Personalities | T-Bone Walker | Forties | Jazz & Blues

Aaron Thibeaux Walker was born in Linden, Texas on 28 May 1910, the only child of Rance and Movelia Walker. The family moved to Dallas in 1912 and as a pre-teen Walker would lead Blind Lemon Jefferson around the Dallas streets.

He taught himself guitar and worked streets and functions until he toured with various travelling shows in the mid- to late 1920s. He made his recording debut for Columbia in 1929 (‘Trinity River Blues’/‘Wichita Falls Blues’) as Oak Cliff T-Bone. The name T-Bone is a phonetic corruption of his middle name.

Walker worked locally with artists as diverse as Cab Calloway and Ma Rainey before moving to the Los Angeles area in 1934, where he worked his own combo at the Little Harlem Club and gradually built a following. He recorded one title (‘T-Bone Blues’) with the Les Hite orchestra and worked with that band on tours through Chicago and New York for much of 1939–40. He returned to the Little Harlem Club, where he reformed his own group. He played guitar on a record date with Freddie Slack’s orchestra in July 1942 and, at the end of the date, recorded two songs (‘Mean Old World’/‘I Got A Break Baby’) for Capitol Records. On the strength of that record he began to tour and to work whites-only clubs in Hollywood. He made frequent stops at the Rhumboogie club in Chicago from 1942–45 and in 1945 he made recordings for the Rhumboogie and Mercury labels.

Black & White

In September 1946, Walker signed an exclusive contract with Black & White Records and worked with producer Ralph Bass. He recorded 49 titles in the next 15 months, among which were all his bestsellers. He had hit records with such well-remembered titles as ‘Call It Stormy Monday’ and ‘T-Bone Shuffle’. He became a national touring attraction and his acrobatic stunts, such as playing the guitar behind his head and doing the splits on stage, helped him to become a major star. Because of the second AFM recording ban, Walker could not make any new recordings during 1948, but the large stockpile of sides he had recorded provided new releases into 1950. Black & White had gone out of business in 1948 and the masters had been acquired by Capitol.

In the spring of 1950, he signed with Imperial Records. Of the 52 titles he recorded over the next four years there were no national hits, but the music is of a high quality. He signed with Atlantic in 1955 and, once again, there were no big sellers but a considerable amount of memorable music. He continued to tour nationally while headquartered in Los Angeles.

An International Star

In 1962, Walker went to Europe with the American Folk Blues Festival and developed a circuit for himself that led to frequent visits overseas; he was now a part of the American festival scene as well. He freelanced his recording deals and recorded for a variety of labels in a number of countries. His Polydor...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz & Blues, founding editor Howard Mandel


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