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Roy Buchanan

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Biography

Roy Buchanan’s (September 23, 1939 - August 14, 1988) musical career began in Pixley, California. His father was a sharecropper (not a Pentecostal preacher as Buchanan himself had claimed). Buchanan told how his first musical memories were of racially-mixed revival meetings his family would attend. “Gospel,” he recalled, “that’s how I first got into black music”. He in fact drew upon many disparate influences while learning to play his instrument (although he later claimed his aptitude was derived from being “half-wolf”). He initially showed talent on the steel guitar before switching to the standard instrument in the early 50’s.

In 1957, Buchanan made his recording debut, playing the solo on Dale Hawkins’ “My Babe” for Chicago’s Chess Records. Three years later, Buchanan headed north to Canada, where he took charge of the guitar role in Ronnie Hawkins’ band (a group later to gain fame as The Band). The group’s guitar player, Robbie Robertson, studied guitar under Buchanan, and took over the lead guitar spot when Buchanan left the group.

The early 60’s 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.

Buchanan’s 1962 recording with drummer Bobby Gregg, “Potato Peeler”, first introduced the trademark Buchanan pinch harmonics. An effort to cash in on the British Invasion caught Buchanan with The British Walkers. In the mid-‘60’s, Buchanan settled down in the Washington, DC area, playing as a sideman before starting his own groups. One of these groups was called The Snakestretchers, an allusion to Buchanan’s disdain for the vagaries of the band experience.

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