me ‘n Roy backstage at the Pump, February 10, 1986
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, FEB. 7, 1986
By Steve Newton
Not many guitarists can say they were invited to join the Rolling Stones. Not many can say they turned the offer down either. But Roy Buchanan–quite possibly the best white blues guitarist in the world–can say both. He was the first one the Stones approached to fill original guitarist Brian Jones’ shoes.
“At that time I was still a little too messed up,” says Buchanan, over the phone from Salt Lake City. “They already had one casualty in the band–and I didn’t want to be the next.
“Plus I was just starting to make a little headway the way I was going, and thought I’d be better off just doin’ what I was doin’.”
While Roy’s decision to go it alone may have cost him mass popularity, it has won him a small, devoted following of fans and fellow musicians–and allowed him to stay true to his musical roots. Those gospel, country and blues roots came from growing up in the tiny town of Pixley, California, where Buchanan’s first musical memories were of racially-mixed revival meetings his family would attend. His father was a farmer and Pentecostal preacher, and, says Roy, “about all you had to do was go to church and work in the fields.”
As well as gospel in the pews and R&B on the radio, country music was big in Pixley, and at the age of nine Roy’s parents sent him to the local steel-guitar teacher, a woman by the name of Mrs. Pressure. Those early lessons were instrumental in the development of the awesome technique Buchanan employs today.
“She pretty much set my style,” says the burly, bearded bluesman, “so that when I started plain’ a Telecaster, I was still thinking steel guitar.” (On his latest album, the stunning When a Guitar Sings the Blues, there’s a song called “Mrs. Pressure”, a tribute to the lady who Roy says, “would cry every time I made a mistake.”)
When he was 15 years old Buchanan left the small town for the big city, and in L.A. fell under the wing of famed bandleader Johnny Otis. The blues mastery of Otis’ guitarist, Jimmy Nolen, also had a huge effect on the youthful protege.
“He’s the first guy I saw bend strings, and he was playing loose. I was really impressed with that.”
Nowadays, although he says he doesn’t listen to that many people, Buchanan still has his fave guitarists. “I’d say probably Eddie Van Halen. And I like the guy who played with the Stray Cats, Brian Setzer. And Ray Gomez–he backed up Stanley Clarke for a lot of years.”
Buchanan is himself a favourite of–and influence on–several of rock’s greatest guitarists, including Robbie Robertson (from The Band), Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), and Jeff Beck. Beck actually showed his appreciation to Buchanan by dedicating a song to him–Blow By Blow‘s version of Stevie Wonder’s “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers”.
“It’s a pretty song,” says Roy. “I was really flattered by that.”
Roy Buchanan’s one-night-only appearance is set for this Monday, February 10, at the Town Pump.
Albert Collins, a good friend and jamming-buddy of Roy Buchanan, will be preceding him at the Pump this Friday and Saturday (February 7 & 8). Collins did two sold out shows at the Pump four months ago, and there’s a good chance he’ll pack ’em in again. Following his appearance at Live Aid last summer, he was awarded the W.C. Handy Award for Best Blues Band of 1985. Collins is known as “The Master of the Telecaster”, although hardcore Buchanan fans might want to argue that point.