YOU'RE MISSING: Roy Buchanan
- Article by: Casey Stohrer
- Posted: 07/19/2012
I first heard of Roy Buchanan as I was moving into an apartment complex that was rumored to be full of registered sex offenders and the cripplingly insane. The dreary, institutional two-story brick building was nothing short of an asylum, but the landlord had given me a good deal on rent. Your mind had to be battle-tested to endure such a place. Escapists such as myself had to select their music carefully for such a long-winded situation.
As I was moving my belongings up the stairs one day, an old man smoking in the courtyard approached me.
“Whatcha got in that guitar case?” he asked.
Before I could determine if he was a rapist or not, I said, “It's a Telecaster.”
“Ever heard of Roy Buchanan? I used to play piano for him back in the 70s.”
This exchange ultimately led to the old man leading me into his dark apartment (after promising to leave the door open) and putting a tape in his VCR (that he said “definitely wasn't anything nasty”). It was a recording of a well-dressed gentleman with an expressionless face, completely tearing up the neck of a guitar named Nancy. He played with such a quiet, earnest decadence, in a world entirely his own; you couldn't really tell if he was showing off or showing you the ropes.
Roy Buchanan's life is rife with mystery and rumors. His first landmark musical appearance was on the Dale Hawkins single “My Babe” for Chess Records in 1958, on which he played a guitar solo. That led to a modest career as a sideman for many other musicians, and he soon found himself working with Ronnie Hawkins and Robbie Robertson before The Band came to fruition. He gained a reputation as being one of the best rock guitarists around. It was rumored that even Jimi Hendrix refused a “pick-off” with Roy, but the two players talked for awhile before a show one night. Roy became enamored with him.
Roy's guitar style and signature Telecaster tone became known to hardcore guitar enthusiasts, but he never got any real mainstream success. He has been most frequently compared to Hendrix, though their styles are quite distinct. Hendrix pioneered the use of effects pedals, while Roy created effects solely through his guitar by using different finger-tapping techniques and volume swells. His erratic chicken-pickin' style, use of pinch harmonics, and unusual string-bending has influenced guitar players such as Gary Moore and Jeff Beck.
Roy led an eccentric life. He left the music business for awhile to take up the trade of hairdressing in order to support his family. He was also a lifelong alcoholic, and he was found hanged from his own shirt in jail after being picked up for public intoxication in 1988. He left behind twelve studio albums, as well as a number of posthumous live albums and compilations.
I never found out if the old man had really been Roy's piano player or not. He might've been just as crazy as the rest of the tenants. But in any case, he had introduced me to Roy Buchanan, and I soon found myself listening to a perfect soundtrack to my life living in that apartment complex. It was a world of sweet, strange intentions lurking beneath the faces of volatile characters. Nancy could tell you all about it.
Roy Buchanan - "Live From Austin, TX"