Roy Buchanan Performs “When a Guitar Plays the Blues”

September 23rd, 2016

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By Damian Fanelli | Photo: Paul Natkin/Getty Images

Guitarist Roy Buchanan was born on this date (September 23) in 1939. Although I “discovered” Buchanan when I was a blues-loving kid in the mid-Eighties, his first brush with something resembling fame came in 1971, when a documentary, The Best Unknown Guitarist in the World, aired on public TV.

The documentary was, of course, about Buchanan, a Washington, D.C.-based blues-rock virtuoso whose gritty sound and distinctive technique inspired scores of guitarists, including Jeff Beck.

Sadly, Buchanan is still fairly unknown to the general public (including scores of guitarists).

Buchanan had a distinctive tone, as can be heard in the live video below. He played his vintage Fender Telecaster through a Fender Vibrolux amp with the tone all the way up (and then some, it seems), using the guitar’s volume knob mid-solo to create mesmerizing, keyboard-style effects. Buchanan could play harmonics at will and mute individual strings with his free right-hand fingers while picking or pinching others. He was best known for his gut-wrenching bends and incredibly “pointy” sound.

Buchanan committed suicide in 1988 at age 48 while in jail for public drunkenness.

Below, check out Buchanan’s undated performance of “When a Guitar Plays the Blues,” the title track from his 1985 album on Alligator Records (This is a good one to own, by the way). There’s a solo intro section at the beginning of the video, and the actual solo begins at around 5:25. Note that there’s another extended solo section around 8:18. Enjoy!

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