Walker was born in Linden, Texas on the 28th of May 1910. His father split
soon after and his mother moved to Dallas so T-Bone could avoid working
in the fields and also to avoid her parents strict christian views. His
mother was certainly his first musical influence, and T-Bone recalled that
hearing his mother playing the blues on the porch was the first thing he
After moving to Dallas his mother soon married a musician called Marco Washington. Many of T-Bones immediate family played string instruments so their home was very musical, and he was quick to pick up the guitar and join in on the Sunday get togethers. The legendary blues guitarist Blind Lemon Jefferson was a regular at these jams. T-Bones other early influences included pianist Leroy Carr, guitarist Scrapper Blackwell and Lonnie Johnson.
T-Bone was also quite a showman and in 1925 he joined the Dr. Breedings medicine show and performed with this and many other rural carnival shows as a dancer and banjo player. He also won an amateur talent competition and won a weeks work with Cab Calloway. Calloway was a big influence and T-Bone performed many of Calloways songs, even calling himself the "Cab Calloway of the South".
By 1929 he had become popular in the Eastern part of Texas and he made his
recording debut for Columbia, recording two tracks as Oak Cliff T-Bone,
Oak Cliff being the ghetto in Dallas where he lived. The race record market
collapsed with the onset of the depression and he was not to record again
for nearly ten years. He continued to perform live during this time, but
not a lot is known about this period of his life. With his friend Charlie
Christian he used to perform in the street, dancing and playing acoustic
guitar, passing around a hat to onlookers to make some money.
Around the mid 1930's he moved to the Los Angeles on the West Coast to join the Central Avenue rhythm and blues boom. He started as a song and dance man and met his lifelong wife Vida Lee at Fort Worth in 1934. After working with many different bandleaders. He made some excellent recordings with Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong among others and around 1939 he recorded his first tune on the electric guitar. He often said that he had been playing electric a long time before that making him one of the first to play the electric guitar, though his friend Christian is often credited as the first electric guitarist.
In 1940 he recorded his "T-Bone Blues" for the Varsity label, featuring his vocal, but another guitarist plays the a Hawaiian guitar solo. He was also playing in Les Hites band during this time and played at many top venues. He was experimenting a lot with the electric guitar, a Gibson ES-250 and a matching EM-185 amplifier. T-Bone left Hites band as his reputation as an excellent singer, guitarist and all round showman began to grow. He was now playing the guitar behind his head while doing the splits and even playing the guitar with his teeth, copied years later by artists like Chuck Berry and Jimi Hendrix. He was a real hit with the ladies and was causing quite a sensation all over Los Angeles.