Styles & Forms | Texas Blues

Although Texas has a rich legacy of acoustic country blues artists, its primary contribution to the blues was electric. An inordinate number of dazzling electric guitarists hailed from the Lone Star state, including T-Bone Walker, Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown, Albert Collins, Freddie King and scores of hotshot six-stringers still on the scene.

Often accompanied by flamboyant showmanship, the Texas electric-guitar style has always been overtly aggressive and rhythmically driving. As Billy Gibbons, of the Texas blues rock band ZZ Top, put it: ‘The Texas sound could be described as heavier than light and bluesier than anything else… And the flamboyancy of most Texans, which is now an established fact throughout the world, has created the flashiness that goes right along with the technical skills of most musicians’.

Aggressive Showmanship

That flamboyance was perhaps best exemplified by the archetypal blues guitarist/vocalist/showman Aaron Thibeaux (T-Bone) Walker. Although Walker made his mark in Los Angeles in the late 1930s, before spearheading the west coast blues movement following his 1947 signature tune ‘Stormy Monday’, his roots were in Texas. Born on 28 May, 1910 in Linden, Texas, the young T-Bone learned all the stringed instruments – including mandolin, violin, ukulele, upright bass and banjo – but gravitated toward guitar. As a teenager, he often served as ‘lead boy’ for the Texas acoustic blues master Blind Lemon Jefferson, while the older, sightless man walked the Dallas streets playing for tips.

Walker later worked in touring carnivals and medicine shows with the blues singers Ida Cox and Bessie Smith, sharing the bill with stars such as Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson and Cab Calloway, who had a major impact on T-Bone’s concept of showmanship. He formed his own group in 1928 and recorded his first single for Columbia a year later, billed as Oak Cliff T-Bone (named after the Dallas neighbourhood where he grew up). When he relocated to Los Angeles in 1934, Walker vacated a position in the 16-piece, Dallas-based Lawson Brooks Band, which was promptly filled by his younger friend and jamming partner, the guitarist Charlie Christian. At the height of his popularity in the late-1940s, Walker exuded star quality. His audacious stage act – doing splits while playing his newly amplified Gibson electric guitar behind his head, with his teeth or under his leg – made him the Jimi Hendrix of his day.

Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown’s big break came in the mid-1940s, when he filled in for an ailing T-Bone at the Bronze Peacock Lounge in Houston’s Fifth Ward and thrilled the audience with his crowd-pleasing boogie-woogie and blistering finger-picked riffs. He was leading his own 25-piece band by 1947, and in 1949, scored a hit with ‘My Time Is Expensive’ on the Peacock label. His next hit, the influential ‘Okie Dokie Stomp’, came in 1951. In the mid-1960s, Brown served as musical director for the house band on The!!!Beat, a groundbreaking syndicated blues...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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