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1 MEAN OLD WORLD1 (Aaron Walker) 2:53
2 I GOT A BREAK BABY2 (Aaron Walker) 3:16
3 BOBBY SOX BABY1 (Dootsie Williams) 2:39
4 I’M GONNA FIND MY BABY1 (Aaron Walker-John Criner) 2:55
5 IT’S A LOW DOWN DIRTY DEAL1 (Aaron Walker-John Criner) 2:55
6 T-BONE JUMPS AGAIN1 (Aaron Walker) 2:44
7 CALL IT STORMY MONDAY1 (Aaron Walker) 3:02
8 SHE’S MY OLD TIME USED TO BE2 (Aaron Walker) 2:40
9 MIDNIGHT BLUES1 (Shifti Henry) 2:45
10 LONG SKIRT BABY BLUES1 (Shifti Henry) 2:50
11 I’M WAITING FOR YOUR CALL1 (Aaron Walker) 3:02
12 HYPIN’ WOMAN BLUES2 (Shifti Henry) 2:48
13 DESCRIPTION BLUES3 (Paul Reiner) 3:02
14 T-BONE SHUFFLE3 (Aaron Walker) 2:59
15 PRISON BLUES2 (Harold Oxley) 2:49
16 I WANT A LITTLE GIRL1 (Billy Moll-Murry Mencher) 2:47
17 I’M STILL IN LOVE WITH YOU3 (Aaron Walker) 2:56
18 WEST SIDE BABY3 (John Cameron-Dallas Bartley) 2:47
1 STROLLIN’ WITH BONE4 (Aaron Walker-Eddie Davis) 2:28
2 GLAMOUR GIRL4 (Bernice Carter) 2:44
3 YOU DON’T LOVE ME4 (Aaron Walker) 2:55
4 THE HUSTLE IS ON4 (H.E. Owens) 2:33
5 LIFE IS TOO SHORT4 (Edward Hale) 2:45
6 ALIMONY BLUES4 (Freddie Simon) 2:41
7 YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND4 (Aaron Walker) 2:39
8 I GET SO WEARY4 (J. Williams) 2:42
9 TELL ME WHAT’S THE REASON4 (Florence Cadrez) 2:39
10 COLD COLD FEELING4 (Jessie Mae Robinson) 3:11
11 NEWS FOR MY BABY4 (Aaron Walker) 2:21
12 STREET WALKING WOMAN4 (Jack White) 3:05
13 HERE IN THE DARK4 (Bernie Anders) 3:02
14 BLUE MOOD4 (Jessie Mae Robinson) 2:51
15 PARTY GIRL4 (Aaron Walker-E. J. White) 2:09
16 LOVE IS JUST A GAMBLE4 (Edward Hale) 2:54
17 HIGH SOCIETY4 (E. White) 2:55
18 IN THE EVENING4 aka When The Sun Goes Down (Leroy Carr) 2:30
One of the unfortunate facts regarding performers whose fame predated the era of television and YouTube exposure is that the only record we have of their artistry is aural---phonograph records and CDs. We never get to see them—to fully know what it was about them that captured the public’s attention and earned their undying devotion.
Still photographs, even of the artist in performance, tell only part of the story. We are left with only an inkling of just how charismatic these people were, of what made audiences idolize them.
This is particularly true in the areas of “lowbrow” entertainment: vaudeville, hillbilly and the blues. Oh yes, some entertainers were captured on celluloid, especially if their fame reached the masses. We find clips of the great Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington from the 1930s. The terpsichorean genius of the Nicholas Brothers graces many a Hollywood musical. But what of the performers Hollywood didn’t know what to do with? How to explain to a generation raised on MTV the magical effect of a Pigmeat Markham, a Lefty Frizzell or a T-Bone Walker on audiences of their time?
Although T-Bone Walker, the subject of this set, continued to perform until his death in 1975 a the age of 65, those who saw him only after the mid-50s saw a mere shell of the man he’d been in his prime. Luckily for T-Bone—and for many of the once-great bluesmen who thrived in their waning years at blues festivals and on college campuses, where they were lionized by mostly white enthusiasts—these young audiences weren’t as demanding as those the bluesmen had faced in their own youth.
What those 60s and 70s kids walked away with was the experience of watching an old man trying to capitalize on all his years of hard work, giving everything he had left, trying to figure out what might appeal to these blissed-out, red-faced, long-haired kids, the vast majority of whom thought the Allman Brothers invented “Stormy Monday.” How this music managed to leap across those stage lights and somehow communicate to suburban kids says volumes about the universality of the blues.
What T-Bone and other like him were selling to these college students was not nostalgia. For those kids had no memories of the young T-Bone Walker, the one who did splits while playing his guitar behind his head or with this teeth or under his leg; the one who’d left the stage littered with all the cash, jewelry and even panties rabid female audience members could find on their person.
Toward the end of his life, T-Bone was no longer selling sex, except perhaps to the occasional hippie chick with a “grandpa complex,” and he couldn’t even give away memories to the black audiences who’d abandoned him for the more sophisticated sounds of contemporary R&B and jazz, preferring to pretend that the blues had never existed. This was a complaint voiced by many a bluesman from the early 60s onward, as they faced increasingly younger, and whiter, audiences. For bourgeois Negroes, the blues was not a reminder of good times with old friends, but the essence of everything they’d hoped—with their college degrees and downtown white-collar jobs—to leave behind. To these upwardly mobile folks, the blues was nothing more than the sound of failure.
Still, even as the black middle class turned its back on the blues, there remained an audience, however diminishing, of middle-aged, working class folks still living in the old neighborhood, who hadn’t, in the words of comedian Godfrey Cambridge, “forgot they used to be black.” This crowd, in their polyester finest, could be seen on weekends at those small, shabby nightclubs at the ghetto’s edge, where the music was loud, and the audience louder.
In joints like these, where the odors of deep-skillet fried chicken, potato salad and collard greens mingled with the scents of Pall Malls, cheap perfume and Old Spice, where the women drank Johnnie Walker Red and the old men drank Scotch and milk, it was still possible to see the bluesman in his element, or what was left of it.
Such a place was the Parisian Room on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles. The only things even remotely French about the Parisian Room were the French ticklers in the men’s room condom dispenser. In clubs like this there could be felt that special vitality and joy of life found only among people who work all week at jobs that offer little more than a living. It’s the kind of vitality you see at redneck beer joints in the rural South and at Irish pubs in the Bronx, where people who share the same life experience come together on weekends to let loose in a place where they feel comfortable enough to express themselves, far from the judging eyes of those who do not understand.
One thing that differentiated a black working class nightclub from its white counterpart was a certain generosity; an outsider was not made to feel unwelcome. (How’d you like to be a New York Jew walking into that redneck beer joint, or an Italian who wandered into that Bronx Irish pub?) At a Parisian Room you were likely to spot a tweedy, bearded, bespectacled musicologist in the corner with his fuzzy-haired, denim-clad girlfriend, ordering—in vain—a glass of Chardonnay, or a hipster musician with his soap opera actress date, digging the music from the bar and being met with a friendly “How ya doin’?” from the club’s regulars.
To see a T-Bone Walker in this environment was no closer to experiencing him in his prime than seeing Sinatra at the end of his life, attempting to read the lyrics he’d sung a thousand times off a computer screen at his feet. If you hadn’t seen the young, virile Sinatra/T-Bone back when each was full of piss’n’vinegar, putting out enough sexual energy to satisfy a theater full of women who had to go home with their loser husbands and boyfriends, how could you ever know what either one was like?
If you hadn’t already heard B.B. King or Mike Bloomfield or Albert King or Eric Clapton play T-Bone’s licks a thousand times over the past 40 years, how could you know what if felt like to hear those licks when they were still new, when T-Bone was figuring them out backstage or in his hotel room, when he was inventing a new language for that familiar six-stringed, fretted instrument, which was then just newly amplified by the Gibson Guitar Company?
How did he know that the old way of playing the guitar wouldn’t work at this new volume? How did this uneducated, semiliterate vaudevillian with no knowledge of physics or electronics figure out that the way to approach this ancient instrument was as a completely new instrument, picking out single note melodies on it? What gave him the idea to use chords, not as a means of keeping time, as with the acoustic guitar, but to use them the same as one would use a horn section, to answer his vocals or to answer his real horn section?
After Gibson came out with their first electric guitars in 1936, it took a while for the new instruments to catch on. Among the earliest black musicians to pick one up were Eddie Durham, trombonist/guitarist/arranger with Jimmie Lunceford’s band, and Floyd Smith, who, with Andy Kirk’s band, made “Floyd’s Guitar Blues,” the first jazz record of note to feature the electric guitar. On this 1939 hit, Smith played an electrified Hawaiian guitar, a different style than later played by T-Bone.
That year, Walker’s friend and jamming partner, Charlie Christian was tapped to play on record with Benny Goodman. T-Bone and Charlie had known each other since 1923, when, as Walker later recalled to Living Blues magazine, “…we wouldn’t go to school. We’d go dance and pass the hat and make money. We had a little routine of dancing that we did. Charlie would play guitar awhile and I’d play bass, and then we’d change and he’d play bass and I’d play guitar. And then we’d go into our little dance. And his brother used to play with us, Edward Christian.”
Indeed, T-Bone the showman first became known in the Dallas area, not as a guitarist, but as one of the best dancers in East Texas. As a vocalist he was likely to be heard singing “Star Dust” as Leroy Carr’s blues, “In The Evening When The Sun Goes Down” (heard here). It was during this early period, the late 1920s, that he made his first recordings for Columbia as Oak Cliff T-Bone, named for the section of Dallas where he grew up.
Born May 28, 1910 in nearby Linden, Texas, Aaron Thibeault Walker first heard the blues as sung by his mother, Movelia, whom he called M’Dear. Movelia played guitar and T-Bone’s stepfather, Marco Washington, played with the Dallas String Band. Young T-Bone learned “all the stringed instruments,” he recalled in a 1972 interview in Living Blues, “like mandolin, violin, guitar, ukulele and banjo.”
In this musical atmosphere he met noted bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson and often served as the older man’s “lead boy” while Jefferson walked the Dallas streets, playing for coins. In his own early attempts at street performance, T-Bone played the banjo, since it was louder than guitar and could better attract attention.
Walker worked his way into showbiz doing any job he could get, from medicine shows to theaters, where he had the opportunity to work with such luminaries as Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Ma Rainey and Cab Calloway, who became a major influence in the craft of showmanship.
By the mid-30s, with his young wife, Vida Lee, to support, T-Bone moved to Los Angeles and by 1936, found a job dancing with the band of Big Jim Wynn at the Little Harlem Club. The climax of his act was to pick up a table with his teeth and twirl it around.
In 1939, bandleader Les Hite hired T-Bone as a kind of poor man’s Cab Calloway. A year later the band, with Walker on vocals, cut a juke box hit, “T-Bone Blues,” with Frank Pasley, later of Roy Milton’s band, on guitar.
Even with a hit record, Hite’s band found the road difficult, and soon T-Bone was back at the Little Harlem, where he was a bigger attraction than ever. Before long, white jazz fans discovered him and he was booked in Hollywood at the Trocadero and Billy Berg’s.
In July of 1942, he recorded with Freddie Slack’s band for the fledgling Capitol Records, who’d just had their first hit, Slack’s “Cow Cow Boogie,” featuring a young Ella Mae Morse. A Slack instrumental, “Riffette,” features a solo by Walker and Slack’s rhythm section backs T-Bone on “Mean Old World” and “I Got A Break Baby.” Both records made some noise but, unfortunately, a recording ban by the American Federation of Musicians precluded further studio work and Capitol was forced to let Walker’s contract lapse.
He was still a hot in-person attraction in Hollywood as well as at the top local black clubs, such as the Plantation and Club Alabam, where Chicago nightclub operator Charlie Glenn and his partner, world champion heavyweight boxer Joe Louis, caught him and offered him a deal to star in a revue at their club, the Rhumboogie.
Glenn’s idea was to mount a lavish show to compete with the top establishments, like New York’s Cotton Club and Chicago’s Grand Terrace. To this end, he was very generous with the Champ’s money, hiring a full cast, complete with a high kicking chorus line and songwriters to come up with special material.
The band, T-Bone was pleased to find, was that of his old Dallas friend Milt Larkin and included great players Eddie Vinson, Russell Jacquet, Arnett Cobb and Wild Bill Davis. Happy with the rehearsals, Glenn hired a musical director, Marl Young, who’d later make a name for himself writing music for the I Love Lucy TV series.
Glenn further commissioned Young to record a session with T-Bone, selling the results on his own Rhumboogie label, as promotional giveaways, as well as for national distribution.
By the time the Rhumboogie gig ended and he returned to Los Angeles in 1946, T-Bone was an even hotter property and the local independent labels that had begun to sprout were vying for his services. Ralph Bass, then an A&R man for Paul Reiner’s Black & White Records, later recalled for Blues & Rhythm magazine, “A local hustler named Sammy Goldberg, a black Jew, was hitting up all the labels, trying to get a deal for T-Bone. But I went straight to Harold Oxley, who was his agent, and since I had the respect to go through proper channels, I got the act.”
Bass was a jazz fan and allowed T-Bone to utilize the services of jazz players like Bumps Meyer and George Orendorff on his dates, along with master blues pianist Willard McDaniel. The first release, backed by Jack McVea’s All-Stars, “Bobby Sox Blues,” was a hit. The tune, written by trumpeter and later label owner, Dootsie Williams, spoofs the then-new phenomenon of teenage girls’ fanatical attraction to such singers as Frank Sinatra and Billy Eckstine.
T-Bone’s third Black & White session produced his biggest hit, the now-standard “Call It Stormy Monday,” a song that has been recorded in countless versions over the past 60 years, selling many millions of copies and being covered by every blues singer worth his salt. If T-Bone had done nothing more in his career than write and record this one tune, his esteemed place in the history of American music would be guaranteed. Rest assured, as you read these notes, someone somewhere is performing “Call It Stormy Monday.”
“West Side Baby” is a coded reference to a black man having an affair with a well-to-do white woman (in the 1940s, L.A.’s West Side was strictly white), Black & White released this side, and a number of others on which Walker’s accompaniment was by jazzmen, on its Comet subsidiary. Later, when Capitol purchased T-Bone’s entire Black & White catalog, quite a few unissued masters were found and eventually issued on 78s and the new LP format.
In 1950, Walker signed with Imperial Records, where he recorded some of his finest sides, many—such as “You Don’t Understand” and “Tell Me What’s The Reason,” both heard here—arranged with great warmth by tenor saxophonist Maxwell Davis.
After Imperial, his recording career waned. He made some fine recordings for Atlantic, but they failed in the marketplace. From the early 60s onward, his health deteriorated as his increasing use of alcohol made his stomach ulcer worse. His gambling, which had always been a problem, took up more of his time and money. A typically fickle R&B market lost interest in him and his contemporaries, and his health limited his participation in the lucrative blues festival circuit that fattened the wallets of many of his colleagues. While he wasn’t living large, with new Cadillacs and horses, as in the glory days, he lived relatively well until his passing in March of 1975.
Since his death, T-Bone Walker has received the respect he so richly deserves for his many contributions. As a listen to this set will show, there is not one electric blues guitarist who can deny he owes his existence to T-Bone Walker.