The late great guitarist Roy Buchanan, who died on this day in 1988, liked to say he was the son of a preacher man. And that as a boy he attended church revivals with Black congregations, where he first heard blues music. He was the first white guy to absorb the blues, he liked to say, and to build a career around the form.
These claims may not be the gospel truth–Buchanan also insisted he was “half-wolf.” His own brother denies that their father did any preaching at all. The truth is that Roy Buchanan was a dark and complicated man and artist.
What is also unmistakably true is that few have mastered their instrument to the depth Roy did. Buchanan’s close listeners praise his array of astonishing techniques, and how he used them to express uniquely emotive statements. As with a good Hendrix solo, you catch your breath at the sheer intensity of sound and soulfulness that Buchanan summons up when he’s running hot. His Fender Telecaster screams and cries, whistles and whines in ways are piercing in one second and tender in the next—Roy could recreate the human voice in uncanny ways. But then he’d spin into machine-like rapid-fire notes that make your teeth hurt. He didn’t need effect pedals to achieve this sonic richness—he was a purist in his way, defiantly old-school in a period that expected progressive experimentation.
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