Texas Blues, Country, And Jazz
A brief history and review of five great Texas guitar players - Ernest Tubb, Leadbelly, T-Bone Walker, Johnny Guitar Watson, and Charlie Christian.
The celebrated state of Texas is rich in many areas, one being the great tradition of Texas music. Within this rich tradition, guitar players lie at the forefront, especially in the genres of country, blues and Jazz. Five great artists seem to stand out as both guitar players and musicians of great influence.
Of course country music and Texas go hand in hand. This is partially a result of singer, songwriter, guitar player great Ernest Tubb. Given a guitar from country great Jimmie Rodgers' widow, Tubb's great voice and songwriting style can be heard on the many recordings he made for RCA and Decca records, throughout a career that lasted almost five decades. Dubbed the "Texas Troubadour," this native from Crisp, Texas penned such great records as "Walking the Floor Over You," and "I Love You because." These widely sold songs landed Ernest Tubb a membership into the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame. His influence as one of the first Honky-Tonk singers is further explored in Ernest Tubb: The original E.T., by Norma Barthel. A collection of his greatest songs can be heard on his recording, Ernest Tubb - Legend and the Legacy.
The Texas Music legacy is also blessed with great blues guitar players. The most unique of which is the "King of the Twelve String Guitar," Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly. Honing his guitar skills in Dallas, Texas, Leadbelly began his unique instrumental and vocal style by playing with Blind Lemon Jefferson all throughout Texas, during the years 1912-1917. A widely celebrated story of murders, jail convictions, pardons from the Governor (documented in both books and movies) embody the legacy of Leadbelly's musical career. A true crooner of the blues, Leadbelly's timeless recordings, such as "Goodnight, Irene," and "The Midnight Special," reflect his unique style and have been widely covered by other artists and musicians, like the great rock and roll band Credence Clearwater Revival ("Midnight Special"). Some of his greatest recordings lie in a three-record set that he did for the Library of Congress (titled in order Midnight Special, Gwine Dig a Hole to Put the Devil in, and Let it Shine on Me).
Another great Texan who changed the face of Blues music and guitar playing is Aaron "T-Bone" Walker. Born in 1910, in Linden, Texas, T-Bone Walker became a master of the electric guitar, adept in blues, jazz, and later even touched upon funk and soul music. With recordings that span over thirty years (for labels such as Imperial, Decca and Atlantic), T-Bone Walker was one of the first to mix the note-bending and basic chord structure of the blues with the complex chord changes and single note runs of jazz. In addition, Walker introduced a style of showmanship that many guitar players have since copied and made their own. Walker's most famous move was to play a solo with the guitar behind his head, while doing a split; a move partially recreated by the great rocker Jimi Hendrix. The recording that T-Bone Walker is most known for is "Stormy Monday Blues," or "Call it Stormy Monday," a widely covered blues standard that can be found on many of Walker's recordings (such as Atlantic's T-Bone Blues).
As blues music evolved into soul, funk and even disco music, so did Texas guitar players. One such example is Johnny "Guitar" Watson. A native of Houston, Texas, Watson began his recording career at the ripe old age of fifteen. In the next couple of years, Watson recorded blues music for the Federal Records label. However, these seemingly straight ahead tunes were laced with guitar tricks and effects that were ahead of his time. His live performances were much like T-Bone Walker's, in that he too was the ultimate showman. As his early recordings, like the reverb laden "Space Guitar," reflect a predominantly blues guitar style, his later recordings reflected the changes happening to Black music. In the 1960's and 1970's came along, Watson, like other blues guitar players, dabbled in funk and disco music, and was quite successful. Recordings, like Bad, represented his funky side, while A Real Mother for Ya and its title track were well known in the mainstream disco scene. His early records can be heard on a great compilation entitled Hot Like TNT.
Texas music is as versatile as the blues genre itself, and when blues became Jazz, the role of the guitar player also evolved. In a very short time, Texas guitar player Charlie Christian transformed the art of guitar playing in both worlds of blues and Jazz. A Dallas native, Christian took the Jazz world by storm by adding an amplified electric guitar to one of the most successful Swing bands: one led by Benny Goodman. As Swing moved to Bebop, Christian, while still working for Goodman, revolutionized jazz guitar by opting to solo with single notes, instead of chords. Some even say this sound led to the creation of the Bebop style. Unfortunately, Christian died young of Tuberculosis, which cut short his recording career. However his mastery as a guitar player can be heard on Genius of the Electric Guitar and the recordings he did with Benny Goodman.
This is a mere representation of the guitar players that traditional Texas music has to offer. As years and genres of music evolve, so do Texas guitar players. Today's young core of Texas guitar players are continuing the tradition of these five greats in their recordings and performances.