Roy Buchanan The unknown master of the Telecaster

At Poison Ivy Lovers we love to vindicate all those figures that are hidden behind the famous stars of the history of Rock & Roll and Pop, they are the musicians, producers, composers, etc. We are among those who believe that they are the true creators of these genres of the 20th century that we are so passionate about. Without them, the music of the 50s and 60s would hardly have been as we know it.

Today is the turn of Roy Buchanan, maybe this is how suddenly there are people who do not sound at all, but if you read this text you will see that he was a very important figure for the development of Rock, and that he has influenced great guitarists like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Danny Gatton, Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Billy Gibbons or Jimmy Page, among many others. John Lennon, Paul McCartney or The Rolling Stones were praised when talking about him, Les Paul always compared him to Jimmy Hendrix. His innovative techniques made his telecaster howl and growl based on harmonics, made an impression on the guitarists mentioned above. Martin Scorsese, chose his song «Sweet Dreams», which closes his film «The Departed» (Infiltrated).

Leroy Buchanan was born in Ozark, Arkansas, but grew up in California, specifically in Pixley, a town very close to Bakersfield. Son of a day labourer, who also worked as a preacher and a housewife. As a child he learned to play steel guitar, his first musical dabbles were with country music, but very soon he discovered the Gospel, the church that his family attended was multi-racial, that made Buchanan quickly become fond of Blues. In 1953 he bought his first electric guitar, a Fender Telecaster, which has been his favourite guitar model ever since. He began his professional career at age 15, when he decided to move to Los Angeles to become a professional musician. Johnny Otis noticed him and incorporated it into his Johnny Otis’s rhythm and blues revue, there the young Buchanan learned a lot from figures such as Jimmy Nolen (later with James Brown), Pete Lewis and Johnny «Guitar» Watson. From there, Buchanan became a renowned guitarist, who accompanied and worked as a studio musician for many Rock & Roll stars. In 1958, Buchanan had his own band «The Heartbeats», which became Dale Hawkins’ backing band. From Buchanan is the solo of «My Babe» or the guitar of «I want to love you» or «Someday, One Day», among other songs that Hawkins recorded at that time. Between 1958 and 1960, in addition to accompanying Dale Hawkins, he also devoted himself to studio work, accompanying other artists such as Bob Luman, with whom he recorded the brilliant «Buttercup» or Allis Lesley.

In 1960, while touring Toronto with Hawkins, he joined Ronnie Hawkins, who he accompanied for a short period of time. Robbie Roberson (The Hawks, The Band) was also part of Hawkins’ band as a bassist, Buchanan served as Roberson’s teacher, while in the band, taught many tricks and influenced his style as a guitarist, when Buchanan left the band Robertson became the guitarist and leader of the band, which a few years later would become The Band. Roy Buchanan is featured on Ronnie Hawkins’ recording of ‘Who Do You Love’ as a bassist, I think there is no more recorded track where they play together.

In the early 1960s, Buchanan worked as a session musician where he played on recordings by Freddy Cannon, Merle Kilgore, Danny & The Juniors, Paul Curry, etc. It was precisely in 1961 when his first two solo jobs came onto the market. On the Swan label he records a tremendous instrumental version of the song «Mule Train», renamed «Mule Train Stomp» and the song «Pretty Please», original by Buchanan. The two are surprisingly new in terms of sound and technique, in them the sounds that very soon after had to come, the Garage and the Surf, the first guitar notes of «Pretty Please» with that primitive reverberation are already in the wave of what Dick Dale is about to record. On the Bormac label, another single appears that contains the song «After Hours» and «Whiskers», the first a full-blown Blues, with a guitar, which we can literally hear howling, and the second a halftime in the key of R Overwhelming ‘n’B, worthy of sounding among the best Strolls of any DJ. Despite the high quality of these two singles, he did not achieve the desired success and had to continue earning his money as a session musician.

In 1964 Buchanan joins The British Walkers, a band from Washington D.C. Roy established his residence in the area at that time. The British Walkers emulate British fashion bands at the time, most notably The Kinks and Rolling Stones. The band is led by Bobby Howard, a musician from the area who had had some impact in the late 50’s, with some Rockabilly songs, with the group called Bobby Poe & The Poe Kats. The first reference of the group is the magnificent single “I Found You / Diddley Daddy». “I Found You” is the highlight of this single, a song co-written by Howard and Buchanan, as Buchanan explained in an interview, it has been a long time since He was working on this song, it was almost finished when he offered it to the group, the song is dedicated to his wife. Despite the fact that the song is very good, its success is rather discreet, luck still does not smile to Buchanan. It was covered by Robert Gordon in the 90’s. With The British Walkers. Buchanan will record between 1964 and 1965 four singles, one of which is the one containing the songs Bad Lightinin / Wacht Yourself from 1965, is produced by Ray Vernon, Link’s brother Wray. Watcht Yourself is co-written by Bobby Howard and Link Wray. Buchanan leaves the band and forms his own group, The Snakestrechers. The band played from its formation in the mid-60’s until the end of this decade, in all D.C. clubs and became well known, thanks to word of mouth, for the incredible sounds and technique of Buchanan. Many famous guitarists, such as Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, came to see him and were very surprised by his playing. It was around this time that a journalist wrote an article about Roy, describing Buchanan as «the best unknown guitarist in the world.» The news of Buchanan’s exceptional abilities began to spread among his guildmates, he received praise from artists such as John Lennon, Eric Clapton and Merle Haggard, in addition to receiving a proposal from The Rolling Stones to replace Brian Jones, a proposal that Buchanan rejected, since then coined the nickname «The man who rejected the Stones.» There are several reasons why he rejected them, his fear of ending up as Brian Jones due to the high drug use of the Stones, and the failure to develop his career as a musician, who at times seemed like he could finally take off.

In 1971, he gained national fame through an hour-long television documentary titled, «It’s true, the world’s best unknown guitarist.» That program earned him a recording contract with Polydor, which served as a cushion for Buchanan not to permanently abandon the world of music, he had been about to do it when in the late 60’s when he got the title of barber and started working on This trade to support his family, despite his fame, he did not get enough money to survive himself and his family, it was at that time, while cutting a client’s hair at the barbershop, when Buchanan bought his legendary guitar, from name Nancy, who accompanied him the rest of his career. According to what he himself said in an interview, he was cutting a client’s hair when he saw a boy pass by in the street with a 1953 butter-colored Fender Telecaster. Roy ran away, leaving the haircut halfway through, and after a while of negotiation he managed to trade the boy’s guitar for a purple Telecaster. This was his guitar until the end of his days, Roy explained in an interview. «I knew it was for me … it was as if I knew that it was my guitar.»

There is an anecdote, about the day a friend gave Roy a ticket to see Jimmy Hendrix. In 1968 John Gossage gave Buchanan a ticket to a Jimi Hendrix Experience concert at the Washington Hilton. Gossage was very keen for Roy to see Hendrix live as Roy had told him on several occasions that he liked Hendrix’s 1967 debut album very much. «Buchanan was appalled to hear his own characteristic sounds, such as wah-wah, which Buchanan had painstakingly produced with his hands and his Telecaster, for years, but which were created by electronic pedals in Hendrix’s hands,» explained the photographer. John Gossage went to the backstage to take photos and tried to convince Jimi to go see Roy at the Silver Dollar that night after the show, where Roy was performing that night. Hendrix never showed up at the Silver Dollar. Although Jimmy stood up for him, Roy he did several Hendrix songs that night, and after seeing him live, he had only praise for him. We will never know why Hendrix didn’t show up, maybe Buchanan was too much for him? We will never know. If we are to believe the official version, Hendrix preferred to go to the hotel with a groupie.

The decade of the 80’s was somewhat strange for Buchanan, from 1972 to 1980, he had recorded regularly, at the rate of one Lp per year, more or less; but in 1981 tired of the music companies trying to make him a pop artist, and of overproducing his records, he stops recording. We have to wait until 1985, when Alligator Records takes an interest in Buchanan to record a disc again. Buchanan makes Alligator Records a condition that he, and only he, will be able to decide on artistic matters. With complete freedom he recorded «When The Guitar Plays The Blues» which went straight to the Billboard chart and stayed there for 13 weeks. This album was followed by «Dancing On The Edge» from 1986, which featured Delbert McClinton as a vocalist on 3 songs and which is my favourite from that time. His latest album is titled «Hot Wires», and is from 1987.

In 1988, he was arrested after returning home drunk and aggressive. His wife called the police and the sheriff transferred him to the county jail in Fairfax, Virginia, where he lived. During that night, he allegedly committed suicide in prison by hanging himself, although it was said that he was killed. Over time, it has been proven that the police hit him hard on the head.

His most interesting recordings from the 50’s and early 60’s have been compiled into a magnificent double CD, 44 songs, from the Soul Jam label, entitled «After Hours – The Early Years ・ 1957-1962 Recordings», with a wide script full of juicy information.

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