It was an interesting life, to come up like I did, and I don’t regret it.’ (Original music art by Allan Mainous, available for sale at

‘I’d say I Was About 30 Years Before My Time’
The T-Bone Walker Interview

On September 30, 1972, Jim O’Neal and Amy van Singel interviewed T-Bone Walker for their magazine, Living Blues, a legendary blues publication the couple co-founded, published and edited from 1970 to 1987. As the jacket copy indicates on The Voice of the Blues: Classic Interviews from Living Blues Magazine, “the magazine helped launch and sustain the blues revival, focusing on living bluesmen, as opposed to more scholarly journals that focused on blues history.” The interviews collected in the book (and numerous others published in the magazine) are either the only or the most in-depth that many of its subjects ever sat for. The book lineup includes Georgia Tom Dorsey, Jimmy Reed, Esther Phillips, Freddie King, Sleepy John Estes and Hammie Nixon, Houston Stackhouse, Muddy Waters, Little Milton, Eddie Boyd, John Lee Hooker, and T-Bone Walker.

In honor of T-Bone’s 100th birthday month, here are some interesting excerpts centered on T-Bone’s early life and career, from the lengthy O’Neal-van Singel Q&A. A link to buy The Voice of the Blues is provided at the end of the interview. It’s well worth the price of admission.


Who did you listen to when you were trying to learn guitar? Who were your main influences?

Lonnie Johnson, and Leroy Carr and his guitar player, Scrapper Blackwell. They were my favorites.

Did you learn things from other blues artists around there, in Texas?

Well, there wasn’t too many blues artists in Texas, but LIghtnin’ Hopkins and Joe Black [Joe Pullum], who used to sing a number called “Black’s Gal.” [Pullum’s best-known record was “Black Gal What Makes Your Head So Hard?,” Bluebird B5459]. And then Leroy Carr, he used to sing “In the Evening When the Sun Go Down.” Incidentally, I think maybe I should do that, and put it on my list, see if I can remember the lyrics, because it was a very popular number in Texas.

Were there any other musicians down there that you did see play?

Nobody but Lonnie Johnson, used to come through there a lot, and Blind Lemon [Jefferson]. Course Blind Lemon was a very good friend of my family. I used to lead him around a lot. We’d go up and down Central Avenue. They had a railroad track there, and all the places were like clubs, beer joints, you know. They wouldn’t sell no whiskey no way. Beer joints, and things like that, we used to play in them joints. Place upstairs called the Tip Top. We used to all play there. We’d never leave out of Dallas, no further than Oklahoma City, or Tulsa, Oklahoma, and then back to Texas, and into West Texas and Waco, Texas, and San Antone and all around, that was my territory.

‘I was really crazy about Blind Lemon Jefferson. My whole family was crazy about him. He’d come over every Sunday and sit with us and play his guitar, and they sang, and they had a few drinks.’ (Relief-block print by Stephen Alcorn at

Did you travel around with Blind Lemon?

No farther than right there at the house and on Central Avenue. He had a cap on his guitar and everybody knew him, you know, and so he used to come through on Central Avenue singing and playing his guitar. And I’d lead him, and they’d put money in his cap.

Did you play with him or just lead him around?

No. Just lead him around.

Did you learn any guitar from him?

Some, yeah. Well, I was really crazy about him. My whole family was crazy about him. He’d come over every Sunday and sit with us and play his guitar, and they sang, and they had a few drinks. You know, at that time they were drinking corn whiskey and home brew, things like that. ‘Cause you couldn’t buy any whiskey unless it was bootleg in those days.

What kind of material were you playing when you first started, when you were a teenage?

Just the blues. Then I used to do a lot of things like “Stardust” [first recorded by Hoagy Carmichael in 1927 (Gannett 6311), popularized in 1930 by Irving Mills (Brunswick), in 1931 by Isham Jones (Brunswick), Bing Crosby (Brunswick), and Louis Armstrong (OKeh), and by many others afterward.] And when I was with the big band, things like “Askin’ on You.” Didn’t do too many blues. I’d do about two or three blues out of a whole set. We did a lot of Dixieland stuff, like New Orleans stuff, you know.

What kind of places did you play at?

Well, there was not too many places that we played at. I worked my first big show in a medicine show called Big B Tonic. That’s really where I made my name. Dr. Breeding’s Big B Tonic. This man made his own medicine and his own labels, and did this in these small towns, you know. He actually said it was good for your stomach, somethin’ like Geritol, but I don’t know what it was good for. I think it was Black Draught, ‘cause it tastes like it. I think it was a hype he was dropping anyway. Dr. Breeding—he wasn’t even a doctor. During the time I was out of school, I would go on this show for about there months and they paid 15 dollars a week. They would send my mother 10 dollars and give me five dollars to spend for myself. And I worked a whole season during my vacation from school. And then I went away with Ida Cox. I ran away with Ida Cox’s show. And my mother had me picked up and brought back home. One little town was called Albany, Texas. I was playing a carnival. I was about 18, between 16 and 18.

What was the medicine show like? What kind of acts did they have?

Didn’t have no acts but just me and a boy named Josephus Cook. He was a comedian. He used to crack jokes and I played the banjo, the ukelele, and so on. Just the two of us was on the show.

Was the banjo very popular back then?

Well, that’s all you had that could play if they wanted to hear you, because you didn’t have no amplifiers and things. You couldn’t hear just a regular guitar. Acoustic guitar was used when somebody was playing by themselves, or in a house where the band was soft or something. Like mandolins and guitars. When I was traveling around with my stepfather, we used to play like these root beer stands, and they had a cigar box. And we’d go around each car and see what requests they want. And they would pay so much. In other words, 15 cents, a dime, a quarter, and drop it in and give their requests. This was a drive-in root beer stand. People drive up, like they do to get sandwiches; they drove up like that to get root beer, and they would sit around listenin’ to music.

The forerunner of the jukebox. You had to know all kinds of music back then.

Yeah. We had to play everything. Didn’t have any jukeboxes.

What other instruments did you learn how to play?

Well, all the stringed instruments I played, like mandolin, violin, guitar, just like that. No horns at all. And piano—I do that for my own kicks when I’m at home. I have a piano at my house, and I write lyrics by the piano. And I use the tape recorder to tape down whatever I’m doing so I don’t forget the lyrics after I write ‘em.

How did you happen to record for Columbia in 1929?

I don’t know. It’s just a fellow happened to be coming through Dallas, and they recorded me with the blues “Trinity River Blues” and “Wichita Falls Blues,” which I didn’t hear too much from ‘em for a long time, and now they’re beginnin’ to sell it. I think we had a fellow named Doug [Finnell] on the piano. This was a long time ago. I can’t remember all this. But Iknow this is how we got started. And then I won an amateur program on Cab Calloway’s show in Dallas, and they took me out for a couple of weeks with him, to Houston and San Antone and Fort Worth. And then I came back home. ‘Course I was one guy, you couldn’t get me out of Dallas, because there was nobody but my mother, and so I wouldn’t never leave.

On that first record they called you Oak Cliff T-Bone, didn’t they?

This is what was on the record. After I made that record with him, I never heard no more of this man till I was grown. I lived in Oak Cliff, and so they called me Oak Cliff T-Bone. And then they called me the Cab Calloway of the South, and I played the Paramount banjo. I had a big sign on there, “Cab Calloway of the South,” ‘cause I used to do a lot of Cab Calloway’s numbers. “Hi-do-ho” stuff, you know.

Did you work with him?

No. I just met him. It was a long time to get me out of Dallas, ‘cause I had a lot of jobs. I had a offer with Duke [Ellington], and I had a offer with Cab, with the show. If they got farther than Fort Worth, Texas, they’d lose me, ‘cause I’d go right on, right on back to Dallas to my mother.

How did you get your name T-Bone?

Well, actually my name is not T-Bone, it’s Thibeaux. And I was working with Lawson Brooks, and there was a big Jewish fellow, he was the manager of the band, and he always called me T-Bone instead of Thibeaux. So I was stuck with it, which I think is all right.

On Charlie Christian: ‘We had a little routine of dancing that we did. Charlie would play guitar awhile, and I’d play bass, and then we’d change, and he’d play bass, and I’d play guitar. And then we’d go into our little dance.’

When did you meet Charlie Christian? What was he doing then?

Nineteen thirty-three. Playing his guitar and going to school. Whenever he’d go to school. We was really dropouts. Because we were making money, we wouldn’t go to school. We’d go dance and pass the hat and make money. We had a little routine of dancing that we did. Charlie would play guitar awhile, and I’d play bass, and then we’d change, and he’d play bass, and I’d play guitar. And then we’d go into our little dance. And his brother used to play piano with us, Edward Christian. He’s got a brother there in Oklahoma now that plays guitar. [Charlie Christian’s brother Clarence died in 1979.] Because Charlie was our top guitar player. I introduced him to John Hammond—not the one that sings the blues now [John Paul Hammond], his father. His father’s the one that brought me to New York. I gave Charle my job with Lawson Brooks, ‘cause I moved to the coast in 1934.

When did you start playing electric guitar?

About 1935. The first electric guitar I ever heard played by anybody was played by Les Paul. He built it himself. I think he had a recording thing down in the basement of his house, and he did all this stuff. Him and his wife [Mary Ford] started out this eight-track and this six-track business, you know, where you have one voice on one track, and one voice on one track, and one guitar on one track, and so on, and then put them together. They don’t never give him too much credit for it, but that’s how it comes out.

Were you the first blues guitarist to play electric?

Electric guitar, yeah. On the road. And there used to be a guy who played with Andy Kirk, played a Hawaiian outfit with a guitar, and they’d let him use with a steel. I forgot his name [Floyd Smith, who recorded “Floyd’s Guitar Blues” [Decca 2483] with Kirk in 1939.) Well, you see actually I’m a legend to all this. I’m one of the oldest ones. Lonnie Johnson, he didn’t play no electric guitar, he played acoustic guitar.

Charlie Christian was playing acoustic guitar when you knew him, too, wasn’t he?

Yeah, we both were. Course you couldn’t get electric guitar. We didn’t even have mikes. We’d sing through a megaphone. But we didn’t have all this. I’ll tell you, I came into this world a little too soon. I’d say that I was about 30 years before my time.

 Why did you move to the coast?

I just wanted to go somewhere, that’s all. You know, you just want to go out and see some parts of the world. And I picked California. So I been living there ever since. Los Angeles.

What did you do after you finished at the Little Harlem in Los Angeles?

I went on the road with Les Hite in 1939. He was workin’ a place called the Cotton Club in Los Angeles. And his first tour back to New York, he took his big band, and I was singing with the band. I wasn’t even playing guitar. I did “Mean Old World,” but I was doing things like “Stardust” and “Askin’ on Me”—ballads. We stayed on the road about a year, then I quit Les Hite and went back to Los Angeles, to Little Harlem. I didn’t leave no more, until the time that I came to the Rhumboogie, which was in Chicago. And this was where I really got my start, 1942.

You recorded with Les Hite, didn’t you?

Yeah. I made the “T-Bone Blues” [Varsity 8391, also released on Blue Note 530 and on other labels] and “Mean Old World.” Then I recorded with Freddie Slack in Los Angeles—blues. [Walker recorded “Mean Old World” in 1942 with Freddie Slack.] I was one of the first ones to tour through the South with a white band, called Count Belaski (?). He was a Russian fellow, he had a big band in a studio in Hollywood. I met up with him, and so he took me with him on the road. [T-Bone may be referring to Hollywood actor Leon Belasco, who was born in the Ukraine and led a big band in the 1930s.]

What sort of reaction did you get?

Well, I had a little trouble in the South. In Oklahoma city, they had to slip me out the back and put me in a car, ‘cause a guy was gonna beat me up or something. I was in the dressing room with Norma Normal. She was the singer with the band, and she was white. She and I were pretty tight. Well, I was sittin’ back there talkin’ while she was changing clothes. And so the guys got upset. What was I doing in the dressing room while she was changing clothes? They had to slip me out of the back, and I went to a place called the Blossom Heat. And so this is where I had to go back to Dallas, because I quit traveling with them in Kansas City, and I went on back home. But this Count Belaski had a idea: it was like Ted Lewis used to have a boy that walked along in his shadow, he called him his shadow, with his hat, and did the same Ted Lewis did. But it was an interesting life, to come up like I did, and I don’t regret it. Only they say I came up too early, but I think I came up at the right time, ‘cause I wasn’t used to a lot of money no way, so a little money was right up my alley See, [now] I’m used to havin’ a whole lot of money. Now I’m having trouble.

When did you start playing with your own band?

After I came out with Les Hite’s band I had my own band. Forty-five or ’46, right after the wartime. I begin to travel with a band. I had 10 pieces the fist time, then I cut them down to seven. Right after I made “Stormy Monday,” and they released it on Black & White, then it became a very popular song.

Who had the Black & White label?

I couldn’t remember his name. He [Paul Reiner] used to invest a lot of money into it. And he sold the masters and everything to Capitol. Capitol is really the one that put my records out.

Didn’t somebody else record “Stormy Monday” before you?

They did—not mine. Billy Eckstine recorded a “Stormy Monday” with Earl Hines [“Stormy Monday Blues,” 1942, Bluebird 11567] but it’s different: mine is “Call It Stormy Monday, Tuesday’s Just as Bad.” But they had one just “Stormy Monday.” Billy do it all the time now. That’s why they’re havin’ trouble with the royalties, and my money. They got it all tied up. They had a “Stormy Monday” when I made the title of this one. “Call It Stormy Monday” is mine.

What year was “Stormy Monday” recorded?

Nineteen-forty, just before the war broke out. I did the number. They had to put it on the shelf till the war was over, because they couldn’t get the material to press it, ‘cause the war had turned everything into war stuffs, factories, and making guns, and people were busy making everything to fight with. So they put all this stuff on the shelf until the war was over, and then they released it. [Although blues discographies do not cite a recording of “Call It Stormy Monday” prior to 1947, other sources have also suggested that T-Bone had done it some years earlier.]

Have you gotten much in royalties?

Quite a bit off “Stormy Monday.” I think my first check was 5,000 dollars, and the next one was 35 hundred dollars. And I got a lot of checks like 35 hundred dollars, and so I got some money comin’ now. They got 100,000 dollars tied up that I can’t get yet, not till they straighten this thing out. Which, that makes me very unhappy, ‘cause I could use my money.

The Voice of the Blues: Classic Interviews from Living Blues Magazine, edited by Jim O’Neal and Amy van Singel, is available at

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