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Watch Roy Buchanan perform When a Guitar Plays the Blues

(Image credit: Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

Although I 'discovered' Roy Buchanan when I was a blues-loving kid in the mid-80s, his first brush with something resembling fame came in 1971, when a documentary, The Best Unknown Guitarist in the World, aired on public TV.

The documentary was, of course, about Buchanan, a Washington, D.C.-based blues-rock virtuoso whose gritty sound and distinctive technique inspired scores of guitarists, including Jeff Beck.

Sadly, Buchanan is still fairly unknown to the general public (including scores of guitarists).

Buchanan had a distinctive tone, as can be heard in the live video below. He played his vintage Fender Telecaster through a Fender Vibrolux amp with the tone all the way up (and then some, it seems), using the guitar's volume knob mid-solo to create mesmerizing, keyboard-style effects. Buchanan could play harmonics at will and mute individual strings with his free right-hand fingers while picking or pinching others. He was best known for his gut-wrenching bends and incredibly 'pointy' sound. He committed suicide in 1988 at age 48 while in jail for public drunkenness.

Below, check out Buchanan's undated performance of When a Guitar Plays the Blues, the title track from his 1985 album on Alligator Records (This is a good one to own, by the way). There's a solo intro section at the beginning of the video, and the actual solo begins at around 5:25. Note that there's another extended solo section around 8:18. Enjoy!

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Damian Fanelli
Damian Fanelli

Damian is Editor-in-Chief of Guitar World magazine. In past lives, he was GW’s managing editor and online managing editor, and his non-Pulitzer-Prize-winning stories have appeared in Guitar Aficionado, Vintage Guitar, Total Guitar and countless other publications, including 13.7 metric tons of daily newspapers. He's written liner notes for major-label releases, including Stevie Ray Vaughan's 'The Complete Epic Recordings Collection' (Sony Legacy) and has interviewed everyone from Yngwie Malmsteen to Kevin Bacon (with a few memorable Eric Clapton and Ty Tabor chats thrown into the mix). Damian, a former member of Brooklyn's The Gas House Gorillas, was the sole guitarist in Mister Neutron, a trio that toured the U.S. and released three albums (one of which appears in the 2015 Disney film 'Tomorrowland' starring George Clooney and Britt Robertson). He's in two NYC-area bands and plays Teles with four-way switches, B-benders and semi-snazzy aftermarket pickups. He quotes Terry-Thomas twice daily.