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Roy Buchanan (September 23, 1939 - August 14, 1988) was an American guitarist and blues musician. He was noted for his use of note bending, volume swells, staccato runs, and pinch harmonics. Buchanan was a pioneer of the Telecaster sound.
In 1958, Buchanan made his recording debut with Dale Hawkins,
including playing the solo on "My Babe" for Chicago's Chess Records. Two
years later, during a tour through Toronto, Buchanan left Dale Hawkins
to play for his cousin Ronnie Hawkins and tutor Ronnie's guitar player,
Robbie Robertson. Buchanan soon returned to the U.S. and Ronnie Hawkins'
group later gained fame as The Band.The early 60s found Buchanan
performing numerous gigs as a sideman with multiple rock bands, and
cutting a number of sessions as guitarist with musicians such as Freddy
Cannon and Merle Kilgore. In the early 70's , Roy did extended gigs in
the DC area, and also did a New Years gig with Marshall Tucker Band at
the Armadillo in Austin (NY eve of 1974 ).
In 1971, riding on word-of-mouth reputation that included praise from John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Merle Haggard, and an alleged invitation to join the Rolling Stones, Buchanan gained national notoriety as the result of an hour-long PBS television documentary. Entitled "The Best Unknown Guitarist In The World", the show rejuvenated a contract with Polydor and began a decade of national and international touring. He recorded five albums for Polydor (one went gold) and three for Atlantic Records (one gold), while playing most major rock concert halls and festivals. Finally, Buchanan quit recording in 1981, vowing never to enter a studio again unless he could record his own music his own way.
Four years later, Buchanan was coaxed back into the studio by Alligator Records. His first album for Alligator, When a Guitar Plays The Blues, was released in the spring of 1985. It was the first time he was given total artistic freedom in the studio. It was also his first true blues album. Fans quickly responded, and the album entered Billboard's pop charts and remained on the charts for 13 weeks. Music critics, as well as fans, applauded Roy's efforts with favorable reviews.
His second Alligator LP, Dancing on the Edge, was released in the fall of 1986. The album, featuring three songs with special guest, rock'n'soul vocalist Delbert McClinton, won the College Media Journal Award for Best Blues Album of 1986.
He released the twelfth LP of his career and his third for Alligator,
Hot Wires, in 1987. In addition to Donald Kinsey (formerly with
King and Bob Marley and The Wailers), keyboardist Stan Szelest, and
Larry Exum (bass) and Morris Jennings (drums), this album includes guest
vocals by veteran soul singer Johnny Sayles and blues singer Kanika
Buchanan taught himself many guitar styles, including the 'chicken pickin' style. He sometimes used his thumb nail rather than a plectrum and also employed it to augment his index finger and plectrum. Holding his thumb at a certain angle, Buchanan was able to hit the string and then partially mute it, suppressing lower overtones and exposing the harmonics, a technique now known as pinch harmonics. Buchanan had the ability to execute pinch harmonics on command, and could mute individual strings with free right-hand fingers while picking or pinching others.
Having first trained as a lap steel guitarist, Buchanan would often
imitate its effect and bend strings to the required pitch, rather than
starting on the desired note. This was particularly notable in his
approach to using double and triple stops. Staccato hammer-on/offs and
volume/tone knob sound effects were also used by Buchanan.
Buchanan encouraged a tradition of 'roots' performances that grew out
of country, blues, and especially rock and roll. He often stuck around
long after shows to talk with loyal fans. Many live CDs were released
after his death.
His cause of death was officially recorded as suicide, a finding disputed by Buchanan's friends and family. One of his friends, Marc Fisher, reported seeing Roy's body with bruises on the head .
Roy's musical career took him from underground club gigs in the sixties and seventies to national television, gold record sales, and worldwide tours in the eighties with the likes of Lonnie Mack, the Allman Brothers, Willie Nile.
Even posthumously, he has the respect of many guitarists and a large number of fans, particularly for his unique sound. Buchanan was noted for the ability to get 'wah wah' and 'violin swell' effects from his Telecaster by use of the instrument's knobs and a plectrum. Finally, he was a pioneer in the use of pinch harmonics, and some of rock's most notable guitarists acknowledge Buchanan's mastery of the technique.
British guitar legend Jeff Beck dedicated his performance of a Stevie Wonder composition "Cause We've Ended As Lovers" to Buchanan on his 1975 landmark album Blow by Blow.
The 2006 Academy Award-winning Best Picture The Departed by Martin Scorsese ends with Buchanan's soulful instrumental treatment of the Don Gibson country music classic, "Sweet Dreams," as the credits begin to roll.
In 2007, French blues guitarist Fred Chapellier released a CD entitled Tribute to Roy Buchanan featuring a guest appearance by former Buchanan lead vocalist Billy Price.