Listening To Roy Buchanan Late At Night

It’s an interesting question which will never be answered to everyone’s satisfaction, as tastes differ: what is the most expressive and flexible musical instrument? Some hold out for the human voice, and I do admire the qualities of various voices. But I’m a fiddler, and I think that violinists and fiddlers of the past few centuries rule. I wish I could have heard Tartini play live!

And then there is the saxophone family, invented by the Belgian instrument-maker Adolph Sax late in the nineteenth century. American jazz musicians took to the saxes and before long were emoting musically with the instruments; the results are part of jazz history. Frankie Trumbauer (on the C-melody sax), tenor players Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins, alto players inspired by the genius Charlie Parker, then soprano players like John Coltrane and Paul Desmond… the list of wonderfully inventive players goes on and on. And to think that the saxophone family of instruments was originally intended to be used for martial music! It didn’t do the German people much good (trounced in two wars), but the instruments live on and we all can reap the benefits, can’t we?

Another family of instruments was originally designed for martial and marching band purposes: the trumpets and fluglehorns, both of which evolved as valved versions of the primitive bugle, (Adolph Sax might have been involved), the various trombones, and the tuba. As with the saxes, jazz players found ways to make these instruments supremely expressive. Embouchure was the key factor. Here’s a great example: Buck Clayton, the trumpet equivalent of Lester Young on the tenor sax, playing Honeysuckle Rose:

You should really hear this — it’s Frankie Trumbauer and Bix Biederbecke playing a song called “Singin’ The Blues”. It’s one of the classic early jazz tracks. Such sweet and soulful music!:

In the past century-and-a-half the electric guitar has risen to be a supremely expressive instrument. I’m sure that mechanic and innovator Leo Fender had no idea in the early 1950’s what guitarists would do with his crude but versatile mass-produced Telecasters and Stratocasters. Here’s an example — it’s suicide-doomed guitarist Roy Buchanan playing the hell out of a blues tune with his battered Telecaster:

Roy’s Bluz

Roy somehow became a Christian in his last years; inexplicable to me, but we all follow our own paths. This is a very touching rendition of a tune of his:

The Messiah Will Come Again

I was lucky enough to see Roy Buchanan play at a club in St. Louis a year or so before he killed himself; I was with occasional commenter Claire’s husband Jim.

I know I’ve posted this link before, but it won’t hurt you to hear this wonderful Buchanan performance again. It’s an interpretation of country singer Patsy Cline’s song “Sweet Dreams” — I play a fiddle version which I call “Sweet and Dreamy Waltz”:

Sweet Dreams

One more; the man had an amazing control of guitar tone:

Funky Mama

Okay, just one more; Roy’s buddy Danny Gatton playing just very impressive stuff with the aid of a beer bottle and a towel:


You don’t encounter or hear too many female electric bass players. Here is a wonderful one named Tal Wilkenfeld playing with Jeff Beck; the song is Jeff’s tribute to Roy Buchanan after his death:

And then there’s Roy Buchanan’s buddy Danny Gatton, another suicide victim. What was it about the Telecaster or the era which doomed these guys? Here’s “Sleepwalk”, a masterful interpretation of an early-sixties pop song:


Here’s a guitarist who hasn’t killed himself yet — he’s a younger player with his own interpretation of “Sleepwalk”:

Another Sleepwalk

I’m inspired by music like this, although I know I’ll never equal it. I do try!




Filed under Music

12 responses to “Listening To Roy Buchanan Late At Night

  1. Joan

    Do you have an electric guitar also?

  2. Of course I do, Joan. I built my first electric guitar back in the late 1980s. The one I play these days is a Telecaster copy I built in the ’90s — it sounds really sweet.

  3. Joan

    Holy Telecaster! Thank you sooo much, Larry. His music is incredible! I’m on song two, and I’ve gotta say though it’s beautiful it’s the saddest version of the Messiah’s second coming that I’ve ever been privy to. Compare it to Handel’s Messiah’s joyful trumpet tooting version and weep. Maybe Roy figured he’d be left behind.
    Well, sorry I forgot about the guitar cause all I hear about lately is your fiddle and the Irish contra music…but as the Irish say ‘good on yah’!! 🙂

  4. One of the most inventive and virtuosic electric guitar performances of all time, by Frank Zappa on guitar — with gritty vocals by Captain Beefheart and violin by Sugarcane Harris:

    Just an experiment to see if I also can embed a YouTube video in a comment!

  5. joan

    Well, It didn’t work, and I doubt mine would ever work that way again. It was just magic. Maybe I’m one of the elect? (grin) Could it be a function of Windows that just appeared. Are you still using Linux?
    What I’d be totally thrilled with would be the ability to upload pictures to comments. That ain’t ever gonna happen. It’s far above my IQ level.

  6. It looks like it worked; I can see an embedded Frank Zappa video in the comment I experimentally made, just above. Yeah, there is a certain magic to software, especially when someone is wanting you to sign up and pay money for extra services!

  7. Another attempt; it’s Roy Buchanan playing in Hamburg, Germany way back in 1976, when he was at the top of his game:

  8. Didn’t work this time; there must be someone working in the early hours watching for linking malfeasances by free users. I need to turn off spell-checking, as evidently I know more words and their correct spellings than the rudimentary software demon WordPress uses; must be a young and untutored cousin of the Dictionary Demon.

  9. Now it worked after I corrected the link — I seem to be working against a WordPress functionary who monitors such things…

  10. Oh, something weird has happened — one of the comments I made on this post has mysteriously disappeared — I had made a negative comment on WordPress policy. The comment has gone away. I need to find a new server! This comment might not even appear…

  11. OK, I realize that the site wants to make money, and they have made it difficult for me to embed videos in my posts; they want me to pay them something for the privilege. Well, it seems that I have figured out how to circumvent their desires, perhaps just for the time being. I have to edit the links a bit in order to make them work. Check out the utubular video of Buck Clayton in the post. Does it work for you?

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