Santo & Johnny – Sleepwalk

I’ve never been a big instrumental guy. I do like a few like “Walk Don’t Run” but this one is probably my favorite. It sets a mood like no other. It was written and performed by Santo and Johnny Farina in 1959. It peaked at #1 in the Billboard 100 and #22 in the UK Charts.

This song has been used in numerous movies and television series.

La Bamba is probably the movie that people remember it the most.

 

 

The Buddy Holly Influence

Buddy Holly’s music is still relevant almost sixty years after he passed away in 1959. He didn’t have a big voice like Elvis, Little Richard or some of his peers but he wrote and crafted beautiful melodies for his voice to weave through.

I consider him the beginning of power pop. His Fender playing a clean jangling melody. Songs like Maybe Baby, Peggy Sue, and Words of Love influenced future artists like The Beatles, Hollies, Bob Dylan, and the list is endless. He wrote his own songs and is still influencing artists today with a career that only lasted 18 months.

You can hear Buddy in everyone from  Marshall Crenshaw, The Byrds, Tom Petty to Nick Lowe. His songs have been covered by The Beatles (Words of Love), Linda Ronstadt (That’ll Be The Day), and The Rolling Stones (Not Fade Away).

Not only was he a great songwriter but also a great producer and he would have only gotten better. Unlike a lot of his fifties counterparts, I really believe that Buddy Holly would have fit in the music scene post Beatles. I think his best songs were in front of him. Most of his music transcends the fifties and would have fit nicely in the sixties.

His voice was also important. The inflection in his voice was part of his style and the whole package. He could make it rough with Oh Boy or sweet with Everyday. He was never a sex symbol like Elvis… people related to this tall skinny guy with glasses. You didn’t have to look like Elvis or be wild like Jerry Lee Lewis to make it.

Sometimes I forget how big of an influence he left until I start listening to him again and hear the artists that followed him.

John Lennon on Buddy Holly

 “Buddy Holly was the first one that we were really aware of in England who could play and sing at the same time – not just strum, but actually play the licks” 

Paul McCartney on Buddy Holly

 “I still like Buddy’s vocal style. And his writing. One of the main things about The Beatles is that we started out writing our own material. People these days take it for granted that you do, but nobody used to then. John, I started to write because of Buddy Holly. It was like, ‘Wow! He writes and is a musician'” 

Bob Dylan on Buddy told to Robert Shelton

“Buddy Holly was a poet”  “Way ahead of his time.”

Bob Dylan Accepting a Grammy for Album of the Year for “Time Out Of Mind” in 1998,

“And I just want to say that when I was sixteen or seventeen years old, I went to see Buddy Holly play at Duluth National Guard Armory and I was three feet away from him…and he looked at me. And I just have some sort of feeling that he was — I don’t know how or why — but I know he was with us all the time we were making this record in some kind of way.”

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Best Double A-Sided Singles List

This is my first attempt at a list. I have picked what I think were the top 20 double A-Sided singles in pop/ rock.  I feel good until number 5…after that it gets hard. When I made the list I wasn’t counting how many copies they sold or just chart history. I tried to put their importance in history into account. and my preference…which of course means nothing but it’s fun…

  1. Beatles – Strawberry Fields/Penny Lane The number 1 position is the only position that didn’t give me any trouble…
  2. Beatles –  Hey Jude/Revolution – What a single this is… Two of the Beatles best-  known songs together for their first Apple release. A great way to start the Apple label.
  3. Rolling Stones –  Honky Tonk Women/You Can’t Always Get What You Want The Stones released this in 1969 and Honky Tonk Women when to number 1
  4. Elvis – Don’t Be Cruel/Hound Dog  This is cool fifties Elvis and untouchable. This record influenced young rockers all over the world. 
  5. Beatles – Something/Come Together George finally gets an A side and he runs with it and you have Come Together as the B side. 
  6. Rolling Stones – Ruby Tuesday / Let’s Spend the Night Together No Chicago blues here but beautifully crafted pop. 
  7. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Proud Mary/Born On The Bayou This was the major breakthrough single for CCR and they kept coming. 
  8. The Band – Up On Cripple Creek/The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down The quality of this single is outstanding. Neither was a top 20 hit but they are still played to this day. 
  9. Beatles – Paperback Writer/Rain The bass jumps out at you on these recordings. Paul plays a Rickenbacker and boosted the level in the studio
  10. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Down on the Corner / Fortunate Son Fortunate Son was John Fogerty’s angriest song and it made his feelings known. 
  11. Beatles – I Want to Hold Your Hand/I Saw Her Standing There The single that broke the Beatles in America. I like some of the other Beatle singles more but this one was huge and maybe the most important of their career. 
  12. Chuck Berry – Johnny B. Goode/Around and Around Johnny B. Goode is the song ever bar band is required to know. The guitar riff is eternal. 
  13. Rolling Stones – Bitch/Brown Sugar If I had to explain to an alien what Rock and Roll was all about without talking…I would hand them a picture of Keith Richards and a copy of Brown Sugar.
  14. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Travelin’ Band / Who’ll Stop the Rain After playing Woodstock John went home and wrote Who’ll Stop the Rain
  15. Sam Cooke – Shake/A Change Is Gonna Come A Change Is Gonna Come speaks for itself. What a beautiful song. 
  16. Queen – We Are The Champions/We Will Rock You Two of Rocks biggest anthems was released in 1977 and you could not go anywhere without hearing both
  17. Beach Boys – Wouldn’t It Be Nice / God Only Knows God Only Knows is one of the most beautiful sounding songs ever. 
  18. Buddy Holly – Peggy Sue / Everyday Peggy Sue is probably the song Buddy is most remembered for…Everyday is a great song in itselfBuddy was a huge influence on The Beatles. 
  19. Beach Boys – I Get Around/Don’t Worry Baby I Get Around went to number 1 but Don’t Worry Baby is the reason this song is on the list.
  1. Elvis Presley – Mystery Train / I Forgot to Remember to Forget Two classics by Elvis. Mystery Train’s guitar sound is just haunting.

Honorable Mentions

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Up Around the Bend / Run Through the Jungle

Ricky Nelson – Travelin’ Man / Hello Mary Lou

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Bad Moon Rising / Lodi

Chuck Berry – Sweet Little Sixteen / Reelin’ and Rocking

Jimi Hendrix – Purple Haze / The Wind Cries Mary

Sam Cooke – Bring It on Home to Me / Having a Party

Ritchie Valens – Donna / La Bamba

John Fogerty – Rock and Roll Girls / Centerfield

Sly & the Family Stone – Stand! / I Want to Take You Higher

Beatles – Hello Goodbye / I Am the Walrus

Beatles – Get Back / Don’t Let Me Down

Buddy Holly – Oh Boy/Not Fade Away

Beatles – We Can Work It Out/Day Tripper

Rod Stewart – Maggie May / Reason to Believe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones

A biography about Brian Jones who founded the Rolling Stones written by Paul Trynka. This is more of a sympathetic look on Brian than other books I’ve read. Trynka digs deep with meticulous research. He tries to be fair and Brian isn’t always shown as the nicest guy in the world but he also isn’t always the person that Mick and Keith seem to remember when they actually remember him at all.

This book is not just a rehash of the best-known things about Jones and the Stones. Some instances that Stones fans know like the period where Keith ran off with Brian’s girlfriend Anita Pallenberg, we get more information on what happened. He researched Brian’s childhood and adult life thoroughly and you feel like you know the man before the book is over.

This is not only a good book on Brian but also the birth of the Stones. After reading what I’ve read about Brian in past books, I had to wonder to myself, is this author trying to make Brian look better than he was? After reading more I didn’t think so. He interviewed over 100 people for this biography and many of them were either close friends or knew Brian. He was fair about the good and bad.

When you think of Brian Jones you can’t help but think of the way his life ended. Paul Trynka doesn’t miraculously find the definite answer to Brian’s death but he gives you the most recent events that have been uncovered and basic common sense answers to a mystery that probably will never be solved.

The Rolling Stones had three different lead/rhythm guitarists. Brian Jones, Mick Taylor, and Ronnie Wood. I make no secret of loving the Taylor period of the Stones. Saying that I will admit during the Brian Jones era they were more creative and tried different things. He was very important to their sound. Under My Thumb, Paint It Black, No Expectations, The Last Time, and Ruby Tuesday would not have been the same without Brian.

The book deals with the complicated relationship between Brian, Mick, and Keith. George Harrison and Brian Jones became friends and they had a lot in common. They were in a similar situation in their respective bands. The big difference was George had more of a support system than Brian did in his band. John and Paul had a monopoly on the songwriting but they would help George and he was given a chance to grow as a songwriter within the group. The Stones didn’t work that way.

Brian could be his own worst enemy and had a hard time handling fame but he was a very talented musician. Maybe the best musician in the band. Keith and Mick learned a lot from Brian. His musicianship, image, and outlook on life rubbed off on the more inexperienced Mick and Keith.

I would recommend this book to any Stones fan. You get a better picture of the earlier days. It is a reminder that it took more than Keith and Mick to get the Stones rolling.

 

A very good professional review of the book by Larry Rohter of the New York Times

Brian Jones is to the Rolling Stones what Leon Trotsky was to the Russian Revolution: organizer, ideologist and victim of a power struggle. Jones founded the group, gave it its name and recruited the schoolboys Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who then marginalized him, eventually expelling him from the band. Since his death in 1969, a month after he was forced out, Jones has largely been airbrushed from the group’s history.

Paul Trynka’s biography “Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones” challenges the standard version of events, focused on Mr. Jagger and Mr. Richards, in favor of something far more nuanced. Though Mr. Trynka sometimes overstates Jones’s long-term cultural impact, his is revisionist history of the best kind — scrupulously researched and cogently argued — and should be unfailingly interesting to any Stones fan.

Specifically, “Brian Jones” seems designed as a corrective to “Life,” Keith Richards’s 2010 memoir. Mr. Trynka, the author of biographies of David Bowie and Iggy Pop, and a former editor of the British music magazines Mojo and Guitar, has interviewed Mr. Richards several times over the years and obviously likes him, but also considers his memory of events highly unreliable.

“History is written by the victors, and in recent years we’ve seen the proprietors of the modern Rolling Stones describe their genesis, their discovery of the blues, without even mentioning their founder,” Mr. Trynka remarks in the introduction. Without naming Mr. Richards, he also expresses his distaste for an assessment that appears in “Life,” that Brian Jones was “a kind of rotting attachment.”

The portrait of Jones that Mr. Trynka offers here is bifurcated. Though he is impressed with Jones’s “disciplined, honed sense of musical direction” and his dexterity on guitar and many other instruments, he does not hesitate to point out his subject’s more unpleasant personality traits: He was narcissistic, manipulative, misogynistic, conniving and dishonest about money. It’s not accidental that this book is called “Sympathy for the Devil” in Britain.

Mr. Trynka attributes Jones’s downfall to a conjunction of factors, some related to those character flaws but others external to him. Much has been written about the drug busts that swept up Mr. Jagger and Mr. Richards in the mid-1960s and their court battles, though Jones seems to have been even more of a target, because he was such a dandy and so successful with women.

But as Mr. Trynka tells it, Jones did not receive strong legal advice or fight charges as hard or as successfully as the Jagger-Richards team. After his first arrest, he pleaded guilty, which drove a wedge between him and other band members, who feared it would mean they could no longer tour abroad, all of which left him feeling crushed, isolated and vulnerable. That, in turn, increased his consumption of drugs and alcohol and made him less productive as a musician.

Nevertheless, Mr. Trynka demonstrates convincingly that the original Rolling Stones were Jones’s band and reflected his look, tastes and interests, not just the blues but also renaissance music and what today would be called world music. (He recorded the master musicians of Joujouka in the mountains of Morocco.) In “Life,” Mr. Richards describes his discovery of the blues-tinged open G guitar tuning, familiar from hits like “Honky Tonk Women” and “Start Me Up,” as life changing, and says it came to him via Ry Cooder in the late 1960s. But Mr. Trynka notes that Jones often played in that tuning from the band’s earliest days and quotes Dick Taylor, an original member of the Stones, as saying, “Keith watched Brian play that tuning, and certainly knew all about it.”

Some of Mr. Trynka’s account is not new, having appeared in “Stone Alone,” the often overlooked 1990 memoir of the Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman, or other books written by band outsiders. What makes Mr. Trynka’s book fresh and interesting, and gives it credibility, is the length he has gone to find witnesses to corroborate and elaborate on those stories.

It’s not just that Mr. Trynka has sought out those who worked with the band on the creative side, such as the singer Marianne Faithfull, the arranger Jack Nitzsche and the recording engineers Eddie Kramer, Glyn Johns and George Chkiantz. He has also interviewed those with more of a worm’s-eye view: drivers, roadies, office staff, old girlfriends and former roommates like James Phelge, whose surname the band would appropriate to designate songs that were group compositions rather than Jagger-Richard numbers.

“Brian Jones was the main man in the Stones; Jagger got everything from him,” the drummer Ginger Baker, who played in the band at some of its earliest shows and went on to become famous as a member of Cream, says in the book. “Brian was much more of a musician than Jagger will ever be — although Jagger’s a great economist.”

Citing those present at the creation, Mr. Trynka contends that Jones had a hand in composing some well-known Stones tracks, including “Paint It, Black” and “Under My Thumb.” He also claims that “Ruby Tuesday,” a No. 1 hit early in 1967, is actually a Jones-Richards collaboration — written not by Mr. Richards in a burst of inspiration and heartbreak in a Los Angeles hotel room, which is how the story is told in “Life” and elsewhere, but, according to Ms. Faithfull and Mr. Kramer, “labored over” by the pair in London for weeks.

“I used to say to Brain, ‘What on earth are you doing?’ ” Stan Blackbourne, the accountant for the Rolling Stones at their mid-1960s peak, recalls in the book. “ ‘You write some of these songs, and you give the name over as if Mick Jagger has done it. Do you understand, you’re giving ’em thousands of pounds!’ All the time I used to tell him, ‘You’re writing a blank check.’ ”

Mr. Trynka also looks into the circumstances of Jones’s death, on July 3, 1969, in the swimming pool at his home in East Sussex, once owned by A. A. Milne, but after all the Sturm und Drang that has come before, the subject is somewhat anticlimactic. In numerous books and in films like “Stoned,” it has been suggested that Jones was murdered, but Mr. Trynka painstakingly examines the flaws in each of the theories, and ends up close to the official verdict, “death by misadventure,” because of drug and alcohol consumption.

“The official coroner’s verdict on Brian’s death was perfunctory and lazy,” Mr. Trynka concludes. Nonetheless, “I’ve come to share their belief that Brian’s death was most likely a tragic accident” and to believe that “many of the existing theories that his death was in fact murder rely on unreliable witnesses.”

In the end, with the advantage of 45 years’ perspective, Mr. Trynka maintains, it is Jones’s music that matters. “It’s understandable why the survivors resent Brian Jones beyond the grave,” given his founder’s role, he argues, and also writes: “Brian Jones got many things wrong in his life, but the most important thing he got right.”

 

 

 

 

 

Harpo Speaks

I have mentioned this book before but not in detail. It is my favorite autobiography I’ve ever read. He starts off in his childhood in the late 1800s and ends up in the 1960s. I have read this book at least 7-10 times. It’s always my traveling companion on trips just in case I need something else to read. I’ve read books by and about Groucho and others written about the Marx Brothers but this book that Harpo and Rowland Barber wrote tops them all. He doesn’t go through all of the movies by detail but he packed so much living in his life that his life was full enough without much info about the movies.

He was always himself no matter what. The Brothers never would conform to anyone’s standards. He was counterculture before counterculture. Harpo jumped out of the window in 2nd grade and never came back but ended up hanging out with some of the best-known intellectuals of the 20th century and was a member of the Algonquin Round Table but yet he could hardly spell. He frequently stayed at William Randolph Hearst’s super-estate San Simeon. He called himself a professional listener…the only one of the bunch.

He taught himself the harp and played with an unorthodox style. Professional harp players would ask him to show them how he played some of the things he did…

Harpo was a good friend of Alexander Woolcott and Wolcott would invite Harpo and a select few to Neshobe Island in Lake Bomoseen in Vermont that Woolcott owned for the summers to play games and hang out every day. Harpo could make life interesting in the dullest of surroundings. He was friends with Robert Benchley, Salvador Dali, Dorothy Parker, Charles MacArthur, Alice Duer Miller, George Bernard Shaw,  Beatrice Kaufman, and Ruth Gordon.

Wolcott also arranged for Harpo to tour Russia in the 1930s. Harpo actually did a bit of Spy work for the American government at the time…transporting some papers on his leg out of Russia to America.

If you read this just to read about the Marx Brothers movie career…don’t…if you want to know what they went through to get where they did…then yes read it. This book tells what old-time Vaudeville was really like. Not a romantic version of it by some old timers that told their story after they retired. Awful boarding houses, spoiled food, and harassment by promoters.

He never seemed to age in spirit. He kept up with new things and was not stuck in the past.

His son Bill Marx wrote a book later on about his life with Harpo. When the Beatles came out Bill…who studied jazz and played piano, hated them. Harpo told him in 1964 that he better start liking them because their songs would last through time. He said this in 1964 before the Beatles matured. The guy had been around George Gershwin, Oscar Levant, and Irving Berlin. Bill said in 1970 he was playing piano in a club somewhere and what was he playing? Let It Be… “Dad was right.”

Harpo married Susan Flemming when he was 48 in 1936. George Burns asked him in 1948 how many children did he want to adopt? Harpo said “I’d like to adopt as many children as I have windows in my house. So when I leave for work, I want a kid in every window, waving goodbye.”

Harpo was known to wake one of his children up in the middle of the night if he worked late just to play games with them.

They ended up adopting 4 children…below was the house rules for the kids…

  1. Life has been created for you to enjoy, but you won’t enjoy it unless you pay for it with some good, hard work. This is one price that will never be marked down.
  2. You can work at whatever you want to as long as you do it as well as you can and clean up afterwards and you’re at the table at mealtime and in bed at bedtime.
  3. Respect what the others do. Respect Dad’s harp, Mom’s paints, Billy’s piano, Alex’s set of tools, Jimmy’s designs, and Minnie’s menagerie.
  4. If anything makes you sore, come out with it. Maybe the rest of us are itching for a fight, too.
  5. If anything strikes you as funny, out with that, too. Let’s all the rest of us have a laugh.
  6. If you have an impulse to do something that you’re not sure is right, go ahead and do it. Take a chance. Chances are, if you don’t you’ll regret it – unless you break the rules about mealtime and bedtime, in which case you’ll sure as hell regret it.
  7. If it’s a question of whether to do what’s fun or what is supposed to be good for you, and nobody is hurt whichever you do, always do what’s fun.
  8. If things get too much for you and you feel the whole world’s against you, go stand on your head. If you can think of anything crazier to do, do it.
  9. Don’t worry about what other people think. The only person in the world important enough to conform to is yourself.
  10. Anybody who mistreats a pet or breaks a pool cue is docked a months pay.

 

If you are looking for an autobiography…get this book.

Here is a small portion of Chapter 1 of Harpo Speaks!

I’ve played piano in a whorehouse. I’ve smuggled secret papers out of Russia. I’ve spent an evening on the divan with Peggy Hopkins Joyce. I’ve taught a gangster mob how to play Pinchie Winchie. I’ve played croquet with Herbert Bayard Swope while he kept Governor Al Smith waiting on the phone. I’ve gambled with Nick the Greek, sat on the floor with Greta Carbo, sparred with Benny Leonard, horsed around with the Prince of Wales, played Ping-pong with George Gershwin. George Bernard Shaw has asked me for advice. Oscar Levant has played private concerts for me at a buck a throw. I have golfed with Ben Hogan and Sam Snead. I’ve basked on the Riviera with Somerset Maugham and Elsa Maxwell. I’ve been thrown out of the casino at Monte Carlo.
Flush with triumph at the poker table, I’ve challenged Alexander Woollcott to anagrams and Alice Duer Miller to a spelling match. I’ve given lessons to some of the world’s greatest musicians. I’ve been a member of the two most famous Round Tables since the days of King Arthur—sitting with the finest creative minds of the 1920’s at the Algonquin in New York, and with Hollywood’s sharpest professional wits at the Hillcrest.
(Later in the book, some of these activities don’t seem quite so impressive when I tell the full story. Like what I was doing on the divan with Peggy Hopkins Joyce. I was reading the funnies to her.)
The truth is, I had no business doing any of these things. I couldn’t read a note of music. I never finished the second grade. But I was having too much fun to recognize myself as an ignorant upstart.
 
 I can’t remember ever having a bad meal. I’ve eaten in William Randolph Hearst’s baronial dining room at San Simeon, at Voisin’s and the Colony, and the finest restaurants in Paris. But the eating place I remember best, out of the days when I was chronically half starved, is a joint that was called Max’s Busy Bee. At the Busy Bee, a salmon sandwich on rye cost three cents per square foot, and for four cents more you could buy a strawberry shortcake smothered with whipped cream and a glass of lemonade. But the absolutely most delicious food I ever ate was prepared by the most inspired chef I ever knew—my father. My father had to be inspired because he had so little to work with.
I can’t remember ever having a poor night’s sleep. I’ve slept in villas at Cannes and Antibes, at Alexander Woollcott’s island hideaway in Vermont, at the mansions of the Vanderbilts and Otto H. Kahn and in the Gloversville, New York, jail. I’ve slept on pool tables, dressing-room tables, piano tops, bathhouse benches, in rag baskets and harp cases, and four abreast in upper berths. I have known the supreme luxury of snoozing in the July sun, on the lawn, while the string of a flying kite tickled the bottom of my feet.

I can’t remember ever seeing a bad show. I’ve seen everything from Coney Island vaudeville to the Art Theatre in Moscow. If I’m trapped in a theatre and a show starts disappointingly, I have a handy way to avoid watching it. I fall asleep.
My only addictions—and I’ve outgrown them all—have been to pocket billiards, croquet, poker, bridge and black jelly beans. I haven’t smoked for twenty years.

The only woman I’ve ever been in love with is still married to me.

My only Alcohol Problem is that I don’t particularly care for the stuff.

Wild Tales: A Rock and Roll Life

This is Graham Nash’s autobiography.

Graham narrates the audible version and does a good job weaving through his personal history. He starts with his blue-collar family and how Alan Clarke and he knew each other since school and formed The Hollies. The most interesting part to me was the mid-sixties era living in swinging London.

He wrote about his friendship with the Beatles and him getting an advance tape of Sgt Pepper from Brian Epstein. He had a great hi-fi system at his flat and he would show it off to anyone that came over. When the Turtles came over from America they were blown away by Sgt Peppers at top volume. He went on about how Sgt Peppers changed everything and it would eventually lead him to leave the Hollies.

Graham describes being a pop star in the mid-sixties in London. Shouldn’t we all live that life? Paul McCartney calls him up and invites him over to the All You Need Is Love session for the “Our World” program to be broadcast to millions.

He talks about how his friendship with Mama Cass led to meeting David Crosby and eventually CSN being born. Graham covers the CSNY period and his romantic relationships including  Joni Mitchell. He does cover the drama associated with CSNY and the troubled David Crosby. What kind of Rockstar bio would it be without drugs… Graham did his share and Crosby did our share. Graham handled them better than some.

Graham would write simple songs compared to Crosby, Stills, and Young but many times his songs would be the hits that drove some of the later albums…songs like “Just a Song Before I Go” and “Wasted on the Way.”

One thing I can say is he didn’t hold back or pull punches…but he still comes off as a really nice guy but it is his book.

This book helped sever his relationship with Crosby…for now anyway but Nash stressed through the book how much he cared for Crosby.

I would recommend this book to not only Hollies and CSNY fans but fans of 60’s and 70’s music and culture. After reading this I listened to more Hollies songs and I really began to appreciate their psychedelic period with songs like King Midas in Reverse.

 

 

 

Gower Guitars

I have three Gowers and one Grammer Guitar and I’m really proud to have them. They are part of my family heritage that I had nothing to do with…My family built guitars (Gower Guitars and Grammer Guitars) starting in the 1950s and made them until the 1970s. Country artists such as Johnny Cash, Leon Rhodes, Gordon Terry, and George Jones played Gower and Grammer Guitars.

I keep my eye out for them but on eBay, they are anywhere between $1500 – $5000 and more. They are rare…if you run up on one for a good price grab it. I don’t want them only for the family connection…they sound great.

I have two acoustics and two electrics. They didn’t make a lot of electric guitars. They all play great and the acoustics have the feel of a Martin. I asked my dad once why they didn’t make more electric guitars. He said because acoustics took craftmanship and electrics were basically “2 x 4’s with strings.”

Well, the electrics I have are more than that. The Green sunburst hollow body electric I have has a Gibson 335 feel and the mahogany solid body electric I have with original DeArmond pickups I would put it against any Gibson SG…

In the sixties, my family also built a studio where singer-songwriters Joe South, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Ray Stevens, Johnny Bragg and drummer D. J. Fontana recorded demos there.

I remember when I was 4 or 5 and walking into the Grammer guitar shop in the early 70s around the time it ended. I will never forget that smell of wood and glue…I also remember the studio and walking in with my cousin Ricky and seeing egg crates on the wall. I do wish they would have continued.

I will let two of my relatives who were there at the time and remember, tell the history…one being Randy Gower who’s father was J.W. Gower and Ricky Moore who’s mother was Alma Moore. My father was Bobby Max Gower.

The below is some history by Ricky Moore and Randy Gower

Ricky Moore

In 1955 J.W. Gower and his sister Alma Moore started the Gower Company. The first guitar was made by bending the sides on a tree. This did not work well but they still got the Guitar together. After a few months, they had purchased some woodworking equipment and had a brick building built by their duplex where they lived.

They built acoustics and electrics from 1955 until the early 1960’s. They made their own guitar pickups. Alma Moore’s husband Kellice Moore built a machine out of an old sewing machine and an old part from a car to wind the pickups.

Randy Gower

Then one day, out of nowhere, dad (J.W. Gower) decided he wanted to build guitars. He went and visited a violin maker in town and picked his brain and as George Jones would say “The Race Was On”. The beginning of the guitar business was slow. If you had seen the first one you would have known why, uglier than a bowling shoe.  Made out of maple it was a big jumbo guitar.  The sound was good but it looked rough. He made the beast and he did not stop there. He made another one that looked better. Dad and his sister (Alma Moore) decided they could do this for a living so he and Alma’s husband Kellice Moore got together to build a brick o block shop in the back of the house where they could build guitars and do repair work on others. Gower Guitar began. It wasn’t long until he had the shop going. Alma and him would make a guitar on occasion. To help pay the bills they did a lot of repair work for the guys at the Opry. Paying the bills proved to be a challenge. I was only ten years old and I could tell for the time he was putting in on some of these jobs he was not charging enough. He would work 2 hours on a job and charge .50 cents. Granted this was 1958 and .50 was worth much more then than it is today but he was never going to get ahead. The shop was a who’s who of country music stars. Stonewall Jackson, Faron Young, Sonny James, Earl Scruggs, Eddie Arnold, Harold Bradley, Pete Wade and many more would hang out or pass through over the years.

I can remember being in the shop with a fire going in the old pot belly stove in the shop when Faron Young came by to pick up a job. He told dad he had just left the studio where he thought he had cut another hit. He reached down to pick up a guitar that was laying there, strummed a cord and said, “Hello Walls how’d things go for you today”. He was right it was a hit, a big hit.

Then there was Eddie Arnold. I came in from school one day and dad was on the phone with Mr. Arnold. As usual, I went over and ask for a nickel. For all of you, youngsters a nickel would buy a soda or candy bar back in the day. I regressed, he waved me off but I was persistent, I said give me a nickel, once again a wave off. I tried once more with the same response at which point I ran my hand down into his front pocket. I did n’t reach the bottom when out of nowhere a hand came flying across my face. He had smacked the shit out of me. I bounced off the block wall and stood there stunned in disbelief. That was the only time he ever smacked me but I will say I never really gave him a reason again, nor did I ever put my hand in his pocket again. To this day, if I hear or see Mr.  Eddy Arnold the hair will stand up on the back of my neck. Life lesson learned.

At some point in the early 60’s J.W. Gower and Kellice Moore decided to build a recording studio in the building they were making guitars in…no Gower guitars would be made again until the mid-1960’s. Around 1964 Billy Grammer came to the house and ask dad if he wanted to go into business with him making guitars. They went and got a third partner in Clyde Reid to help sell stock and raise money. The start of Grammer Guitar had its start.  They brought in a man named Fred Hedges who was an outstanding machinist to build equipment for the manufacturing process. It wasn’t long until dad realized the thing was not going to work out.  Billy and Clyde wanted to go to a laminated Rosewood for the backs and sides. Like most companies, this was just a cost saving and nothing more. However, dad contention was it affected the sound of the instrument and would not go along with the change.  They could not agree so dad left the company in ’66.

There was a gap between Grammer and the new Gower Co.

At some point, Hatch Reid approached dad about starting up Gower Guitar. Hatch was Clyde’s uncle and there again the money man.

J.W. Gower and his sister and brother Max started manufacturing acoustic guitars around 1966. The company was in business until sometime around 1969 when they went bankrupt. A salesman that worked for the company took orders for guitars and pocketed the money…

Alma Moore and her brother Max went back to Grammer Guitars and worked there until Grammer went out of business. Tut Taylor bought all the equipment at auction and leased the same building Grammer used. Alma Moore and her brother Bobby Max Gower worked for Tut Taylor until he also went out of business. She would go on to work for Gibson Guitars for 11 years until she retired. Max went on to work with Tut Taylor’s son Mark for a few years building wooden instruments.

J.W. Gower moved to Franklin, TN and made more Gower Guitars with his son Randy.

 

I’m proud to be associated with these guitars and studio if only by family. Not long ago I met the great guitarist Leon Rhodes before he passed away. We were introduced and when he heard who I was he started to tell me some stories about the old days and my family that I didn’t know.

All in all, I have 12 guitars… I like playing vintage guitars through vintage amps because I like the instruments to have a history. I like knowing I can get the exact sound now that someone got in 1970…I have some older guitars but the Gower guitars have part of my history.

This guitar was given to me by Randy Gower that J.W. Gower made. I wouldn’t take anything for it. My guitar guy installed humbucker pickups and I can get about any tone I want out of it.

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This one plays like a Martin. It is the best acoustic I have. It was made in the early sixties.

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