In a recent piece titled The Mystery Of Dardanelle, I mentioned that the featured artist had teamed up with jazz guitarist Tal Farlow in the early years of her career. Farlow’s story is a good one too. Admired by his contemporaries as well as legions of loyal fans, he even lent his name to a model of Gibson guitar. But the artist known as ‘the octopus’ (for the way his long fingers roamed over his guitar) was also notoriously reclusive, and that might have kept him from reaching the level of stardom his talent deserved.
North Carolina native Talmage Holt Farlow was a late bloomer musically, first picking up a guitar as a young adult in the early 1940s, but his prodigious abilities soon bloomed and he was playing professionally within a year. By the post-war years he’d become known as one of the best jazz guitarists around, playing alongside top pros like Red Norvo and Artie Shaw, and eventually leading his own group.
But by the mid-1950s Farlow had started to retreat from the glare of the spotlight, and within a few years had reached a point where he just sporadically played in small local spots while mostly earning his living as a sign painter. His absence from big-time jazz continued for well over a decade, a period during which he only surfaced for occasional club dates or studio work, but by the mid-1970s he began working his way back.
Over the next decade Farlow would do some of his best work, teaming up with many of the best and making dozens of good records for Concord, the prestigious jazz label. But by the late 1980s he again began to pull back. Now in his sixties, he was pretty much retired for good. He died in 1998 at age 77.