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Buchanan, Roy (23 September 1939-14 August 1988)

Guitarist who began playing steel at the age of seven and switched to electric at thirteen. Two years later, Roy emigrated to L.A. where he received informal tutelage in life and music from Johnny Otis.  It was around this time that he formed The Heartbeats and eventually caught the ear of Dale Hawkins, who employed him to do the guitar solo on Chess Records’ “My Babe”.

The turn of the decade saw Roy turning north to join Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks, which eventually became The Band. In fact, Roy instructed then-bassist Robbie Robertson on the electric guitar. After Roy left the band to pursue session work, Robertson took over guitar duties.

The sixties were a time of lucrative session work and mind-numbing sit-ins with anonymous bands. Roy eventually moved to Washington, D.C., where he formed The Snakestretchers, with whom he recorded one album in 1971.

A PBS documentary entitled The Best Unknown Guitarist in the World ensured that he would no longer be so. Polydor signed him to a multi-record deal which included his eponymous 1972 debut album. He satisfied his contract but was dissatisfied with the results, and stopped recording between 1981 and 1985, when he re-emerged with Alligator Records’ When A Guitar Plays The Blues, giving Roy a taste of chart success and some autonomy in the studio.  Delbert McClinton pitched in on 1986’s Dancing on the Edge. Roy’s triumvirate of Alligator releases culminated with Hot Wires in 1987.

A year later, he was arrested for drunk driving and was found hours later, hanged in his cell. Roy’s legacy as a guitarist lives on in the music of Jeff Beck, who penned “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” in dedication to “Buch”, as the Snakestretchers dubbed him, and ZZ Top.

His career is dotted with apocrypha, including purported invitations to join Derek & The Dominoes and The Rolling Stones. He was repeatedly asked to play Carnegie Hall, an anomaly for an electric guitarist, and his music endures in film (The Departed, Further On Down The Road), Sweet Dreams: The Anthology, and The Prophet: The Unreleased First Polydor Album.

Here he is doing a version of “Walk Don’t Run”…