Picks and Pans Review: The Complete Recordings of T-Bone Walker 1940-1954

updated 12/10/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/10/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

T-Bone Walker

Walker had two lifelong obsessions: gambling and the guitar he called Gibson. Ray Charles's classic blues "Blackjack" is an account of the time he beat Walker out of some $2,000 in an all-night card game in the early '50s.

On the bandstand, however, Walker was nobody's fool. "The root stuff a lot of young guitarists play today comes from T-Bone," says Charles. "What he did for blues was like what Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were for jazz. T-Bone was the cat who set the s—down and put it on your mind."

Fifteen years after his death at age 64 from a stroke, Walker's name remains synonymous with Texas blues. Growing up in Dallas, Walker often served as the eyes, or "lead boy," for guitarist Blind Lemon Jefferson. At 14, Walker ran away from home to tour with blues singer Ida Cox and in the years that followed, relied on his skills as a dancer as well as his talents as a musician to earn his keep with various jazz and dance bands. Along with his friend Charlie Christian, Walker was one of the first to explore the full potential of the guitar as an amplified instrument.

This nine-album (six-CD) boxed set documents the evolution of Walker's lean, string-popping style on guitar during a period when he was packing black audiences around the country into dance halls on what musicians referred to as the chitlin circuit.

Listen to Walker backed by a swing jazz band on the 1945 recording "T-Bone Boogie" and you'll discover where Chuck Berry copped some of his trademark licks. A down-and-dirty alternate take of Walker's signature tune, "Call It Stormy Monday," is paired with the frenetic party-time rendition originally released in 1947. With his 1950 version of his showstopping instrumental "Strollin' with Bone," it helps to imagine Walker in live performance bringing the tune to an abrupt close by doing gymnastic splits.

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