The Greatest Unknown Guitarist in the World

The Greatest Unknown Guitarist in the World

Roy Buchanan’s brother-in-law Phil Clemmons: “’The only thing he ever said about the future was that he wanted to learn to play all different kinds of music.  Oh, and that someday he wanted to be the world’s greatest guitar player.’” (American Axe, 27)

Phil Carson mentions “his secret ambition to be the greatest guitarist in the world.  He might well be, but he worked in obscurity, unrecognized for his pioneering techniques and emotive powers.” (103)

In 1970 radio station WBOM’s Country Fun Time mentioned “Roy Buchanan, the World’s Greatest Guitar Player.” (106)

In 1970 a Washington Post reporter mentioned “’Roy Buchanan, who provides what may well be the best rock guitar picking in the world.’” (110)

John Adams, associate producer of the documentary Introducing Roy Buchanan: “He was driven to being the greatest guitar player that he or anybody else knew.  He succeeded in that.  He did not succeed in selling it.”

Entrance Music: Son of a Preacher Man

On highway 99, between L.A. and Frisco, lies the little old town of Pixley.  I was real nervous about going home again.  People told me things change, but things hadn’t changed one bit, and I was kind of happy about that.  Like I say, I was scared.  I thought maybe I’d changed, but I don’t think anything had changed. 

In the Beginning

I was just fifteen in ’55 when I ran away from home.  My dad, he was a preacher and my mom, she taught Sunday school.  I don’t know what they would have done without the comforts of church.  It gave them a reason to live and die.  That’s their whole life.  I found something at church I don’t believe I could quite explain – a feeling inside of myself that I can always turn to.  It’s kind of a sacred feeling that I think shows in my music.  Once you get it it’s hard to ever change it.  I wouldn’t change it for the world.  The thing I remember best about church was the music and the general overall picture of the message that they usually taught in church, which was love your neighbor, love yourself.  I thought the best way for me to show that I did love my neighbor was to play my music, because everybody, especially the church people, seemed to enjoy it.

“The churches really influenced me in a couple of ways.  Gospel music and blues are closely related, really.  The church was the first time I ever heard blues.  Blues sort of started in the black churches, and what I ended up doing was mixing the white man’s church music with the black man’s blues to get [174] that sweet feeling in my playing.  Another thing was the preaching.  At a revival, a good preacher would really get the people going with his sermon.  Work the crowd.  He would start out slow and quiet, and as he went along, he’d build his volume and speed and bring everybody to an emotional climax.  It was fiery.  I think music works the same way, bringing audiences to high points with your guitar playing, and the preaching probably had an influence on me in that way.” (Guitar Player Magazine, 1976)

Country Preacher

Cannonball Adderley introduced this song, Country Preacher, saying: “Brothers and sisters, all over the country we’ve been preaching about black music, and how it’s all the same thing.  We got the word from the country preacher, Reverend Jesse Jackson.  He told us: ‘When you have real change everybody’s thing begins to change.  Preacher begins to preach a new sermon and the musician also tries to capture the new thing, so that we might have melody and rhythm as we do our thing.’”

“There was a church about a block away [from our home], it was a holy-roller church, where they play the guitar wide open and they scream and shout and roll on the floor.  And I heard that music at night and I didn’t know what it was.  But I liked it.  I used to go around back and collect the guitar strings that got thrown out the back.  My dad saw me doing it and he said, “You like guitars, huh?”  I said, “Yeah.”  So he bought me one.” (American Axe, 188)

The Story of Isaac

[Phil Carson: “On ‘Story of Isaac’ Roy developed a signature lick that would later became [sic] his personal anthem, ‘The Messiah Will Come Again.’” (American Axe, 104)]

The door it opened slowly, my father he came in, I was nine years old.
And he stood so tall above me, his blue eyes they were shining and his voice was very cold.
He said, “I’ve had a vision and you know I’m strong and holy, I must do what I’ve been told.”
We started up the mountain, I was running he was walking, and his axe was made of gold.

We lived quite a normal life in a strange sort of way.  We picked a little cotton and baled a little hay.  It was a happy time in a sad sort of way.  The reason I left home was, even though you love something you wonder sometimes what else you can do with what you learned, and even though I love this place and it’s beautiful, and you can have your solitude, it’s also lonesome, and I guess I left the place because I had something to do, something to prove to myself, and this place here, I learned the other side of life, but I had to get away, so I could learn different styles and the way other people played their music.  

I always liked any kind of music.  I wanted to play it all.  I try a little jazz, a little country, a little blues.  Anything I could hear I’d try a little bit, and I tried to work it all into one thing, and I think that’s one of the reasons that people notice my playing.  

Wayfaring Pilgrim

The first place I went to was L.A.  I played around there when I could in different clubs.  Finally, I got a group together.  We went to Texas and we played mostly blues bars in small towns, mostly for colored people back then.  They were about the only ones digging it.  We toured through Oklahoma, Texas, and finally to Canada in 1960, when I joined Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks.  

Back then you couldn’t talk about a lot of things that I liked to talk about, so Ronnie didn’t know if I was super intelligent or just out of this world.  Now he thinks I fit in just perfect.  Ronnie was very strict about how he was backed, and one of the Hawks, Robbie Robertson, would either overplay or underplay.  He’d be playing lead when Ronnie was singing and it just wouldn’t work out.  So I showed him how to do it, because that’s what I was really into, backing up people and making them sound good.  When Robbie asked where I’d learned my licks I told him I was half wolf.

Country Boy

I’m a little country boy running wild in this big old town
The girls are crazy about me they love what I’m putting down

I woke up this morning ooh, my head was bad
I just can’t tell you about that good time I had
I’m a little country boy running wild in this big old town
When I make love to my baby I don’t want a soul around

When I travelled I usually scraped up enough money to catch a bus.  I can remember sleeping in fields.  I can remember sleeping in bars.  I was lucky if I could sleep in a bar – talk the owner into it.  I would usually make enough money to eat.  There were a few times I couldn’t do that.  I remember one time in Chicago I got stranded.  I can remember some lonesome times.  I think the lonely thing is kind of born inside of a person.  That’s what makes him play.  Your soul seems to be completely someplace else from other people – lonesome feeling.  My dad used to call it the blues.  I think he was right. 

Roy’s Bluz

Going down to the graveyard gotta see my baby one more time
She done sold her soul to the devil I’m just about to lose my mind.

The train is always gone always leaves at 3:09
I’m going to tell a whole lot of people it’s always left Buchanan behind.

Oh, Jesus this is my final plea yes, Jesus this is my final plea
You know I’m still begging you don’t let the devil get the best of me

My soul it died last friday but it rose again today
I think I like life better I might even decide to stay

I was always quiet.  I usually stayed alone most of the time, because I had a different way of thinking.  I didn’t seem to fit in too well.  I got very discouraged about three years ago.  I’m kind of ashamed of it, but I got kind of messed up on dope.  I took an overdose and I wound up in the hospital and said, ‘I got to get myself together here.’  So what I did, I figured I would just kind of hang around a different area of the country.  So I became a barber.  I cut hair for over a year and got myself together and hid away, but after about a year I started wanting to play again, so I started back into it again.

Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey

[Phil Carson: “Early 1974….Roy would return to his favorites, including…Sly Stone’s ‘Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey,’ just to rile the crowd.  Roy virtually always included ‘The Messiah.’” (American Axe, 152)]

Don’t call me nigger, whitey; don’t call me whitey, nigger.

If 6 Was 9

If the sun refuse to shine I don’t mind
If the mountains fell in the sea let it be, it ain’t me
‘Cos I got my own world to live through
And I ain’t gonna copy you

Now if 6 turned out to be 9 I don’t mind
If all the hippies cut off all their hair I don’t care
‘Cos I got my own world to live through
And I ain’t gonna copy you

The Black Messiah

Cannonball Adderley introduced this song, The Black Messiah, saying: “Y’all hip to what the Black Messiah is all about, I’m sure.  The last time the messiah showed up he was cool, but he wasn’t black.  Some folks have been waiting thousands of years for any kind of messiah to show up that they can deal with, you know.”

I had dreams in this place here, dreams that most people don’t understand.  A dream to do something I wanted to do.  And I did what I wanted to do.  I played what I felt like this place was – it became me, like it was a closeness.  It used to be so quiet out here you could almost find God within your own self.  You can get some real strange feelings out here.  You can learn yourself.  I wrote a song; I had this place in mind.  I called it Messiah Will Come Again, but instead of using this place I generalized the whole world the way I think, because the whole world is kind of like this place to me, and I think when you hear the song you’ll know why I think the way that I do – about this place, about every place, about everybody. 

The Messiah Will Come Again

Just a smile, just a glance, the prince of darkness, he just walked past.
There’s been a lot of people and they’ve had a lot of say,
but this time I’m going to tell it my way.

There was a town, a strange, lonely little town they call the world.
‘Til one day a stranger appeared and their hearts rejoiced, and the sad little town was happy again.

But there were some that doubted, they disbelieved, so they mocked him and the stranger, he went away.
Now the town that was sad yesterday, it’s a lot sadder today.
I walked in a lot of places I never should have been, but I know that the messiah, he will come again.

[From Time Magazine: ‘At the end, having promised that the Messiah would come again, Roy moved slowly toward the back of the stage and, like a sort of rock Messiah, slipped off into the darkness.’]

To come home again was like stepping out of a dream, stepping into reality, or stepping out of reality and stepping back into a dream – you’re not quite sure.  It’s like a big dream.  It’s unbelievable, it’s really great to come back here after I saw what I wanted to see, and I don’t believe this place will ever change.  It wasn’t meant to change.  I don’t think this place will change until I do.  It’s going to be a long time.

Exit Music: Thank You Lord