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Born between Aberdeen and Houston, Mississippi, White was a first cousin of B.B. King's mother (White's mother and King's grandmother were sisters). White himself is remembered as a player of National steel guitars. He also played, but was less adept at, the piano.
"Bukka" is a phonetic spelling of Booker White's given name, first used by his second (1937) record label (Vocalion). White started his career playing the fiddle at square dances.
He claims to have met Charley Patton early on, although some doubt has been cast upon this; Regardless, Patton was a large influence on White. White typically played slide guitar, in an open tuning. He was one of the few, along with Skip James, to use a crossnote tuning in E minor, which he may have learned, as James did, from Henry Stuckey.
He first recorded for the Victor Records label in 1930 as Washington White. His recordings for Victor, like those of many other bluesmen, fluctuated between country blues and gospel numbers. His gospel songs were done in the style of Blind Willie Johnson, with a female singer accentuating the last phrase of each line.
Nine years later, while serving time for assault, he recorded for folklorist John Lomax. The few songs he recorded around this time became his most well-known: "Shake 'Em on Down," and "Po' Boy."
Bob Dylan covered his song "Fixin' to Die Blues", which aided a "rediscovery" of White in 1963 by guitarist John Fahey and ED Denson, which propelled him onto the folk revival scene of the 1960s. White had recorded the song simply because his other songs had not particularly impressed the Victor record producer. It was a studio composition of which White had thought little until it re-emerged thirty years later.
White was at one time managed by experienced blues manager Arne Brogger. Fahey and Denson found White easily enough: Fahey wrote a letter to "Bukka White (Old Blues Singer), c/o General Delivery, Aberdeen, Mississippi." Fahey had assumed, given White's song, "Aberdeen, Mississippi", that White still lived there, or nearby. The postcard was forwarded to Memphis, Tennessee, where White worked in a tank factory. Fahey and Denson soon traveled to meet White, and White and Fahey remained friends through the remainder of White's life. He recorded a new album for Denson and Fahey's Takoma Records, whilst Denson became his manager.
White was, later in life, also friends with fellow musician Furry Lewis. The two recorded, mostly in Lewis' Memphis apartment, an album together, Furry Lewis, Bukka White & Friends: Party! At Home.
One of his most famous songs, "Parchman Farm Blues", about the Mississippi State Penitentiary (also known as Parchman Farm) in Sunflower County, Mississippi, was released on Harry Smith's fourth volume of the Anthology of American Folk Music, Vol. 4. The song was covered by The Traits/aka Roy Head and the Traits with Johnny Winter in the late 1960s. His 1937 version of the oft-recorded song, "Shake 'Em On Down," is considered definitive, and became a hit while White was serving time in Parchman.
White died in February 1977 from cancer, at the age of 67, in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1990 he was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame (along with Blind Blake and Lonnie Johnson). On November 21, 2011, The Recording Academy announced that "Fixin' to Die Blues" was to be added to its 2012 list of Grammy Hall of Fame Award recipients.
The Led Zeppelin song Hats Off to (Roy) Harper, on the band's 1970 album Led Zeppelin III was based in large part on White's "Shake 'Em on Down." Custard Pie, a song on Led Zeppelin's 1975 album Physical Graffiti, also references "Shake 'Em on Down."
The 1963 recordings of White's song "Shake 'em on Down" and spoken-word piece "Remembrance of Charlie Patton" were both sampled by electronic artist Recoil (mostly a one-man effort by Alan Wilder of Depeche Mode) for the track "Electro Blues For Bukka White" on the 1992 album Bloodline. The song was reworked and re-released on the 2000 EP, "Jezebel".
On January 26, 2010, Eric Bibb released Booker's Guitar (TEL 31756 02) through Telarc International Corporation after becoming inspired by the hidden stories Bibb felt through holding White's famous guitar.
White's song "Parchman Farm Blues" was recorded by Jeff Buckley, which was released posthumously on the bonus disc of Buckley's album, Grace: Legacy Edition.
Read more about Bukka White on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply.
Gear used by Bukka White
Bukka White links
1909-11-12 to 1977-02-26