"If you want to be a good blues singer, people are going to be down on you, so dress like you’re going to the bank to borrow money."
- Bukka White’s advice to his young cousin, BB King
Bukka White (1906-1977) His actual name was Booker, but the blues world knew him as “Bukka”. It is simply amazing how many great blues musicians came out of the Mississippi delta, including Bukka’s musical inspiration, Charlie Patton. Bukka originally performed and recorded during the 1930’s and had modest success, but like so many other early bluesmen he was “rediscovered” during the 1960’s folk boom partially due to Bob Dylan recording Bukka’s song ‘Fixin’ To Die Blues’. Ironically, Bukka said that he never thought all that much of that particular song.
The life of a bluesman was a tough one and there certainly was not a lot of money to be made busking on street corners and playing in juke joints, so most of them played fairly inexpensive wooden guitars. Bukka on the other hand played the ultimate blues guitar – a steel bodied 1933 National Duolian with a built in resonator. These guitars were loud and perfectly suited for playing slide. Most musicians, especially the early bluesmen went through many guitars during their careers, but Bukka managed to hang onto this one guitar for most of his life.
While Bukka performed acoustically his entire life, his first cousin B.B. King, the most famous bluesman of all went on to become an electric guitar blues star.
- Aberdeen Mississippi (Film footage of Bukka playing this one can be found on YouTube)
- Bukka’s Jitterbug Swing, 1940
My 1931 National Duolian – During the late 1920’s John Dopera invented a new type of guitar that was intended to be loud enough to compete with the loud horns in orchestras. His first version had three small speaker shaped “cones” inside a shiny plated metal guitar to help acoustically amplify the guitar’s volume. This model never caught on with big band musicians, but was extremely well suited for Hawaiian music. His next invention was a guitar with a less expensive painted finish and single large cone. This model was loud and bright and bluesmen soon discovered it was perfectly suited for bottleneck slide playing.