Aaron "T-Bone" Walker died 36 years ago, almost to the day; the 7-year-old who lives in my house notified me of this over breakfast Wednesday as he read from the this-day-in-history section of the morning paper. He asked, "Who was T-Bone Walker?" I gave him the short answer: the greatest guitar players ever to come out of Dallas and among the most influential in the history of the instrument. The crossroads at which Leadbelly and Charlie Christian meet. Taught Steve Miller how to play guitar. Without him, there'd be no Hendrix, no Stevie Ray, no nothing. At which point I played him "Stormy Monday"and tossed him my copy of Helen Oakley Dance's thoroughly enjoyable T-Bone bio, narrated to a large extent by the man himself.
You'll notice the book features an intro by B.B. King, appropriate given this week's send-off: T-Bone Walker at the 1967 Monterey Jazz Festival, on a bill that included King (not to mention Houston's Illinois Jacquet and Fort Worth's Ornette Coleman, the latter of whom isn't present on this soundboard special). Oak Cliff T-Bone, as he was known at the very beginning of his career, gets four songs at the opening: "Crazy 'Bout My Baby," "You Don't Love Me," "Stormy Monday" and "You Left Me." Of his biggest hit, Walker says, "This is the only number that sold a million copies for me, and they brought it back about 20 years later, and it's still selling a million copies, which makes me very happy," before launching into a sedate version of the immortal song.
He explains, almost out of breath: "I'm gettin' too old for this jumpin' and bouncin' up here." Still, he perseveres, triumphs.
He would return just a few songs later to share the stage with King, who gave himself a very special birthday present -- the chance to perform with Walker on two extraordinary songs. B.B. says of T-Bone, he's "one of the greatest guys that I've ever met, and when it comes to playing the blues on the guitar, he is the greatest." And then both men set out to prove his point. Without ever breaking a sweat.