Booker T. Washington White (Bukka is a phonetic spelling of his first name used by the Vocalion record label) was born on November 12, 1906, in Houston, Mississippi.
Deeply influenced by the music that he was exposed to growing up, melodically simple, but rhythmically complex, White played picnic, juke joints, and parties while also working as a field hand.
He cut his first records in Memphis, in 1930.
Fourteen titles were recorded but only four were released, credited to Washington White. Two were spirituals, backed by Memphis Minnie, where White did his best to sound like Blind Willie Johnson.
The other two released a year later, became two of his best-known numbers, both “train songs”.
The remaining ten numbers have never been found and it is believed that the metal masters were destroyed.
Unable to support himself playing music, he played baseball in the Negro leagues and tried his hand at prizefighting.
In 1937 he was convicted of shooting a man; he skipped bail and made his way to Chicago where he recorded two songs, including one closely associated with him, ‘Shake ‘Em on Down’
He was eventually caught and served two years in Mississippi’s notorious Parchman Farm. While imprisoned, he recorded two songs for folklorist Alan Lomax.
Upon release, he returned to Chicago and recorded twelve titles over two days, recordings that to this day are considered his best.
They met with little commercial success at the time and he left music and worked as a laborer.
In 1962, Bob Dylan recorded White’s ‘Fixin’ to Die’ for his Columbia debut and after being tracked down in Memphis by Ed Denson and John Fahey, White recorded an LPs worth of material for their Takoma label and became a fixture on the “blues revival” circuit, finding an entirely new audience for his music.
The A-side of the second 78 released from his two-day session after his release from prison.
Washboard Sam (Robert Ward) provides the rhythmic accompaniment
Bukka White – Special Stream Line