Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Jerry Reed - The Claw

Chet Atkins dubbed him a C.G. P. (certified guitar player), his guitar playing fans called him “The Claw” and while most of the world remembers Jerry Reed as a movie star, singer and a song writer, but the guitar world remembers him as one of the best finger picking guitars that ever graced this earth.

Jerry Reed and his sister had a hard start in life. His parents separated four months after his birth. Both children lived in orphanages and foster homes for their first seven years.  Jerry did have visits with his grandparents and at an early age told them, “I am gonna’ be a star and go to Nashville.” He kept his word.

He wrote some signature songs that he played in concerts and on TV shows, such as, Alabama Wild Man, Amos Moses, When You’re Hot, You’re Hot, Ko-Ko Joe, Lord, Mr. Ford, The Bird, She Got the Goldmine, I Got the Shaft, and The Claw (which is a tune familiar to finger and thumb pickers).  

Reed not only starred in Smokey and The Bandit, but also wrote the theme song; East Bound and Down.

It was in 1958 when Jerry Reed was recording rock-a-billy songs that a Capitol Records producer named Bill Lowery took notice of his song, Crazy Legs. Lowery had Gene Vincent cover the song and he signed Jerry Reed to a contract as a staff artist and writer. This was with Lowery’s company National Recording Corporation.

1959 was a busy year for Reed.  He got married. Within a few years two daughters were born to him and his wife. In that same year he joined the United States Army (we had compulsory service at the time) and served two years.

He moved his family to Nashville in 1961 and a year later scored a couple of successes with his take on Good Night Irene and Hully Gully Guitar. The last record caught the attention of Chet Atkins, who was working as a Nashville producer.

In 1967 Reed recorded Guitar Man. Elvis Presley heard the song and decided to record it. Reed also recorded a comic tribute to Elvis called Tupelo Mississippi Flash. It became a top 20 hit song.

When Elvis went to Nashville to make a recording, he wanted the guitar part on Guitar Man to sound just like Reed’s version. But no one could match him note-for-note.

Elvis sent his producer to find Reed and get him in the studio.  Elvis’s studio players were baffled on how Jerry Reed played the guitar part.  Jerry explained to them, 'Well, if you want it to sound like that, you're going have to get me in there to play guitar, because these guys (you're using in the studio) are straight pickers. I pick with my fingers and tune that guitar up all weird kind of ways.'

Elvis loved the part and kept Reed at the session to cut U.S. Male and Big Boss Man. The following year Elvis hired Reed again to record a few songs on his next album. And again in 1971 Jerry Reed got the call from The King for another album session.

In 1970, Jerry Reed got another break with his song Amos Moses. This charted in country, rock, funk and cajun markets.  By then Chet Atkins had struck up a life long friendship with Jerry. They recorded the album called Me & Jerry.

His biggest break came when he became a regular on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. He released another hit in 1971 called When You’re Hot, You’re Hot.

In 1972, Atkins and Reed teamed up for a second Me & Jerry album. Chet dubbed him a CGP (certified guitar player) which is an honor given to only four people and one other posthumously.

The appearance in the cartoon show ‘Scooby Doo’ may have been responsible for Reed’s acting career. 

He had befriended Burt Reynolds and appeared in a film called W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings.  He next acted in Gator and then became a star in all three Smokey and the Bandit films.  For a short time Jerry Reed hosted his own variety TV show.

In 1980 Reed re-recorded Guitar Man as a hotter version. He continued acting and recording. He did more songs with Atkins. Although he was not on the session, Jerry Reed came up with the ascending and descending guitar licks that open Glen Campbell’s hit Southern Nights.

For the next twenty five years, Jerry Reed had successful recordings, co-starred in motion pictures and worked on television. He made public appearances and gave concerts. He recorded one more album with Chet Atkins called Sneakin’ Around.

What set Jerry Reed apart as a guitarist was summed up in his own words, “…I pick with my fingers and tune that guitar up all weird kind of ways.” Other guitarists gave him a nickname; The Claw.

Most finger pickers or thumb pickers use their thumb for the bass line and anywhere from one to three fingers for chords and lead. Jerry just dug his hand in there and made use of all; his thumb and fingers.

He also experimented with different tunings long before most of us gave it a thought. The simplest tuning he used was to tune his guitar down a ½ step. 

He also tuned to an open G and made use of dropped D tuning. He may have been the guy that taught Chet how to use the Gmaj7th tuning of D-G-D-G-B-E.

Tunings were one thing that contributed to Reed’s guitar playing, the other was his guitar. Reed’s first good guitar was a Gretsch Chet Atkins Model 6120. 

Although he was fond of the guitar, Jerry Reed did not like guitars with steel strings. He said they tore up his fingernails. He generally played nylon string guitars. Before he discovered the Baldwin Guitar, he played a Guild classic guitar. It was possibly a Mark III with a spruce top and a mahogany body.  By far his favorite was a guitar sold by The Baldwin Piano Company.

During the guitar boom of the 1960’s, Baldwin was faced with dismal sales and ventured into the guitar market. They were not equipped to manufacture guitars, so they purchased Burns Guitars and went about rebranding them. Burns made excellent electric guitars, but did not offer any acoustic models. 

So the Baldwin Company looked no further than the Chicago manufacturer and distributor Harmony.

The Harmony guitar with the Baldwin logo was cheap and not well made in comparison with other classic guitars. Baldwin designated this guitar the 801CP Electric Classical.  It had a short 25” scale.  What Jerry loved was the guitars neck and the Prismatone Pickup. 

He took his Baldwin to a Nashville music store and had them put in a radical cutaway.  He had the same store put in a Florentine cutaway on another one of his Baldwin guitars too. Reed owned at least three Baldwin guitars.

From reading conversations it sounds like Jerry Reed bought a Baldwin amplifier to go along with the guitar. Most videos of Jerry show him with Peavey amplifiers. But Peavey was not in business during the 1960’s. The solid state amplifier advertised with the guitar is the same model that Willie Nelson has been using for his entire career.

It is said that Fender Guitars spent thousands of dollars making a guitar for Reed. Reed always went back to his Baldwin.  The secret was the Prismatone piezo pickup. It was so well balanced it did not need any EQ or pre-amp.  

Jerry just plugged his guitar into an amplifier and began playing.

Reed once authorized an Iowa luthier, Dave Plummer, to make a Jerry Reed model. His only specifications were that the neck needed to be ‘clubby’, like his Baldwin, the headstock needed to be at a severe angle and it should have a Prismatone pickup.

Word about the Prismatone pickup spread throughout Nashville. At the time, Chet Atkins was beginning to favor classical guitars. His was made by Kentucky luthier Hascal Haille. Chet made sure a Prismatone was added to that guitar. 

Willie Nelson purchased an old Martin N-20 and added a Prismatone pickup. Nashville players were buying up the Baldwin guitars, just for the Prismatone pickup.

Jerry searched around to find the lightest guitar strings made, LaBella 820’s.

After Gretsch guitars went out of business, Gibson Guitar Company was courting Chet Atkins. They built a solid body nylon Chet Atkins model called the CE-1. Jerry owned one of these guitars. Jerry also owned a Marcelo Barbero flamenco guitar.

Jerry can be seen with many different guitars. On a Glen Campbell video, both Jerry and Glen are playing Heritage H555 models. 

In a 1992 clip from the Jerry Reed Show, he is playing a Fender Telecaster. On the George Jones Show, Reed is playing a Fender classic electric guitar. 

An episode of the Porter Wagoner Show has him playing a Gibson Les Paul through an Ampeg amplifier. On an episode of the Barbara Mandrell Show, Jerry is playing a Peavey T-60. On the Glenn Campbell Show, Jerry is playing the obligatory Ovation Classical.

Jerry with Kirk Sand guitar
It is impossible to say if Jerry Reed was giving any of these guitars for consideration or did he just borrow a guitar from another musician. There are quite a few shows in which Jerry played a Kirk Sand guitar that he had made.

Jerry's guitar given to Paul Yandell

Jerry gave one of his beloved Baldwin’s to Chet Atkin’s sideman Paul Yandell.

Tennessee luthier Mel McCullough was making copies of this guitar. He called them The Clawmaster. 

A fellow named Sam Kennedy currently makes what he refers to as The Prismatone II pickups.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Andres Segovia's Guitars

Andres Segovia is the epitome of classical guitar playing. He is the standard by which other players are measured. There may be those that are better, however when we think of classical guitar, we think Segovia.

Andres was born in the southern part of Spain known as Andulusia. His first experiences with guitar were with the flamenco music played in town. Flamenco music was the popular music of the day. At age ten, Andres was living with his uncle and aunt and a decision was made to move to Granada so that Andres could get a formal education. It was here that he received his first guitar.

Apparently at this early age, Segovia was already playing and performing on the guitar. His first guitar was from his friend Michael Ceron in exchange for teaching Michael all he knew about playing guitar. The guitar was build by luthier Benito Ferrer of Granada.

When Segovia was twelve he heard flamenco guitarist Gabriel Ruiz Almadovar playing the classical music of Tarrega. When Segovia met Almadovar he was told, “Did not you know that this music and others of various composers are in print?” This lead Andres to search libraries, shops and even private homes for the music for the guitar. His search for Tarregas composition came to a dead end.

It can possibly be explained because Tarrega never played music by any of those who had written for guitar. His aim to popularize the guitar and its music with his own music transcribed compositions of others.

Young Segovia carried the ideal throughout his life of not just popularizing the guitar, but also compositions of other non-guitar composers that he transcribed. Due to economic problems and the difficulty of finding a worthy instructor, Segovia moved to Cordoba and decided he would be his own instructor and pupil.

Failure during a 1909 performance gave him the push to continue by studying with some friends who were piano instructors. He believed that by studying scales and some proven piano techniques he could better his ability to master the guitar. By years end he gave another performance with much improved results.

At this time he set his goal upon mastery of the classical guitar. In his own words, “Suddenly I decided to become an apostle of the guitar.”

He then moved to Madrid. He knew that the Benito Ferrer guitar was not sufficient to meet his goals. In Madrid he went to the shop of Manuel Ramirez and asked to see his best guitar with the intent of renting the instrument. Ramirez laughed at the boy. He had not even brought a letter of recommendation.

1912 M. Ramirez
It was then Segovia started playing the instrument. One of the customers in the shop at the time was Don Jose del Hierro, a violin professor at the Royal Conservatory. He congratulated him on his technique and suggested that his skill was lost on the guitar, why did he not learn violin?

Segovia stood his ground and let the professor know that he was devoted to the guitar saying that he had walked in the steps of Francisco Terrega.

It was Terraga who devoted his life to the guitar with little hope of glory or vanity. At this point Manuel Ramirez was moved and effectively said, “Take the guitar kid. It’s yours. Make it flourish in your hands with your good work. Pay me back with something other than money. Do you understand?”

1912 M. Ramirez
It is important to note that the reputation of Ramirez in 1912 was not quite the legacy it is today. The professional guitarists were playing guitars built by Torres and all the artisans of the day were copying his work. Suffice to say, this does not take anything away from the excellent instrument that Segovia was given. He made use of the M. Ramirez guitar through 1937.

Miguel Llobet
By 1915 Andres Segovia gave a concert at the Paris Conservatory and in 1916 in Barcelona. By 1919 he did a successful tour of South America. Perhaps it was fortunate that another famous classical guitarist, Miguel Llobet was popular at the time.

Llobet was also an innovator that was transcribing folk works for the guitar and composing his own pieces. This strengthened public interest in the guitar.

In 1921 Segovia was introduced to Alexandre Tansman, who wrote a number of guitar works for Segovia, including one that won a prize at the Siena International Composition contest years later in 1952.

In 1924 Segovia visited the German luthier Hermann Hauser Sr. after hearing some of his instrument played at a concert in Munich. Four years later, Hauser presented Segovia with one of his personal guitars for use during his first United States tour and other concerts in 1933.

Charlie Byrd
Segovia passed this guitar on to his close friend Sophocles Papas, a U.S. Representative. Papas in turn gave it to his classical guitar student, Charlie Byrd. Byrd used the guitar on several recordings.

Fritz Kreisler
The 1928 United States tour was arranged by the popular Viennese volinist, Fritz Kreisler. Kreisler privately played guitar and encouraged Segovia to come to New York City. As a result of this debut tour the Brazilian composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos composed his well-known Twelve Etudes and dedicated them to Segovia.

Heitor Villa-lobos
This also cemented a lasting relationship as Villa-Lobos continued to write for Segovia. Segovia also befriended composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco in Venice who went on to compose a number of guitar works for Segovia.

In 1935 Segovia gave his first public performance of Bach's Chaconne, which is a very difficult piece that Segovia had transcribed for guitar. After this composers recognized his genius and dedicated works for guitar to him.
By 1981 Segovia, the kid from Andalusia was enrobed by King Juan Carlos I of Spain who gave him the hereditary title of Margues de Salobrena.

Segovia lived in semi-retirement but would occasionally work into his old age. To be a student of Segovia was quite an honor, although I am told he was quite a task master.

He died at age 94 and is buried in his home town in Andalusia.

Segovia described his 1937 Hermann Hauser Sr. guitar that was gifted to him from the famous German luthier as “The greatest guitar of our epoch.”

The luthier had sent him 2 guitars every years for the next 13 years. Segovia’s remarks were always similar. “This is a very faithful copy (of his M. Ramirez) but with no soul.”

Finally this Hauser guitar was received to the Maestros ecstasy and put to use in his concerts and recordings for the next quarter century.

Segovia was very demanding when it came to his instruments. He had been inseparable from this instrument until 1961 when a microphone fell on it during a recording. From then on he claimed it never sounded the same. His initial meeting with Hauser was in 1924.

Segovia’s final guitar was made in the workshop of the Ramirez dynasty in Madrid, Spain. The work was overseen by Jose Ramirez III. Journeymen builders did most of the work. Ramirez had trained them in their craft.

This guitar was actually built by Paulino Bernabe. It has his initials stamped inside the guitars heel. In 1969 Bernabe left Ramirez and set out on his own, becoming one of the most sought after luthiers of the latter 20th century.

This guitar had a 650mm scale with a wider fingerboard. It was given the designation by Ramirez of “1a” as a model standardization. The top was spruce, the back and sides were rosewood and the fretboard was ebony. The instrument is very light as is the construction.

It was restored by luthier Aaron Green for the Metropolitan Museum. The sound is said to be dark, but with a sparkling quality.