Roy Buchanan was a blues player in the classic mold - he developed his unique style whilst treading the boards and was only ‘discovered’ after a long apprenticeship. He maintained his respect for his music, refusing to compromise for record labels and choosing to avoid recording studios rather than be told how his music should be performed.
Roy Buchanan developed his love for music through gospel; from an early age he would attend revival meetings with his family and stay up late listening to R ‘n’ B radio shows. At the age of nine his parents bought him his first guitar and tuition lessons, while the lessons would help his playing he never learned to read music, preferring to play by ear. By the time he was thirteen Roy wanted to progress his playing and made a key step in his career by moving on from his lap steel to a Fender Telecaster.
The following year the Fender took over his life as he dropped out of school to develop his playing; a life of music lay ahead. Staying in Los Angeles he was soon fronting his own band, ‘The Heartbeats’, who appeared in the film ‘Rock, Pretty Baby’. Following this Roy moved to Tulsa, met Dale Hawkins and joined his band, touring for three years it was at this point that Roy first appeared on vinyl – playing the guitar solo on Dale Hawkins’ ‘My Babe’.
The constant touring and playing allowed Roy to develop his own unique style, pioneering the use of feedback, volume and tone control alongside his use of the ‘wah wah’ pedal - he had become a player who could truly make the guitar sing.
After getting married in 1961 Roy disappeared from the music scene to get a ‘proper job’, returning in 1970 to front ‘Buch and The Snake Stretchers’. With his fan base growing the group supported Danny Denver at a gig and were ‘discovered’ – as a result of years of playing Roy became an overnight success.
A documentary was made, ‘The Best Unknown Guitarist in the World’, with Roy playing alongside his musical influences (this included Johnny Otis and Mundell Lowe). Broadcast in November 1971 the documentary was a hit and led to Roy getting a recording contract and starting a decade of touring around the world. While Roy’s success continued with his recording career, two albums went Gold out of the eight he recorded for Polydor and Atlantic, he wasn’t happy in the studio. With the labels stifling his natural artistry and trying to turn him into something he wasn’t Roy eventually quit recording in 1981.
In 1985, thanks to Alligator records, he was back in the studio with full artistic freedom and responded with his classic album ‘When A Guitar Plays The Blues’. Hitting the charts and the critics successfully proved that Roy was right to hold out for a free hand in the studio. Enjoying his relationship with Alligator Roy recorded another two successful albums before he tragically died in questionable circumstances in a jail cell in 1988.
- In February 1988 Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour played alongside Roy in a makeshift band, ‘The Fisherman’, at the Corner Hotel in Richmond, Melbourne.
- Roy taught the bass player of The Hawks to play guitar. The Hawks evolved into The Band and the bass player became better known as guitarist Robbie Robertson.
- After being ‘discovered’ he was allegedly invited to join the Rolling Stones as a replacement for Brian Jones.