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Roy Buchanan 20th Century Masters: Millennium
Photo Roy Buchanan – 20th Century Masters: Millennium Collection

Roy Buchanan was the rarest of all rock’n’roll animals, the consummate guitarist’s guitarist. Others were flashier, others were faster, others still rose to far higher peaks. But Eric Clapton called him the best he’d ever heard, Jerry Garcia praised his “amazing chops,” the Rolling Stones asked him to join their band and Dale Hawkins, the rockabilly colossus who discovered Buchanan in the first place, was so enamored that he all but pulled the unknown youth out of high school to join him on the road. In a career which spanned more than 25 years, Roy Buchanan not only impressed some of rock’s biggest names, he left an indelible impression on them all. Born September 23rd, 1939, in Ozark, AL, but raised in California’s San Joaquin Valley, Leroy “Roy” Buchanan started playing guitar aged 9.

His first instrument was a Iap steel and, at 12, he was the prodigal star of the older Wale! Kapn Valley Boys. At 16, he moved to Los Angeles where he joined future Jefferson Airplane drummer Spencer Dryden in the Heartbeats, a band whose taOiE extended as far as a role in the movie Rock Pretty Baby, but those, ances were somewhat more limited. Touring the south, the group was abandoned by its agent in Oklahoma City, without the means to get home Buchanan had drifted no further than Tulsa before he Ianded a gig on Tulsa’s Oklahoma Bandstand show, which is where Hawkins encountered him.

Immediately, the “Susie Q” hitmaker offered Buchanan a job and, over thee next three years, the youngster’s edgy, heavy guitar all but defined . Buchanan left Hawkins in 1961, to team up with the singer’s cousin, Ronnie. His band, the Hawks, was just taking its first steps and Buchanan made an immediate impression – not least of all on the group’s other guitarist, a youngster named Robbie Robertson. In years to come, at the heim of The Band, Robertson rated Buchanan among the most significant influences on his career. Buchanan returned to the US later that year, marrying and settling in the DC area, and seemingly content to simply playing the Iocal clubs scene, filling in behind anyone who asked him to.

But word was spreading about this amazing guitarist and, in 1970, a Washington Star review finally revealed the best kept secret in town. The Washington Post followed suit and, when Rolling Stone, too, got in on the act, Buchanan’s future was sealed. While WNET TV producer John Adams began work on a documentary, suitably entitled Introducing Roy Buchanan, Buchanan signed with Polydor and, in 1972, he released his debut album, a self-titled jewel which still ranks among the most cohesive artistic statements of the age.

With his trademark ’53 Telecaster kicking out his “country mojo” brew of rock, blues, jazz, folk and anything eise that caught his ear, Buchanan rewrote the rules of guitar herodom – while remaining as self-effacingly modest as any genius could. “This star business scares the hell out of me,” he told a journalist in 1971, but the records he made were superstars regardless. This collection spotlights the five albums Buchanan cut at the peak of his career, between 1972-75, albums which defined American roots music at a time when the music itself was still seeking an identity. Only Buchanan’s own former friends in The Band were coming even close to the territory Buchanan was defining; but even they zeroed in on just one facet of his vision.

By the time of 1975’s in concert Live Stock, there wasn’t a guitarist alive who could touch Buchanan for technique, control, mood or feel. Such mercurial talent, however, masked some unimagined depths, as Buchanan lurched into a period of frustrating transience. Three late 1970s albums were followed by some six years of silence and rumor; it was 1985 before he returned to the recording studio, to cut the Grammy nominated When a Guitar Plays the Blues. Two further albums followed, but inexplicable tragedy lurked just around the corner. On August 14, 1988, Buchanan was arrested for drunkenness and placed in a cell. There, according to official accounts, he hanged himself with his own shirt. lt was a sad end to what many of Buchanan’s admirers insist was a sadly unfulfilled Iife – he could have done more, he should have done more. But maybe, across his greatest recordings, he’d already done enough.

The guitar would never sound the Same again. Dave Thompson

Tracklisting:

  • Sweet Dreams
  • Pete’s Blue
  • The Messiah Will Come Again
  • Filthy Teddy
  • After Hours
  • Five String Blues
  • Hey Joe
  • Roy’s Bluz
  • CC Ryder
  • Country Preacher
  • Wayfaring Pilgrim
  • I’m Evil (live)