Roy Buchanan – Hey Joe
Austin City Limits
November 11, 1976
I recently discovered this video of Roy Buchanan laying waste to “Hey Joe” and “Foxey Lady” and was dumbstruck that a guy who looks like he should be teaching iambic pentameter could echo both Eddie Hazel and Jimi Hendrix in his playing. Of course, Buchanan ain’t your typical musician. He grew up in the honky tonk country north of Bakersfield, California, and was profoundly influenced by Merle Haggard‘s longtime guitarist, Roy Nichols. But, he also stole from jazz guys like Tal Farlow and Barney Kessel and cut his teeth on R&B cats like Johnny “Guitar” Watson and guitarist Jimmy Nolen, both of whom worked with the mostly forgotten LA bandleader Johnny Otis.
Nolen later gained a measure of fame with James Brown (1965-70, 1972-83) where he all but invented funk guitar with his chicken scratch, or “chank” playing style. However, in the 1950s, when a young Roy first saw and heard him, Nolen was a straight-up blues picker in the T-Bone Walker/B.B. King tradition. In fact, from 1957-59, Nolen was guitarist in The Johnny Otis Show and the chank (in A, always in A) was still 6-8 years away. As a solo performer and sideman in the ’50s, Nolen’s solos and string bends were like B.B. via Ike Turner, and the single-string leads on “After Hours,” in particular, sound like mandolin runs. Buchanan maintained throughout his life that this recording was one of his all-time favorites, if not outright #1.
Jimmy Nolen – After Hours
“It was Jimmy’s playing that floored me. I noticed that he knew how to back people really well. I tried to become like that. Not just taking the lead solos all the time, but complementing the singing or whatever was happening. Jimmy wasn’t a very loud player, I guess I got that from him, too. He was my first real influence in the blues. It gave me an advantage over other white players ’cause I used to think Johnny Otis’ R&B show WAS rock ‘n’ roll. Then, when I worked in white bands I tried to play like Jimmy Nolen, bending strings and all that. Everybody would say, ‘Wow! How’d you learn to do that?'”
–Roy Buchanan to Ashley Kaun, Guitar Player, August 1985
Roy Buchanan – After Hours
Roy cut “After Hours” for his second album — cleverly titled Second Album — and we’ll get to that in a moment. But, his initial recording of Erskine Hawkins‘ 1940 jam is instructive. For one thing, as talented as Nolen was, I think Buchanan may have already surpassed him in guitar ability by his early 20s (his age when this was cut). And while the 1973 recording is probably “better,” this earlier version of “After Hours” showcases Roy’s embryonic genius. Says Phil Carson in his 2001 biography of Buchanan:
“Techniques that became Roy’s trademarks are in glorious evidence on ‘After Hours’ (1960-61): the dexterous manipulation of the Telecaster’s volume control that swelled a note until it cried out like a human voice, the oblique doublestop bends that mimicked the sound of a pedal steel guitar, the flawless, hypnotic staccato runs … all are in place.”
–Phil Carson, Roy Buchanan: American Axe, 2001, p. 60
OK, so let’s move ahead 12-13 years to the re-recording of “After Hours.”
Roy Buchanan – After Hours
Obviously, this version from Second Album has a fuller sound and not only is Roy a better player, but he’s backed by a better band. But, it’s basically the same song, just stretched out and remolded for 1973 ears (i.e. longass blues jams were the order of the day). However, if we focus only on the guitar, keep a very important fact in mind. Roy didn’t play with effects until integrating some delay pedals into his act around 1976, and even then they were only used sparingly. Every wah-wah sound, every twangy bend, every squeal here is manipulated by two pieces of equipment: his right and left hand.
Think about this. In a post-Hendrix/post-Jeff Beck world, Roy Buchanan achieved remarkable sounds — pinch harmonics, fluid string bending, sick tones, and pedal steel runs not dissimilar from Clarence White — with NO EFFECTS PEDALS! Everything you hear is volume knob, tone knob, and his fingers, and that was as true in 1973 as it was back in ’61. If any guitarist could be said to have a safecracker’s touch, it was Roy Buchanan.