Roy Buchanan: “A Street Called Straight” & “Live: Amazing Grace”


Roy Buchanan: A Street Called Straight & Live: Amazing Grace
Roy Buchanan: A Street Called Straight
Roy Buchanan: A Street Called Straight
Roy Buchanan (September 23, 1939 – August 14, 1988) was an American guitarist and blues musician. A pioneer of the Telecaster sound, Buchanan worked as both a sideman and solo artist, with two gold albums early in his career, and two later solo albums that made it on to the Billboard chart. Despite never having achieved stardom, he is still considered a highly influential guitar player. Guitar Player praised him as having one of the “50 Greatest Tones of all Time.” He appeared on the PBS music program Austin City Limits in 1977 during Season 2.
Roy Buchanan was one of America’s true geniuses of the electric guitar. Even posthumously, he commands the ardent respect of his fellow guitarists and a devoted army of fans. The Buchanan sound is unique: heartbreaking, searing solos, trademark shimmering tone, gorgeous melodies and a mixture of lightning quickness and technical creativity that mark him as a wizard of the instrument. He was a pioneer in the use of controlled harmonics, and although this technique has been used by the likes of Jeff Beck, Robbie Robertson and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, all acknowledge Buchanan as the master.
Roy Buchanan: A Street Called Straight
A Street Called Straight is a 1976 album by Roy Buchanan and was released on the Atlantic Records label. The album contains the powerful instrumental, “My Friend, Jeff”, in honour of British guitarist Jeff Beck. Later the same year Beck released his own album Blow by Blow, featuring “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers”, which in turn was dedicated to Roy Buchanan.
All tracks by Roy Buchanan except were noted
2. “Running Out” (Buchanan, John Harrison) – 2:51
3. “” (Buchanan, Joe Mardin) – 3:17
4. “Man On The Floor” – 3:26
5. “Good God Have Mercy” (Billy Roberts) – 4:09
6. “Okay” – 2:37
7. “Caruso” – 3:24
8. “My Friend Jeff” – 4:03
9. “If Six Was Nine” (Jimi Hendrix) – 4:04
10. “Guitar Cadenza” – 3:47
11. “The Messiah Will Come Again” – 4:11
12. “I Still Think About Ida Mae” – 3:44
A Street Called Straight (Atlantic ’76) 
The album title here alludes to Roy’s troubled history with drugs and booze, which would only get worse in later years and which played a major role in his underachievement on record (to be clear, Roy made many good and even very good studio albums, but few that truly did justice to his talent). As previously mentioned, the other problems Roy continually had were two-fold.
One, Roy never practiced or rehearsed and was frankly admittedly lazy, and he exasperated the people he worked with by being totally unprepared for the recording sessions; it was all the producers could do to get a full album’s worth of material out of him.
Of course, most of the producers Roy worked with in the mid-’70s didn’t quite “get” him, either, including Arif Mardin, who produced this album as apparently Tom Dowd was busy elsewhere.
Like Ed Freeman before him, Mardin had good intentions but, perhaps pressured by his bosses, he wanted a hit out of his charge, and Roy was all too willing to let the producer call the shots; surely he should’ve taken a stand against “Keep What You Got,” an actual disco number that sticks out here like a sore thumb, even though Roy really wails on it.
Still, for all its faults the bulk of this album is surprisingly good, as was often the case with Roy, but it also could’ve been better, which was also often the case with Roy. The playing is always incredible, but the vocals (Price was gone now) and arrangements are another story.
The fact that Roy decided to remake “The Messiah Will Come Again” showed that new material again wasn’t easy to come by (though to his credit I’ll note that Roy did write or co-write 9 out of the 11 songs here), and though this shorter version is predictably impressive, it isn’t exactly necessary, either (I prefer the rawer original).
Among the other highlights (yes, “Messiah” will always be a highlight, even an unnecessary version of it) are “Running Out,” which gets the album off to a fine start as Roy coaxes otherworldly sounds out of his axe as his band grooves along.
“Good God Have Mercy” and “Caruso,” the former written by “Hey Joe” writer Billy Roberts especially for new friend Buchanan, are keepers as well, both containing a smoky, laid-back J.J. Cale-ish vibe.
“My Friend Jeff,” a funky, fusion-type of instrumental effort, is a payback tribute to Jeff Beck, whose astounding “‘Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” had been dedicated to Buchanan on his groundbreaking Blow By Blow album (p.s. I like this song but let’s face it, clavinets sounded fresh in 1976, but today not so much!).
Also notable is a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “If Six Was Nine,” another fusion-y effort that features tasteful and tasty playing; ironically, “Guitar Cadenza,” a strange, moody instrumental, conjures the ghost of Hendrix far more than the actual Hendrix cover.
“I Still Think About Ida Mae,” a uniquely ethereal album closer, also stands out, but several of this album’s songs, though perfectly pleasant in their own mostly laid-back way, don’t really stay with you, as Mardin too often steers Roy (who sings more often than he should) towards overproduced, middle-of-the-road mediocrity, not unlike Eric Clapton who I suppose was still the career model even at his new label.
So, the label switch didn’t really change things much, as A Street Called Straight was another hit-and-miss affair that, while largely enjoyable and a definite improvement on In The Beginning, too often failed to show Roy or his road band (who at least played on the album this time albeit alongside many other session musicians) at their very best.
Roy Buchanan Live: Amazing Grace
Roy Buchanan Live -  Amazing Grace
Roy Buchanan Live – Amazing Grace
Roy Buchanan Live: Amazing Grace
1. Hot Cha – Lone Star NY 3:29 1983

2. Amazing Grace – Lone Star NY 3:13 1983

3. Delta Woman – Agora Ballroom Cleveland  7:52 1977

4. The Messiah Will Come Again –  Musik Laden TV Germany  6:40 1973

5. Malaguena – Vibrations TV PBS NY 1972 8:24

6. Good God Have Mercy  – Chestnut Cabaret, Pa. 3:21 1983

7. I’m Evil – The Bayou Washington DC 5:53 1979

8. Green Onions – Armadillo World Headquarters Austin, Tx.  7:24 1974

Roy Buchanan Live: Amazing Grace is an assortment of archival live recordings through the years, much of it rare and all delicious.
The first two tracks are live 1983 recordings. The rest are from throughout the 1970’s except “Good God Have Mercy,” which is  from 1983. The quality does vary. For sure the two opening tracks from the Lone Star in New York in 1983 sound the best, and I’d love a complete concert release of this quality. Thank you for that amen brother.
On to the music, “Hot Cha” is a nice melodic string bending treat. How about some sweet gospel, sung by Roy’s guitar with “Amazing Grace”?  Some jaw dropping blues with “Delta Woman.” Roy makes his guitar cry on the original much loved “The Messiah Will Come Again.” Would a live Roy Buchanan release be completely satisfying its inclusion? The song “Malaguena” is western themed and is a definite highlight and show stopper. I haven’t heard the song before, though it is on a few rarity releases, but not the same version as what is on Roy Buchanan Live: Amazing Grace.
Three more songs included. Among them, “I’m Evil” is some scorching blues, sort of in the mood, and beat Muddy Waters'”Hoochie Coohie Man,” but in a Roy Buchanan way. The organist Dick Heintze shines along with Roy on the Booker T. & the MG’s classic “Green Onions.”
Roy Buchanan Live: Amazing Grace is a delight, but not perfect. A drawback of the release is that it is somewhat short at around 45 minutes for an archival release. Still, there are three amazing songs that I didn’t have in any version as well as five other great displays of guitar fireworks on some of Roy’s classics.  Roy Buchanan Live: Amazing Grace is a very nice supplement to a Roy Buchanan collection.
by Barry Small©
Amazing Grace
Roy Buchanan’s Life
Roy Buchanan 1970 by  Michael Ochs
Roy Buchanan 1970 by Michael Ochs
Raised in the small town of Pixley, California, Roy’s musical fire was sparked at an early age. His father was a sharecropper and Pentecostal preacher and Roy’s first musical memories were of the racially-mixed revival meetings his family would attend. Surrounded by gospel, R&B and country influences, it wasn’t long before Roy expressed interest in playing an instrument. His parents sent him to the local lap steel guitar teacher, Mrs. Pressure, who had Roy picking out the Hit Parade favorites by the time he was seven years old. Six years later, Roy moved on to a Fender Telecaster. “I liked the tone,” he said, “it sounded a lot like steel guitar.” Soon thereafter, drawn to the blossoming R&B scene in Los Angeles, Roy ran away from home and headed for the big city. At only 15 years of age, he was taken under the wing of famed bandleader/producer/writer/arranger/impresario Johnny Otis. The young Roy studied the blues mastery of guitarists such as Jimmy Nolen (later with James Brown), Pete Lewis and Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson.
The late fifties and early sixties found Roy playing for and cutting a number of sessions with musicians as diverse as pop idol Freddie Cannon, rockabilly legend Dale Hawkins, and even Ronnie Hawkins (whose band, the Hawks, would later gain fame as the Band). During his stint with Ronnie Hawkins, Roy played guitar mentor to the group’s then bass player, Robbie Robertson. Then, in 1962, Roy’s trademark harmonics were introduced on Potato Peeler, his groundbreaking single with drummer Bobby Gregg. In the mid-sixties, exhausted by life on the road, Roy settled down in the Washington, D.C. area, started his own group, The Snakestretchers, and began a residency at the Crossroads Club in Blades Burg, Maryland.
Roy Buchanan
Roy Buchanan
In 1971, already riding on word-of-mouth reputation that included accolades from Eric Clapton, Merle Haggard, the Rolling Stones and John Lennon (who made a personal pilgrimage to see Roy at the Crossroads Club), Roy “broke” nationally as the result of an hour-long National Public Television documentary. Entitled The Best Unknown Guitarist In The World, the show won Roy a contract with Polydor and began a decade of national and international touring. He cut five albums for Polydor (one went gold) and three for Atlantic (one gold), while playing virtually every major rock concert hall and festival. The major labels gave him fame and fortune, but no artistic freedom. Finally, disgusted with the over-production forced on his music, Roy quit recording in 1981, vowing never to enter a studio again unless he could record his own music his way.
Four years later, Roy was coaxed back into the studio by Alligator Records. His first album for Alligator, When A Guitar Plays The Blues, was released in the spring of 1985. It was the first time he was given total artistic freedom in the studio; it was also his first true blues album. Fans quickly responded, and the album entered Billboard’s pop charts with a bullet and remained on the charts for 13 weeks. Music critics, as well as fans applauded Roy’s efforts with accolades and plenty of four-star reviews. His second Alligator LP, Dancing On The Edge, was released in the fall of 1986. The album won the College Media Journal (CMJ) Award for Best Blues Album of 1986.
One year later, Buchanan released Hot Wires, his third Alligator LP and the twelfth of his career. It was hailed by the Chicago Tribune as “his best album ever.” By this time, Roy’s illustrious career had taken him from underground club gigs in the sixties, to international recognition and gold record sales in the seventies and worldwide tours in the eighties with the likes of the Allman Brothers. He even performed to a sold-out Carnegie Hall with label-mates Albert Collins and Lonnie Mack. Roy was thoroughly enjoying the creative freedom he received from Alligator. “Since coming to Alligator,” Roy once commented, “I’m finally making the records that I’ve always wanted to make.”
Buchanan’s skill, soul and technical innovations were nothing less than marvels to his contemporaries and admirers. Without his inventiveness, the landscape of modern guitar playing would be completely different. Buchanan died in Virginia in 1988. He was 48 years old.