We know the year Mississippi Delta blues legend Booker T. Washington White died, but we can only guess at when he was born. Sometime around 1909? By the age of 16, Bukka, as he was also known, was a fairly accomplished performer on slide guitar, and he could sing, too, according to family accounts. White cut records in the ’30s and had a little brush with fame. He is said to have taught his younger cousin Riley King a few notes. Riley, later known as B.B. King, went on to stardom; White went on to prison for shooting a guy. He recorded more songs after he got out of the joint but fell off the radar until the blues revival of the ’60s. He was a rising star again for a short time, but in 1977 Booker White fell ill from cancer and died. In his time, he influenced a range of artists including Bob Dylan, Derek Trucks, and Eric Bibb.
Bibb is a singer-songwriter-bluesman born in New York, now living in the blues-friendly Netherlands. When a fan showed up in London with Bukka’s old guitar and offered to let Bibb play it, he was inspired. “It was a revelation. It was a direct link. I read all these books, and I listen avidly to recordings and reissues, but this was something different. This was actually playing the guitar that Booker had played and had been resonating against his chest for all his years.”
Bibb later recorded Booker’s Guitar, released last month. “You can’t get rid of these guys. This music and those people are too strong, and one way or another they’re still with us. I’m sure many of them never in a million years thought that their music, their recordings, or their life stories would be talked about or celebrated so many years after the fact.”
- Saturday, February 6, 2010, 7:30 p.m.
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