T-Bone Walker: The First Electric Frontman
In 1910, the East Texas town of Linden had only 329 residents within its city limits. Two of them were musicians Movelia Jimerson and Rance Walker. They gave birth to little Aaron Thibeaux Walker that year, divorcing soon after.
Movelia moved to Dallas and married Marco Washington, a member of the Dallas String Brand. He taught his stepson, little T-Bone as he was called, to play the guitar, among other instruments.
Throughout the 1920’s the family entertained other musical guests; one being Blind Lemon Jefferson. He took the boy under his wing and T-Bone guided the blind bluesman to his performances.
After leaving school at the very young age of 10, T-Bone became a regular on the local blues circuit. In 1929 he made his recording debut with the single “Wichita Falls Blues” backed with “Trinity River Blues” as “Oak Cliff T-Bone” for Columbia Records.
T-Bone’s career caught fire as he toured the state of Texas and befriended Charlie Christian – the first jazz electric guitarist. After moving to California in 1934, he also began playing the electric guitar and joined Les Hite’s big band; he left the band in 1940 to form his own group.
His recordings in the 1940’s and 50’s introduced a new blues sound to guitar pickers all over the world. His single-note licks and clever songwriting helped changed the sound of the blues and ushered in a new genre – rock n’ roll.
Not only did Chuck Berry name T-Bone his influence, but B.B. King cited hearing his “Stormy Monday” as the inspiration for getting an electric guitar. He was also admired by Jimi Hendrix, who imitated Walker’s trick of playing the guitar with his teeth.
“I thought Jesus Himself had returned to earth playing electric guitar. T-Bone’s blues filled my insides with joy and good feeling. I became his disciple. And remain so today. My biggest musical debt is to T-Bone,” King wrote in his 1996 autobiography.
Another Dallas native, Steve Miller, stated that in 1952, when he was eight, T-Bone, a family friend, taught him how to play his guitar behind his back and also with his teeth. “Stormy Monday” was a favorite live number of the Allman Brothers Band. The British rock band Jethro Tull covered Walker’s “Stormy Monday” in 1968 for John Peel‘s “Top Gear”.
T-Bone’s 1969 album Good Feelin’ won a Grammy Award for best ethnic or traditional recording. He toured nightclubs and theatres throughout the United States until he suffered a stroke in 1974. T-Bone died at his home in Los Angeles of bronchial pneumonia following a second stroke in March 1974, at the age of 64.
T-Bone Walker was inducted posthumously into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980 and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. In 2012, local artist Brad Attaway painted a mural in tribute to the legend on the side of the Linden Fire Station.