Monday, September 14, 2009

Song of the Week: "Strollin' With Bone", T-Bone Walker

Can it get any better? Nope. Today we listen to T-Bone Walker, one of the most influential guitarists of the 20th Century.

Aaron Thibeaux Walker grew up in Dallas, Texas in a very musical family and at a very early age began busking on street corners for change. On the streets Walker worked as T-Bone (a play on words from his middle name) and supported and competed with guitarists like piedmont style guitarist Scrapper Blackwell, the jazzy, inventive and sadly overlooked Lonnie Johnson, and Blind Lemon Jefferson, for whom Walker apprenticed. Walker would often accompany Jefferson on guitar but he would just as often perform as the warm up act, the MC, the dancer and the pass-the-hat guy for Mr. Jefferson. T-Bone Walker began working more and more on his own and even recorded for Columbia Records in Dallas as early as 1929!

Walker's guitar and singing skills had him traveling around the country spreading his skills. After a short stint in the Count Basie band, Walker Settled in as the guitarist for the Los Angeles based Les Hite band where Walker started using an amplified guitar as early as 1939. (Some say this is the first instance of an amplified guitar in recording. Others say it is Walker's Dallas protege, Charlie Christian. I don't know.) Regardless, T-Bone Walker was soon using his amplification to get heard in the band and start taking leads (previously the guitar had been purely a rhythm instrument) and began singing leads as well. The writing was on the wall and T-Bone Walker was now a frontman of his own band and his own blend of big band jazz and blues which was newly christened West Coast Blues. Walker's blues was an upbeat, swinging blues with a strong reference to the nascent jazz movement. A style that Lonnie Johnson had been hinting at years earlier. In 1947, T-Bone Walker hit it big time composing and recording a song that has become a "standard". That song is the ubiquitous Stormy Monday Blues, which you can see Walker performing here. Walker was quite the act to catch. He would play with the guitar behind his head while performing the splits and playing leads with the guitar facing straight up as if it was laying flat on a table.

Our SoTW is one of the most rollicking songs of the pre-Rock-n-Roll era that you will ever here. It's the Walker-penned instrumental, Strollin' with Bone. Not only is the guitar work just stellar, but the entire arrangement is just wonderful. The bouncing piano, the exclamation mark of the multiple horn breaks and the jazzy drums. And dig that guitar digging in with those bends at 2:04 right after the third horn break. Do you think Chuck Berry may have owned this record?


  1. Love those breaks, especially the breakdowns in the middle and the end. Makes me wonder what kind of strolls he would take.

    Though C. Berry was his own musician and one of the greatest r&r songwriters and guitarists out there, he clearly borrowed some key licks, as well as some showmanship pointers, from T-Bone.

  2. T-Bone was very interesting. Admittedly this song only hints at his skills. His use of varied chord forms and minors and other things that are over my head from a theory standpoint are really fabulous. Also his time signatures. Taking a 2/4 song and playing a lead in 4/4 that switches scales for one mini-riff.

  3. And I'll add, it's a crime that we have not had a feature on Chuck Berry yet.