A well-traveled string musician, Texas-born T-Bone Walker would become a pioneer in multiple blues scenes. He was born May 28, 1910 as Aaron Thibeaux Walker in Linden, Texas into a family of musicians. His stepfather would teach him to play a number of string instruments such as the banjo, guitar, mandolin, and violin. He also learned to play the piano.
Armed with a knowledge of different instruments and some playing ability, he would join begin his career a few years after dropping out of school. Like many of his contemporaries, he was a professional musician in his early teens.
Walker furthered his training under Blind Lemon Jefferson, a friend of his parents. The relationship was one that saw the young T-Bone Walker gain knowledge while helping Jefferson around during shows. At this point, his career was based around Dallas. He would record his first single in 1929 with Columbia Records using the name Oak Cliff T-Bone.
When the 1930s rolled around, T-Bone Walker found himself playing in Los Angeles. He was a pioneering act in this region as blues didn’t have a major presence that far west. Through his recordings with labels such as Capitol Records, he began to establish the jazz-infused West Coast blues style. During this time he developed an energetic, showy performance style which included playing guitar with his teeth.
Throughout the early 1940s, he performed heavily in Chicago–primarily for Charlie Glenn and his Rhumboogie entertainment group. One of the landmark songs of this time was his “Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday Is Just As Bad)” from 1947. Walker remained busy into the 1950s recording with other musicians and on Imperial Records. Even while his career slowed down, he continued to record into the 1960s and 1970s.
T-Bone Walker’s final major album was 1969’s Good Feelin’. He would win a Grammy Award for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording in 1971. His final album was 1973’s Well Done. Following complications from 1974 stroke, he began to reduce his shows. Walker would pass away on March 16, 1975 as a result of pneumonia.
Five years after his death he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. Walker would receive the same honor in 1987 when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.