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Bukka White – Blues Highlights

Bukka White – Blues Highlights

Bukka White. In addition to being first cousins with B.B. King, this legendary Delta blues singer and guitarist, starts his career at age thirteen. Moving to Chicago at such an early age, he ends up performing on the streets with other musicians.

By his late 20s, he returns back to the Delta, where the music of Charley Patton inspires him to play the Blues. Later, he starts recording with Victor Records in 1930 which is mostly gospel and blues. 

Since his one and only release doesn’t do well, Victor Records doesn’t bother to release any more of the dozen songs he cut at his 1930 session. 

The Ups & Downs of a Musician

Since he’s not getting anywhere at Victor, he becomes a traveling musician as well as a baseball pitcher and boxer. Likewise, he ends up back in Chicago and records ‘Pinebluff Arkansas’ and ‘Shake ‘Em On Down’ for Vocalion. Again, not the success he wants.

Another situation he isn’t expecting is the police knocking on his door because apparently, he shot a man. Next, he’s sent to Parchman Farm Prison. During this time in 1939, he’s a part of a project that John Lomax with whom he records two songs with. Towards the end of the year, he’s out of prison and ready to record some more music.

As a result, he partners up with Washboard Slim and records several tracks in which includes some are hidden gems. Needless to say, these tracks still don’t give him the notoriety he wants.

Bukka Receives Recognition For His Music

He served in the US Navy from 1942 to 1944, after which he settles in Memphis, Tennessee, and works a regular job. Bob Dylan covers his song “Fixin’ to Die Blues”, which creates a “rediscovery” of White in 1963 by guitarist John Fahey and Ed Denson. This certainly propels his career during the folk music revival of the 1960s. They are songs that White records simply because his other songs don’t impress the Victor record producer. Who knew these songs were going to become so important years later!

John Fahey and Ed Denson reach out to White and helps him kick-start his career once again and even helps him record a new album while managing his career. Later in his life, White is friends with musician Furry Lewis. The two were record together with the help of Bob West for an album, Furry Lewis, Bukka White & Friends: Party! At Home, releases on the Arcola label. Sadly, Bukka passes of cancer in February 1977 in Memphis, Tennessee.

The Legacy of Bukka White

Led Zeppelin’s ‘Hats Off to (Roy) Harper’, on their album Led Zeppelin III is loosely based in large part on ‘Shake ‘Em on Down.’ While ‘Custard Pie’, on Physical Graffiti, also references ‘Shake ‘Em on Down.’ There’s also a great cover of ‘Parchman Farm Blues’ that Jeff Buckley records. As well as a cover of ‘Shake ‘Em on Down.’ by the North Mississippi all Stars. 

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