Thursday, March 3, 2011

More Scotty Moore

Scotty Moore will always be thought of first and foremost as Elvis Presley's guitar player. Of course anyone who has done some research on Elvis realizes that without Scotty, the whole thing may not have even happened. Moore was a huge part of Sam Phillips' Sun Recording Studio long before there were any stars or million selling records. Working as a session musician and all around sounding post for local talent, Scotty and stand up bassist, Bill Black agreed to take on the Elvis project and see what became of it.

I met Scotty in his log cabin out on a hill in the woods outside Nashville, where he has lived for a number of years since moving from Memphis. After all the adulation poured on him through the Elvis years, the endless touring in the '50s and the throngs of people wanting to interview him about "...what was Elvis really like?" he had wisely turned a shy face to most such requests. Since I wrote about guitars though, he was kind enough to allow me into a glimpse of his world at the time.

When I asked him about some of the older guitars he still had the first thing he brought out was a 1938 Epiphone Spartan with a floating D'Armond pickup. Scotty told me this was his favorite guitar to sit at home and play and the above picture shows him doing just that, sitting in his comfortable kitchen. When he found this instrument it was in pretty bad need of restoration and the Gibson paint department in Nashville did a wonderful job of making it look like a new, old guitar.

Like many of us, Scotty is an admirer of Jazz and mentioned to me that he had a lot of respect for fellow Gibson guitar endorser, Tal Farlow. The Epiphone, having a smaller body is a good, relaxing guitar to find new licks on. Scotty is not at all settled into just being "Elvis' guitar player from the '50s", he is always searching for new projects, new sounds, all the things that the guitar player finds endlessly when he has a real love for the instrument. Another fine example of Scotty doing just that is the picture I took of him at the mixing board of his home studio below.

In the studio picture Scotty is shown playing his Wine Red Gibson Chet Atkins model, the guitar he preferred at the time. The pickups have been changed from stock Gibson pickups to special humbucking pickups designed and built by Ray Butts, who also invented and produced the EchoSonic amplifier that Scotty made so famous in songs like Mystery Train using the built-in tape echo Ray had patented. The amp shown below was in Ray's shop when I visited one day.

Ray asked if I would like to play through it and like any fan of guitar playing I jumped at the chance. It didn't make me sound like Scotty Moore but then, nobody does. Still it was such an honor to play through the very amp I had seen on all the early television shows and heard on all those fabulous Sun Records. Then Ray asked if I would like to meet Scotty, which of course got me even more excited. Ray finally introduced us at the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society that next summer to my everlasting appreciation. Although I didn't usually get my picture taken with people I interviewed or played music with out of trying to maintain a certain professionalism, I just couldn't resist. My childhood dreams were a match to another of my favorite guitar players that day. To quote the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards, "...I didn't want to be Elvis, I wanted to be Scotty Moore!"

Lto R, Dave Kyle, Scotty Moore, Ray Butts
 I wrote a cover story about the guitars of Elvis Presley for the Vintage Guitar, August, 1997 edition and included a section called Remembering Elvis featuring all of the guitar players I could find who worked with the King of Rock 'n' Roll in a live setting. These included, James Burton, John Wilkinson and Scotty Moore. Unfortunately that issue is nowhere to be found on the net to link to but for an accurate, in depth description of Scotty Moore, please visit the Scotty Moore Official Web Site at

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wail On Waylon

At the time I interviewed Waylon Jennings in 1997 for Vintage Guitar magazine he was suffering the beginning of health problems from diabetes that were more serious than anyone knew. I had been granted the interview on the recommendation of one of Nashville's most recognizable musicians, Fred Newell. Fred was the guitar player on Ralph Emery's Nashville Network television show, Nashville Now. At the time Fred was playing steel guitar with Waylon. I had interviewed Fred and helped him (and his wife) clean out a huge closet full of guitars. Tough duty but someone had to do it. Anyway, he introduced me to Jerry Bridges, Waylon's bass man, guitar man and road manager, who actually lined up the interview. The article can be seen in its entirety at

When the actual interview was over, Waylon asked me, "What is it you do now?" I kind of stammered a bit and told him I played guitar and wrote for a magazine, which I thought was kind of obvious. He laughed and said, "I know that! What is it you do with guitars?" I told him I helped people move high end and celebrity owned instruments and he seemed mildly interested. We parted company and I never really thought about any further contact. Then one day I got a call from him asking if I would come give him an appraisal on a guitar. Of course I was interested so I drove over to his home and had a look at the guitar pictured below.

Turns out it was a 1953 Telecaster, covered in tooled leather, the one used on the television series, Dukes of Hazard. I gave him my opinion and thought I detected a brightening in his eyes behind the sunglasses he was wearing at the , which were suffering from the time to shield his eyes from the toll diabetes was taking on them. To my surprise he asked, "How would you like to move about fifty guitars for me?"

The appraisal he had been given from a reputable source seemed low to him - and extremely low to me. I knew I could do better than the prices he had been given and told him so. He said that maybe we should start with this one and see how it went, then move on to the safe full of instruments he had locked away as well as other band equipment he kept in a storage company.

No sooner had I listed the guitar than I had to leave on a European tour. We flew to Germany, then did one-nighters in Macedonia and Croatia, then back to Germany and the Netherlands for another month's worth of city hopping. I was hard to nail down at the very least so when I did get a call late one night I was on the road and had to retrieve a message to call the US immediately. I was afraid what the news might be but it turned out that my partner, the owner of the small shop I worked out of, had a gentleman who had driven from Michigan to Nashville to pick up the guitar - at the full asking price! I made the arrangements for the man to pick up the guitar and for Waylon to be paid from my late night bed in Wiesbadden, Germany.

When I got home, after trying to catch up on jet lag I visited my partner's store. He told me Waylon's office wanted me to call as soon as I got back. Naturally I did and found that he was offering me the entire collection of guitars he wanted to get rid of. I would need to sift through everything, take pictures and let him decide what he could part with and what would be saved. The next big item was the 1954 Telecaster shown in the picture below.

This was the instrument he was most often associated with and the one he preferred playing in live shows. It had EMG pickups, leather tooling of course and just like the black pick guard '53, it had been fitted with a Scruggs D-tuner to lower the low E string a full tone, a tuning he used often. I have had people tell me quite often that it was in fact the same guitar, with only the pick guard changed. This is absolutely untrue, as the next picture should show without a doubt. If you can't identify the man on the left you need to do your homework.

Things were obviously changed on each guitar to make them more suitable to Waylon's taste and style of playing. These two guitars came directly from his house soon after he had decided to stop all touring. Of course he didn't stop all touring, who ever really does? When he did play sporadic gigs though, he had cut down the size of his gear considerably. His instrument of choice at the time was another Telecaster he had decided to keep (shown at left in picture below) or the Fender Custom Shop Waylon Jennings model held by Fred Newell (pictured right, below.)

We moved a lot of his gear over the next year or so and sadly, Waylon lost his fight with diabetes. I only want to say that having lived among the weasels and back biters in Nashville for several years, it was wonderfully refreshing to work with someone who treated me with the respect and honesty Waylon Jennings did. He did his best to make Nashville a town where musicians and artists could be themselves and not some sugar-coated version of what an A&R man decided they should be. He was successful at it and he opened the door for many others to do the same. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the so-called "Music City" has gone back to the same old formulas that made it so boring in the '60s and lost out on Country greats like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard of the Bakersfield era. The music is different now, but not much different than bad '70s Rock. Hopefully someone will come along again like Waylon, Cash, Willie ...but I wouldn't bet on it. There will only ever be one Waylon Jennings and I can say I was extremely fortunate and proud to have known him.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Roch 'n' Roll Ranch

You may have read in some of my earlier blogs that I did some consigning of guitars for the late Delaney Bramlett. Although his most notable guitar was probably the George Harrison Rosewood Telecaster, Delaney had some real gems in his collection. I'll pass on a few that might bring a gleam to your eye.

Our first in person meeting was at his place called the Rock 'n' Roll Ranch in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles. I had been living in Nashville for a number of years at the time and like many people from "Back East", I thought it was all orange trees and sunshine here 24/7/365. Each time I had come to California I thought it was a beautiful place to live and eventually, I became a citizen of the Golden State myself. But at the time I met Delaney I had some learning to do about the climate.

He had offered to put me up in the pool house of his "Rock 'n' Roll Ranch" as he called it and I jumped at the chance. There was a bed, a nice view of the San Gabriel Mountains and a pool right outside the door. It was December and maybe a bit too cool in the daylight to swim but still, better than fighting a scattering of snow or worse yet, ice in Tennessee. Then the sun went down. The main house had a fireplace and we had been sitting around all day inspecting and playing his various guitars. Jet lag began to catch me up a bit so I opted to retire early and went to inspect my quarters.

The pool house had been warm in the afternoon but since the sun was no longer contributing to the heating, things had begun to cool. Not to worry though, Delaney had a space heater. He said it would take a while but should warm the place up nicely. After two hours I determined that the cold air it was blowing out was dropping the temperature in the room quicker than the chill breeze outside so I turned it off.

I had been kindly given two blankets to keep me cozy but after lights went out in the main house I started worrying. The pool house just kept getting colder and colder. I decided to put my clothes back on and sleep in them. Then I decided to put on my leather "Vintage Guitar" jacket with the wool sleeves, then my 100% wool hat I had picked up in Italy. I even put my shoes on under the covers and I was shivering like a duck trying to pass a peach seed. Somewhere in the middle of the night I moved to the couch in the pool table room and ended up cuddling Delaney's chiwawa for warmth. I found out first hand about California winter nights and gained a new respect for the homeless people living out in this weather.

But on to the guitar stories! There among his collection of instruments he used, had been given and found in dumpsters were a few guitars of historic importance least to me and other like minded guitar heads. The first to catch my eye was a Gibson Les Paul Special. With its distinctive double-cutaway body and P-90 pickup, these were always some of my favorite guitars. I had a two-pickup model that I dearly loved and got a marvelous tone from so this one grabbed me.

But little did I know, the the history was the real catcher here. This was Duane Allman's first guitar, the one his mother bought him to keep Duane and Gregg from fighting over the Fender Gregg had been recently given as a Christmas present. It didn't turn out to be a gift to Bramlett from Duane, more of a Karmic happening that brought them together. While playing on the road together the two had been talking about their first guitars and how they wished they had them back. Don't we all have that same wish?

According to Delaney, Duane was always up early in the morning, ready to go out and do something, anything. Delaney, on the other hand, was a late sleeper (which I can testify to) and rarely wanted to get up before the crack of noon. But the conversation of the night before had led to the fact that Duane had pawned his guitar in Atlanta (the city they were in at the time) and couldn't remember exactly where he had pawned it. Bramlett decided to rise early on this day and go looking for it in the unlikely case it may still be there and they both agreed to meet in the morning to do so. Duane however wanted to sleep that day.

Well, to make a long story longer, Delaney found this guitar and thought, whether it's THE one or not, it's a good bargain at around $100. When Duane awoke, he eyed the guitar across the room for a while and then asked if there was a large scratch on the back, just along the top rim of the guitar. Sure enough, there was. Also sure enough, Duane Allman had put that scratch there himself by accident and had no doubt it was his. Gregg Allman confirmed this story and with the help of a certificate of authenticity, I was able to find Delaney a buyer for it.

Ah, but it doesn't end there. After much begging, cajoling and pleading Delaney refused to give or sell Duane the guitar. Allman didn't hold a grudge in the long run and in some strange way, seemed just to be glad the guitar was "found" again after his careless and forgetful pawning incident. In a strange twist, Delaney told another story about another of Duane's guitars, his '65 Fender Stratocaster, pictured below in Delaney's yard:

In this story, Duane came to Delaney's hotel room door with the Strat wrapped in a pillow case and asked him to keep it for him. He agreed but asked Duane why exactly he wanted him to hold the guitar, a question that was never in Delaney's mind satisfactorily answered. Later on, Allman mentioned the guitar and Bramlett told him to come get it any time. Duane surprisingly told him to keep it, he didn't want to use it any more.

Another time, Delaney and Eric Clapton were driving up one of the canyons in the Hollywood Hills and spotted a guitar neck sticking out from a trash bin. The resulting guitar is the Gibson Les Paul pictured below:

I know these stories get a little nebulous and I had doubts myself. The Les Paul for instance seems to be one of the early '68 re-issues, not the earlier Gold Top Delaney claimed. There was, according to him, an ongoing battle between Delaney & Clapton as to who got to keep the guitar. Delaney obviously won that one if it happened. Since he and Eric fell out sometime back the chances of getting Clapton's story are slim.

Still in all, Harrison most certainly did give him the Telecaster. The Fender Custom Shop made a near perfect replica of the Allman Strat and did their research based on pictures of Duane playing that model in Fame Studio, Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Eric, Duane, Harrison and a ton of others played with Delaney and if I may say so, his voice is one of the finest Blue Eyed Soul instruments ever recorded. He was a greatly talented individual and it was a privilege for me to play and offer these instruments. But I will never, NEVER sleep in someone's unheated pool house in January again!

RIP Delaney, if there's a Rock 'n' Roll Heaven.....