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Tommy Bankhead

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Biography

Before he was old enough to legally take a drink, Tommy Bankhead was playing the blues with a long list of legendary musicians that included Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson, Joe Willie Wilkins, Robert Nighthawk, and Joe Hill Louis. He started in his teens and for half a century remained a high-caliber bluesman. A Mississippi native, he settled in St. Louis at the end of the '40s. Bankhead made a name for himself with his guitar, but he also possessed refined skill on the bass, drums, and harmonica. His few recordings include Please Mr. Foreman with the Blues Eldoradoes in 1983, and Message to St. Louis with the Cryin' Shames, which was released in 2000 by Fedora Records. In addition, Bankhead and his guitar were featured on the classic Howlin' Wolf song "Moanin' at Midnight." Just 1,000 copies were made of the album Bankhead recorded with the Blues Eldoradoes, and many of them were bought by fans at live shows throughout the Midwest. Vintage Vinyl later made the recording available in CD format as a limited-edition. Despite Bankhead's few recordings, he played with the best in the city, including Little Milton, Oliver Sain, Ike Turner, Henry Townsend, and Albert King. When he wasn't playing or performing, Bankhead held jobs at times as a deputy sheriff and a security guard. During the '50s, Bankhead formed his own group, the Landrockers. They played in St. Louis roadhouses and bars and sometimes headed into Illinois. When the city was still segregated, he played at such clubs as the Morocco Lounge and the Hotel Harlem. During the '90s, his health started to decline and he passed away in 2000 from respiratory failure. ~ Linda Seida
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