stormy Monday” the following year was one of nine R&B; hits he accumulated for that label, its subsidiary Comet, and Capitol, which bought Walker’s master tapes from Black & White in 1949. He moved to Imperial Records in 1950 but failed to match his earlier chart success.
After the ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll onslaught, Walker retained his popularity better than many other blues artists. In 1962, he was one of the featured artists on the first American Folk Blues Festival tour, which opened up the European market for touring blues musicians and inspired the British blues-rock bands that triggered the late ‘60s American blues revival.
Walker continued performing and occasionally recording with diminishing success until he died of complications stemming from a stroke in 1975.
Compared to a Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson or B. B. King, Walker has been overlooked as a pioneering bluesman, but the Mosaic package supports the testimony of popular bluesman Albert King, who recently said, “I used to listen to all types of music, but when T-Bone Walker came out with his style--the singin’, sustained notes he played--I said, ‘This is it.’ ”