Talmage Holt Farlow (June 7, 1921 – July 25, 1998) was an American jazz guitarist. He was nicknamed “Octopus” because of how his large, quick hands spread over the fretboard. As Steve Rochinski notes, “Of all the guitarists to emerge in the first generation after Charlie Christian, Tal Farlow, more than any other, has been able to move beyond the rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic vocabulary associated with the early electric guitar master. Tal’s incredible speed, long, weaving lines, rhythmic excitement, highly developed harmonic sense, and enormous reach (both physical and musical) have enabled him to create a style that clearly stands apart from the rest.” Where guitarists of his day combined rhythmic chords with linear melodies, Farlow placed single notes together in clusters, varying between harmonically enriched tones. As music critic Stuart Nicholson put it, “In terms of guitar prowess it was the equivalent of Roger Bannister breaking the four minute mile.”
Talmage Holt Farlow was born in Greensboro, in 1921. He taught himself how to play guitar, which he started when he was twenty-two years old. He learned chord melodies by playing a mandolin tuned like a ukulele. He said playing the ukulele was the reason he used the higher four strings on the guitar for the melody and chord structure, with the two bottom strings for bass counterpoint, which he played with his thumb. His only professional training was as an apprentice sign painter. He requested the night shift so he could listen to big band standards on the shop radio. He listened to Bix Beiderbecke, Louis Armstrong, and Eddie Lang. His career was influenced by hearing Charlie Christian playing electric guitar with the Benny Goodman band. He said he made his own electric guitar because he couldn’t afford one.
Farlow employed artificial harmonics and tapped his guitar for percussion, creating a flat, snare drum sound or a hollow backbeat like the bongos.His large, quick hands earned him the nickname “The Octopus”.