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.....

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Blue Genes

Most of us have some kind of an idea where our love of guitar, or music in general comes from. I was extremely fortunate to have the exact information from the first memories I can recall. I got a double dose; my mom and dad both played and sang, as did several other members of my family. My brother, sister and I were around it so much that it was just a natural thing for us all - not to mention cheap entertainment.

It just doesn't get much better than inherited musical genes for learning the basics of melody and harmony. Take the sibling harmony of the Everly Brothers for example. Whether you like them or not, it would be very difficult to find a better suited singing duo. Then there is the original line-up of Allman Brothers Band. Not so much their vocals as just their ability to mesh a electric guitar, Hamond B-3 organ and a natural Blues voice together with four other exceptional musicians.

As a kid I knew what a guitar was before I was aware of nearly anything else. Why? I believe it was because my mother and father both played and sang and it was a fixture in our house before we even had a television. And yes, I'm that old and there actually was a time in history when households didn't all have televisions.

Most of the guys that I played guitar with in High School only became aware of the instrument because they had recently heard the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. (I was much more intrigued by the Rolling Stones, but that's another story for another day.) They all got Kay or Airline guitars from the Sears or Montgomery Wards catalogs and started taking music lessons at the one local music store. Then they got Silvertone or Airline amplifiers from the same catalog and beget the parental phrase, "Turn it down!"

Fortunately, I was blessed to have a guitar in my household that had strings which were less than 1" above the fretboard. I also had a head start since, when my dad and his friends would run out of beer, they would go get more, and in their absence I had taught myself things like Duane Eddy's "Rebel Rouser".

Pictured below are a couple shots of my dad with his early '50s Gibson ES-125T. (Notice the trapeze bridge/tailpiece - see earlier blog on ES-295.) His friend in the background is playing no less than a Gibson L5, one of the best made and most expensive guitars available at the time ...some say any time. Here in the blue light of Bert Johnson's Tavern, they are seen rocking out, probably for no more pay than the free Sterling beer sitting on the piano. This would have probably been on a typical Saturday night, which was always the evening I was "babysat" by my cousin, Terry & the folks would go out entertaining and being entertained.

The next shot is a little less formal (if possible) with a country band, this time playing a Gibson ES-125, no cutaway. Different club, same beer.

Then there was Mom and her family of singing brothers and sisters. That's her on the right with my Aunt Georgia singing together at home, as usual. They appeared on a TV show out of Bloomington, Indiana called "Uncle Bob Hardy and the Hayloft Frolic" along with two other sisters in the '50s. Georgia went on to have a brief recording career in the early '60s and all three of her kids played as well.

This all started a long road for me which has led to nearly circumnavigating the globe playing guitar and singing. Although I'm back to doing it for my own enjoyment (or torture, depending on the day) it is a gift I inherited through my genes and the experiences of being raised around people who loved to play and listen to music. It's a gift I can never pay back, except by giving bits of it away. If not by running all over the country and the world playing for others, then by some things I have recorded in the past ...or from sharing these little bits of myself with readers like you.

People often ask, "How did you learn?" "Can you teach me?" The answer to the second question is "No, I can't teach you, but you can." You can take lessons of course, but you have to teach yourself. The answer to the first question is something I'm forever grateful for, "Sitting on my grandma's lap, listening to my dad play guitar." You can barely make out the dark figure of him sitting to the right of this picture. The outline of the Gibson ES-150 is still there and it looks like Grandma and I are singing together.

If you play an instrument and have kids, share it with them. Encourage them to try playing. Don't treat a guitar as if it were more valuable than the child, it isn't. Teaching, or rather showing a young one what a guitar does is a gift that will outlive you.

I have sat at some very fine tables in exotic locations because I learned this from my family. OK, I've sat in some dives too but that's beside the point. Had I never been given the ability and the genetic code that it came from, chances are I would have seen more dives than exotic places.

Aunt Georgia recently passed away and my own dad died in 1970. Before they left though, they shared this gift with children, grand children nieces, nephews and probably much more than that. I hope that if you pass your gift on it will go as far or farther than theirs.

Thanks Curt for the pictures and the inspiration. By the way, I noticed they were drinking Wiedemanns in the earlier picture - what's up with that? :o)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Gibson ES-295, More or Less

Most of us who show an interest in older guitars, whether as collectors, players or admirers start our education by trial and error. This story is about exactly that, but mostly error. The guitar pictured above is one I found when I first began my quest for the ultimate guitar; a quest which I might add never becomes fulfilled except on rare occasion and then only briefly. It is a 1952 ES-295, most famous because of its use by Scotty Moore with Elvis Presley.

That sort of information is ingrained into my thought pattern these days but at the time I found it I was not at all familiar with many makes and models of the plethora of guitars on the market. Having owned and played a '69 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe gold top for several years, I thought that possibly this was an early version of an archtop Les Paul. Don't laugh, I've already admitted my ignorance and I'm about to tell you more so hopefully you won't make the same mistakes I did.  After all, remember the Les Paul Sgnature model? An honest mistake from a rookie as you can hopefully see from the picture below:
Well, I'm not as easily confused now as I was then but to a novice eye, this is an easy mistake - and believe me, I had a novice eye. I knew about only a few guitars then , as most of the general population still does. I knew Gibsons, Martins and Fenders were all considered good, well made guitars used by professionals. Like many though, I wasn't keenly aware of the vast difference in the range of quality within those companies. I also had an inkling about brands such as Gretsch, Rickenbacker, Guild and Epiphone. Enough knowledge to be dangerous in other words. Had you shown me a D'Angelico or a Stromberg I would have most likely asked if they made a solid body version.

My "collection" at the time was generally a few workhorse guitars that I used for live gigs or the little bit of recording I had begun at the time. As you can see from the picture I proudly snapped below, I had a Fender Stratocaster that I used most of the time, a Martin acoustic, a Gibson Chet Atkins CEC, a Hagstrom bass, an old Multi Chord pedal steel and the odd man out, a Gibson ES-295.
The main attraction to the 295 was, like most things in life, the price. A friend had called me and told me of another friend who had an old Gibson for sale. I won't divulge the asking price but let's say I got it for a number in the high two figures. No, you read that right TWO FIGURES. The reason the other guy had called me in the first place was that he couldn't afford it - and I had to borrow a few bucks myself to get the deal done. Don't believe anyone who ever tells you that being a musician is a good way to make money.

I obviously knew nothing whatsoever about this guitar or even what it was besides a Gibson. There was a guy with a music store in the town I lived in who did know though. I was on my way to George Gruhn's guitar store on Broadway in Nashville when I stopped in the former fellow's shop. I thought he might have some idea of its value and I was going to offer it to George, as I had done with a few old guitars prior to this.

My heart's desire was a Fender Telecaster with a maple neck. I grew up... ( well, as the old joke goes; SON, "Dad I want to be a musician when I grow up." DAD, "Sorry kid, you can't have it both ways.") ...anyway, I came of age learning how to play guitar on my Dad's old beat up guitar with most of the finish gone, a 1953 Telecaster. That's an entirely different sad story but it did give me the feel for a Tele early on. Lots of people find that particular model Fender difficult to play but since I had learned on one, it felt like home to me.

When I showed the dealer the Gibson I could see that I had his full attention. He offered to buy the guitar at what I thought was a reasonable price. However, my desire to have a Tele again was such that I thought George Gruhn would pay more and possibly allow me to buy a used Tele. The store owner was not to be deterred by this and mentioned that he had a '69 Tele with a maple neck that he would allow me a trade on if I kicked in a little. Since I had just blown my "savings" and the money I borrowed to buy the Gibson though, that wasn't an option. After much discussion he finally offered to do an even trade, throwing in that he would probably loose money but he was trying to complete his Gibson collection.

He did point out some things that were not ideal for this particular instrument. First, the bridge and tailpiece had been changed. It was a Gibson tailpiece, probably from an ES-150, but even though this particular configuration was better for intonation, it was incorrect. The original was (and is) called a trapeze bridge and is like the example shown below on an early Les Paul model:

These bridges are impossible to keep in tune and the most difficult things to find if you ever do find one are the small "feet" on which the bridge/tailpiece use to rest on the guitar's top. He also pointed out that the gold finish had started to turn green - a condition caused by moisture from the skin reacting to the copper in the gold finish. I now know that some collectors value this and search out "green" gold tops.

One very interesting thing about this guitar is the serial number. Of course I knew nothing about numbers at that time and Gibson's numbering system has changed more times than even the experts of the day could keep up with. Thankfully, George Gruhn and Walter Carter have done some amazing research on this subject and with the help of their book, Gruhn's Guide to Vintage Guitars and Vintage Guitar magazine's Official Vintage Guitar Price Guide, buyers and sellers no longer have to be in the dark about what they have. The serial number on my Gibson ES-295 was one I will always remember, A12345. According to Mr. Gruhn's book, this number is from 1952, the first year of issue for the ES-295.

One question is probably on the minds of most readers who have come this far; what is today's value? The pat answer is of course, I don't know. The market on such things changes too rapidly to keep up but let's assume that it is well above the two figures I paid. The 2008 version of VG's Price Guide lists models from 1952 to 1957 at somewhere between $7500 and $9000, depending on condition. The reissue models made in the '90s listed at between $2300 and $3000.

Keep in mind however a few things: Dealers do not pay retail for instruments. They have to make a profit and keep the lights on. Also, a guitar, or any commodity, is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. The prices listed are suggestions as to what a guitar might bring should you, A.) be lucky enough to find one, and B.) find someone willing to buy one. Old guitars are very attractive to people like me - and probably you too if you're reading this - but let's face it, you're not going to want to carry a nearly sixty-year-old guitar to a gig are you? Maybe you have a place to show it off in your home or business. Perhaps you are the world's biggest Elvis fan and you want to have each and every kind of instrument the King used in his music before he left the building. But chances are, you would just like to play one, hear one, touch one.

The fact is, this particular guitar was not made for my kind of playing on any steady basis. On the other hand, the Telecaster was and is. The same 2008 Price Guide listed '69 Telecasters in Blonde or Sunburst (mine was black) at between $6000 and $7000. I played a lot of gigs with mine and when I sold it, I got much more than my initial two figure investment. The picture below shows me doing a gig and proudly playing the guitar, something I wouldn't have done with the Gibson. It's all in the eye (or ear) of the beholder in the end... and don't I look happy? ...and young?

Monday, February 21, 2011

George Harrison, Johnny Cash and Billy Byrd Update !!!

From the auction

The above description is something I found after the Blog on George Harrison's guitar had already been posted. I could have added this to the original but I also have some interesting things I found on the Billy Byrd and Johnny Cash guitar Blogs.

After I wiped my hands clean of the deal with Delaney Bramlett, Route 66 Guitar proprietor, Scott Jennings offered to take over and made me a generous offer for relinquishing any and all rights I had (or thought I had) to the sale of this and any of Delaney's other guitars. I declined to attend the auction and I'm not even sure if this is the one the guitar sold through. My deal for auctioning the instrument was with another well known company who promised the sun and moon but paid off with a cloudy day.

Scott has been the custodian of very many celebrity owned instruments and I just want to be clear that he in no way cut me short or led me astray on this project and we still remain in friendly contact, sharing war stories about what some people think is an easy living. Be that as it may, the documentation shown here is interesting and accurate for those of us who enjoy this kind of history.

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The June Carter Cash guitar I posted about was, as I mentioned, in Rose Guitars, located in Hendersonville, Tennessee, the town I graciously shared with Johnny Cash at the time, just north of Nashville. Below is a picture of Jonathan Rose and his wife, Angela shortly before the store closed.

As I mentioned, I stumbled across what I thought was Maybelle Carter's "Wildwood Flower" guitar. As you can see from the headstock on this Gibson L-5, there is a pretty obvious reason.

Gibson was no doubt very pleased to have the Carter/Cash family representing one of their guitars and as a result, made the headstock in a unique pattern, quite obviously different than any other. I also mentioned that the strap was a good indicator for exactly who the guitar belonged to. The picture below shows this as well.

The guitar I originally thought I had come across was Mother Maybelles Gibson, now in the safe keeping of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Below is a picture of this guitar in their vault.

An entirely different issue is the Aria Pro II that Tommy Cash was given by his brother, Johnny. Below are a few photos of Tommy in my office in Hendersonville at Melody Guitars, a shop one of Jonathan Rose's builders started after Rose went out of business. The owner, Jeff Binion built handmade instruments on-site and we shared the location; me to do my writing, buying and selling from just a block down Main Street from where Rose Guitars was located.
Here too are some more detailed pictures of the beautiful rosewood back and sides as well as the fine carving work done by a friend of Johnny Cash's, the brother of Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup. Johnny himself added the American flag to the back of the guitar, ever the Patriot.
A certificate of Authenticity, signed by both Tommy and Johnny was also offered with the guitar, something every celebrity owned instrument I consigned required, by my own standards.

Finally, I wanted to add a couple pictures I took at the Johnny Cash Museum, a little further yet down Hendersonville's Main Street, near the entrance to the Cash home.
Along with all of his rewards an accolades, there were several guitars, amps and other musical instruments.

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And last but certainly not least in my opinion is the picture of the great Billy Byrd himself, playing his beloved Standell guitar. Though I had seen many Standell amplifiers and like thousands of other listeners, have been charmed by their magnificent tone, I had never seen a Standell guitar. Of all the instruments he had owned through the years, Byrd claimed this to be his favorite, even more so than the Byrdland which he and Hank Garland co-designed.
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I also wanted to add a picture of my dear friend, John Laffoon and his Byrdland as he patiently joins myself, playing a Martin D-28, Steve "Cozmo" Rusin, playing the best harmonica I have ever been fortunate enough to accompany and his son, Brady Laffoon on Johnny's (now Brady's) '50s Martin D-18. Along with John's son Steve, Brady, Steve  Rusin and I performed Blues music as the first white boys to do so in and around Central Indiana in the early '70s as Kid Lizard. John and his wife Frieda patiently put up with our early attempts to form a band in their home and I will remain forever grateful.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Beatle Guitar Blues

A while after I had some success dealing in celebrity instruments I received a call out of the blue one day from a fellow I had met at Fender's Custom Shop in Corona, California. He asked me about some of the interesting Fender guitars I had come across and finally got around to mentioning the Rosewood Telecaster which George Harrison had used in the Beatles last live performance.

To make a long story longer, he told me he knew where this guitar was and asked if I was interested in trying to find a buyer. I had read a bit of history on the instrument and was fairly certain that Delaney Bramlett from the '60s group, Delaney & Bonnie and Friends was the owner. The story was that George Harrison enjoyed playing with Delaney and offered him the guitar as a gift.

Although D & B and Friends had only a couple hit songs recognized by the larger part of the listening public ("Only You Know & I Know" and "Never Ending Song of Love") Bramlett was a fairly major influence on British rockers Eric Clapton, Harrison and Duane Allman, who each played in the "Friends" at one time or another. Delaney had cut his teeth on Mississippi Blues and began his professional career as the bass player for the popular television program, Shindig. The band also included piano player, Leon Russell.

After developing a mounting phone bill from speaking to everyone I knew who had information about the Harrison/Bramlett guitar I was finally put in touch with Delaney. We ran up a larger and larger phone bill until I eventually agreed to tentative terms and flew to Los Angeles to meet both the owner and guitar.

I was obviously excited to even touch this guitar since it had been documented in the historic Beatles "Rooftop Session" in the film, Let It Be. George played slide on the Telecaster on the song, "Get Back" and although most of the focus of the film concentrated on singers Lennon and McCartney, Harrison and the Telecaster were given quite a bit of camera time. The documentation on this instrument, which is first and foremost on celebrity-owned pieces was indisputable.

My very first impression was the weight of the guitar. It was incredibly heavy, so far as to be considered uncomfortable to my taste. Still, when an opportunity such as this comes along facts are simply facts. Besides, it was an almost certain bet that whoever wanted this guitar was not going to be gigging with it. Outside of the weight, the back of the neck had the finish removed to the bare wood or very near it. I dismantled the instrument - very carefully i might add - and discovered also that the pickups had been changed and the body was once routed for what looked to me like Gibson-style P-90 pickups.

After setting the pieces on Delaney's pool table, covered in red felt, I painstakingly took pictures of the guitar and its parts. I also had my picture taken by the fireplace (above) and photographed it in his front yard, near a bird feeder (below). Upon closer inspection, you can make out my reflection with the camera in the lower left side of the pickguard (as shown).

My editor and publisher at vintage guitar magazine were agreed that a cover story on the guitar would be a good idea, not to mention a strong selling point. I ran an ad each month in the magazine as well and for obvious reasons, used this as my eye catcher. I was getting so many calls that my other transactions suffered as a consequence. Since the magazine is distributed in several countries besides the United States and my Internet site also featured this guitar, calls and e-mails were near constant.

Some of the calls were very interesting, like one from a lady claiming to be George's sister-in-law who told me that since the guitar had been a gift, it should be returned to George. And here's silly old me thinking that a person gives up ownership in an item they give as a gift. Besides, I had no way of determining if the call was really George's representative or not. I had tried to contact the ex-Beatle's office but never received any firm confirmation that he or his representatives even received the notice. Believe me, I would have loved to be the person who got George Harrison his guitar back.

Then again, I received another phone call from a woman who claimed that she was the rightful heir to the instrument because a government agency had kidnapped Cindy Crawford, stolen her eggs and made a test tube baby (the caller of course) using George's donated sperm. No, I am not making this up. There are some very, very strange humans in this world... and they must think I am unbelievably stupid.

I eventually found an interested party who made a serious offer. Of course I contacted Delaney and we went back and forth (at my expense of course) with phone calls, FAX messages, e-mails and another cross-country airline ticket purchase. However the day before the deal went down Mr. Bramlett nixed everything. I won't go into details but I was left holding a very large empty bag. I was threatened with a lawsuit, considered one myself and finally, after sleepless nights and constant headaches, had to let it be - sorry, I couldn't resist the pun.

In another twist, I had suggested auctioning the guitar at a large, well known auction site and made arrangements with them to negotiate with Delaney. I was assured by all parties that I would not be left out in the cold on the deal, which - you guessed it - I was. Anyway, the guitar was sold, I learned a "valuable" lesson and left that deal with nothing but a story and emptier pockets. I don't know where the guitar is today but as a writer, I ended up with a nice little tale to pass on to those of us who care about such things.

Rest in peace George... and thanks for letting me play your guitar.

Cashing in on Vintage Guitars

The guitar pictured above is a Gibson L-5, non-cutaway without pickup which belonged to June Carter Cash. She played it on road dates she performed with her husband, the famous Johnny Cash. The strap is a little worn but the tooled leather reads, "Mother Maybelle Carter", June's mother from the original Carter Family recording artists.

I worked for Rose Guitars in Hendersonville, Tennessee while I was attending Volunteer State Community College, studying Journalism in nearby Galatin. One day I came into work after class and found the guitar behind the counter, ready to be re-strung. My first revelation that it might be something special was the mint condition the guitar itself was in. When I saw the strap my natural curiosity leaned toward  wondering if this was actually the "Mother Maybell guitar", the one she had recorded the old standard, "Wildwood Flower" with in the early days of recorded Country music.

Closer inspection led me to realize that this was a newer model L-5 with the better known, fancy tailpiece and could not have been that old. When I asked Jonathan Rose about it he laughed and said he wondered how long it was going to take me to realize what was there in the shop. It turns out, the Cash family, who also lived in Hendersonville, had all of the work done on their guitars by Rose's shop. There were no doubt other shops in and around Nashville who also did work on their instruments but our location was handy and a trust had developed over the years.

While doing a later article on Mother Maybell's original L-5, which rests in the vault at the Country Music Hall of Fame, I realized that her's was a deeper, darker sunburst in what I've heard called "Iced Tea" shading, which comes from years of exposure to stage and natural lighting. The CMHOF would not let me take flash pictures but they were kind enough to let me pick out the "Wildwood Flower" on this historic instrument. I did the same with the June Carter guitar pictured here - after I re-strung it for them.

But the Cash connection doesn't quite end there. I later met Johnny's brother, Tommy while standing in line at the local post office where I was shipping out a guitar. He approached me and said he recognized me from the local TV show I played guitar on and, of course, I knew exactly who he was as well.

As we waited in line, Tommy asked me if I worked full-time at Rose and I explained to him that, like all Nashville musicians, I had a couple irons in the fire and one of them was trading in vintage and celebrity-owned guitars and other instruments. As we talked longer, he mentioned that he had some older guitars and instruments which his brother, Johnny had given him over the years.

My conversation with Tommy Cash culminated in the consignment of the unique guitar pictured below, an Aria Pro II. It had indeed been owned by Johnny and he signed a certificate of authenticity to prove the fact. He also had a story about the inlay work and the wookwork on the heel of the guitar, which had been done by the brother of Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup. Arthur wrotes song for Elvis Presley including "That's Alright" and "My Baby Left Me" during his Sun Records years.

The guitar had a hard time bringing the price we settled on and when I finally found a buyer, Tommy backed out of the deal because his brother's health had taken a turn for the worse and he was more interested in keeping the relics he had been given over the years. I returned the guitar with no hard feelings and told him I realized that the significance of a gift from a loved one was certainly understandable.

Of course, Johnny passed away in 2003 just four months after his beloved wife June died. Before he passed on though, I went by his place once a month and dropped off the latest copy of Vintage Guitar magazine for them. I always put a note in the magazine saying something like, "I've put Elvis & Carl Perkins on the cover of this magazine, it just wouldn't be complete without you there as well." I had a standing order from the publisher that if I could get Johnny Cash to agree to an interview we would most certainly feature him on the cover.

After a few months of this in the late '90s I got a message from his property's manager. He said that Johnny's health and scheduled business simply would not allow for time to do this. He also said John appreciated my interest and that if circumstances were different he would be glad to do so. At that I left him alone and decided I had had my brush with the Cash enterprise. It was time to let a man who had finished his labors rest in his peaceful setting on Old Hickory Lake.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Rare Byrdland

The guitar pictured above is a one-off Gibson Byrdland, originally built for and owned by Country/Jazz guitarist, Billy Byrd. Byrd is probably best known as a guitar player for one of Country music's most popular early recording artists, Ernest Tubb. The Byrdland was co-designed by Billy and Hank Garland.

Both of the legendary guitar greats made the Nashville studio scene take its rightful place in history during the '50s.  Along with Chet Atkins, Harold Bradley and Grady Martin, Garland and Byrd were the leading pioneers of Jazz influenced guitar being infused into what was at the time known as Hillbilly Music.

The name of the guitar was derived from a combination of their last names: Byrd-Garland and was in production from 1955 to 1969. Limited runs were also made in the '70s. This particular guitar is a rare double cutaway instrument with one even more unusual exception, a scale length of 25.5" versus the normal 23.5" short scale normally associated with the model.

The guitars were not as popular as many of Gibson's f-hole style guitars, primarily because the length of the scale is different than other Jazz-type archtop guitars and therefore, uncomfortable for many player's style. Also the guitar depth was 2.25" as opposed to the more popular L-5 model, which measured around 3.5". The most notable exception is Ted Nugent who prefers this scale and makes use of the feedback produced at high volume by the thinline,  archtop instrument.

Andy Reiss and I interviewed Billy Byrd for Vintage guitar magazine in the mid-'90s after his health had taken a turn for the worse. He was interested in selling the guitar and I had been trading in celebrity-owned instruments so he offered to consign it with me. Unfortunately, the price he was asking was never reached, however the Country Music Hall of Fame took note and accepted it on loan for display. The guitar was featured on the front of their brochure and to my knowledge is still in their posession today.

A movie titled "Crazy" was released some time back about the life of Hank Garland, who was injured in a car crash and suffered severe brain damage. The film does not paint a very good picture of either Garland or Byrd in my opinion but does give viewers some sort of idea how important these exceptional guitarists were to the music of the time.

Pictured below is a black Byrdland in its normal, single cutaway configuration. This particular instrument was owned by my dear friend, John Laffoon from Indiana. John prefered this guitar because it allows a player to stretch the chording fingers much further than the standard 25.5" or (for players of Gibson's Les Paul model) 24.75" scale. The Byrdland also inspired Gibson to produce their ES-350 model, which has the longer scale and full depth but sports hardware which is a bit less elaborate.

I have been very fortunate to play, own or be the caretaker of many rare and exceptional guitars. I hope this blog allows me to share some of them with others who also enjoy the craftsmanship or history of these pieces of musical history. If you enjoyed finding out about Billy Byrd's guitar,

Ray Butts book

After many starts and stops, the book on Ray Butts, who invented the EchoSonic amplifier (used by Scotty Moore, Chet Atkins and other trend setting guitar players) and the Gretsch Filter'Tron humbucking pickup is back on track.

With the able assistance of Tim Masters, one of the world's best known proponents of the EchoSonic, and Katha House, Ray's daughter, I am atempting to write a history of the man, his inventions and the music and people they influenced.

For guitarists, audiophiles and people who simply loaved the unique sounds of Elvis Presley's "Mystery Train" or Chet Atkins' "Mister Sandman" this book hopes to uncover the mystery of one of the world's rarest amplifiers - the first with built in echo.

Keep watching for further details!