He was often hailed as the best unknown guitarist in the world; a title used in a PBS documentary about him earlier in his career, before signing to Polydor . Buchanan played blues and blues-rock, and could add elements of jazz, country, and rockabilly, and would record a number of albums in the ’70s. He was known also for turning down the Rolling Stones offer to join them after Brian Jones passed. He also allegedly declined an offer to tour with John Lennon. Sadly, Buchanan passed away in 1988, after taking his own life in a jail cell. His albums though are well worth checking out.
His 1978 album You’re Not Alone is where I started, having just picked this up about 2 years ago. Not sure why, perhaps a friend’s recommendation coupled with lengthy versions of a few songs I knew[?] Regardless, I loved this album upon first hearing it. Buchanan played heavy; this is no laid back blues record. The album only features 7 tracks, and the guitarist is accompanied by a great set of players – Willie Weeks on bass [who’s early credits include Gypsy, Rod Stewart, Stevie Wonder, George Harrison…], drummer Andy Newmark [Carly Simon, Sly & The Family Stone], keyboard player [uncredited] Jean Roussel [played on many Cat Stevens albums], and guitarist Ray Gomez [Stanley Clarke, Patrick Moraz…] . There are 2 notable cover here – Joe Walsh’s “Turn To Stone” and Neil Young’s “Down By The River”.
You’re Not Alone opens with a quiet 2 minute piano & synth piece, credited to Jean Roussel. It seems a bit futuristic, with a slow pace, and slight build up til the end. “Turn To Stone” is the next track, and as much as I love Joe Walsh’s original, this really floored me upon getting this. Kinda odd hearing it without the vocals, but Buchanan’s sound during the verses is superb, and he kills the the riff; there’s also some organ soloing in there, funky bass lines, and piano. “Fly…Night Bird” opens with some sea sounds, quiet synths, and Buchanan coming in softly, a great atmospheric piece, that is very reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon. The song picks up just after 3 minutes with rhythm section kicking in; it’s still a slow paced bluesy number, but Buchanan playing and piling on notes that, I wonder, if he was trying to make it sound a bit like birds[?] Side one ends with the rocking “1841 Shuffle”; a straight forward heavy blues rock tune. Buchanan had played “Down By The River” as far back as 1971 [it’s in his PBS TV special], so here he lays down an epic 8 and a half minute take of the Neil Young classic. It’s the only track here to feature vocals, and the singer is Gary St Clair [look him up!], a nice quiet vocal here that suits this perfectly, and accompanied by a small choir on the chorus line as the song plays out .
“Spurnova” [the shortest guitar track here], is a heavy and fast paced number that has a bit of ’50s influence, but it really is a hard rocker; love the rhythm section on this tune, as well as the piano. Last up is the 8 minute title track. It’s another futuristic synth intro [pretty cool for 1978], with the band coming in slow-paced after a minute. This one rides on the synths and bass for a while, with organ in the mix; [again] a bit of a Pink Floyd feel here, until Buchanan comes in after 2 minutes, and belts it out. I gotta wonder if David Gilmour ever heard this guy much!? There’s another keyboard segue 2-thirds through, then the guitar comes in heavier and faster. The bass and drums suit this so well; nothing too over the top, just a steady groove.
This was Roy Buchanan’s last album of the ’70s, released in April of ’78, and like most of his albums in that decade, didn’t break the Billboard Top 100. After 1980’s My Babe [released on smaller labels in North America], Buchanan would take 5 years before his signing with Alligator Records for another 3 albums, before his passing. If you’re not familiar with Roy Buchanan, I’d recommend You’re Not Alone, great blues-rock.