Sunday, October 27, 2019

The Guitars Of Country Music - Part Three

WWII soldiers listening to a radio

For Country Music, one of the results of World War Two was the massive increase in listeners. Radio transcripts of all types of  broadcasts were delivered to the European and Pacific fronts for the morale of those fighting the war.

My own father, who was stationed near the southern German border was exposed to ‘Hillbilly’ music from his troop members from Kentucky, and listening to broadcast transcriptions from WSM.

Owen Bradley

By the time the war ended, Nashville was fast becoming a Mecca for Country artists. Owen Bradley, who was a music arranger, and songwriter for Decca Records was already recording music with some great artists, such as Ernest Tubb, Burl Ives, Kitty Wells, and Red Foley.

Historic Castle Recording Studios
Castle Studio, where Decca artists recorded with announced that it was closing it's Nashville facility, and moving to Texas,

Bradley had learned enough about the industry and decided to open his own shop. He purchased a home on 16th Avenue where the studio was built.

Quonset Hut Studios
To add a second studio, he purchased a semi-circular aluminum structure called a Quonset hut.

These were temporary buildings used during the war, and were being sold as war surplus. This structure abutted the original building and the endeavor became know as Quonset Hut Studios.  Late in 1956, major Country artists came here to record their songs.

RCA Studio B
This prompted RCA records to build the famous Studio B. It was originally run by Steve Shoales.  Later guitarist Chet Atkins was put in charge of production.

But it was Owen Bradly that is credited for creating what came to be known as ‘The Nashville Sound’ by adding lush string arrangements, and choral parts to Country Music songs.

Recording at The Quonset Hut
Patsy Cline, Brenda Lee, Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn, Faron Young, Eddie Arnold, Conway Twitty, and many others recorded music at Bradley’s studio.

Much of the music recorded there became hit songs that crossed over from Country to Popular music.

Bradley, figuring he was on to something, even tried to update some Jimmy Rodgers songs played by Moon Mullican, and songs by Bill Monroe to include the Nashville Sound.

Both his studio, and RCA employed some of Nashville’s greatest guitarists at the time as ‘session musicians’. In Nashville those session players were known as The A Team, long before the TV Show came out.

The A Team guitar section included Chet Atkins, Grady Martin, Hank Garland, Ray Edenton (also mandolin, ukulele, and banjo), Harold Bradley, Velma Williams Smith, Paul Yandell, Pete Wade, Jerry Kennedy, Norman Blake, Jimmy Capps, Spider Wilson, Fred Carter, Jr., Billy Sanford, Wayne Moss, Jimmy Colvard, and Chip Young.

Harold Bradley
One of these players was Owen Bradley’s brother, Harold Bradley, who came to be known as ‘The Most Recorded Guitarist of All Time’. He played a variety of guitars including Gibson acoustics, Fender electrics, a Danelectro 12 string called a Bellzouki.

He was especially known for adding the 'tic-tac' bass line to songs by using a Danelectro six string bass guitar. Harold Bradley went on to develop RCA's studio B.

Hank Garland with
his Gibson Byrdland
Hank Garland, was a prolific guitarist who played on thousands of recordings. He was a star and a well known recording artist in his own right. Garland wrote and recorded the popular ‘Sugarfoot Rag’, and played guitar on literally thousands of sessions backing other artists.

Hank Garland with Byrdland #2
Garland is probably best known for his Gibson Byrdland model guitar, that was co-designed with Country guitar player Billy Byrd. It was the first thinline model produced by Gibson, and by request it featured a 23 i/2" short scale and narrow neck, that was only 1 5/8" at the nut. Hank's original model #2 came with two P-90 pickups.

Hank Garland Byrdland #3

He then ordered the #3 model with a cherry finish, and a Charlie Christian pickup in the neck position. Because of the scale being almost 2" shorter than the standard L-5, the Byrdland's only had 20 frets.

Garland's Epiphone

Garland played a variety of guitars that were mostly manufactured by Gibson. These included the 1940's Epiphone Xpher with 'Sugarfoot' inscribed on the pickguard.

Gibson ES-345 and EB-6 Bass Guitar
Also an early non-cutaway Gibson L-5 with a Charlie Christian pickup, a prototype Gibson ES-345, and a matching Gibson EB six string bass, a 1957 Gibson L-7 with a Charlie Christian pickup, and a Gibson ES-175.

His career was tragically cut short in 1961 following a car accident.

Garland played through a Standel amp, and an Echosonic amplifier made by Ray Butts. You can hear Hank on Patsy Cline's recording, 'Walking, After Midnight'. That is Hank Garland's guitar you hear every Christmas on 'Jingle Bell Rock'.

The Everly Brothers with
 Chet Atkins and Hank Garland
Chet Atkins was already famous for his thumb picking style of guitar playing. As mentioned after he was signed to record at RCA, and was promoted by Steve Shoales to manage the studio. Chet can be heard on records by The Everly Brothers, Don Gibson, Jim Reeves, Porter Wagoner, Hank Snow, Kenny Price, and many other recordings.

Chet Atkins with
Gretsch 6120

Back in the day, Atkins used Gretsch guitars. His first was a Gretsch single cutaway 6120.

Chet with D'Angelico Excel

His first electric guitar that he used with The Carter Sisters was the very first D'Angelico Excel electric guitar, that he modified by adding a P-90 pickup and a vibrato bar.

The Peaver
Chet also used an unusual guitar that was put together by his friend Paul Yandell. This was called 'The Peaver'. It was a Peavey T-60 body, with a Fender Stratocaster neck. The guitar has two EMG single coil pickups that were wired to a phase switch. The pickups were placed strategically in the middle and bridge positions. This was done because on a traditional Stratocaster, the neck pickup is placed in a section that makes it virtually impossible to get a harmonic note. Atkins used this guitar only on a few songs.

Gibson Phasor

Gibson built him a similar guitar they called The Phasor.  He owned one of the first Echosonic amplifiers. Later on he used Standel amps with an Echoplex, and much later relied on MusicMan amps with a digital echo unit. In the 1960's he worked with Gretsch to design some amplifiers.

Grady Martin with a Bigsby Guitar
Grady Martin was also an amazing guitar player. His guitar work can be heard on the Marty Robbins recording, ‘The Streets of El Paso’. Grady also played guitar on Coal Miners Daughter, Help Me Make It Through The Night, and his that is his guitar you hear on Roy Orbision's 'Pretty Woman'. Martin is also partially credited for developing the 'fuzz' effect during a Marty Robins recording. 

There was a faulty tube in the mixing console, that caused the part he was playing to be distorted. The producer liked the effect, and recording engineer Glenn Snoddy, back traced what had happened and went on to design the Maestro Fuzztone.

Grady Martin on the left - El Paso
Grady Martin seemed to favor guitars that were handmade by Paul Bigsby. In addition to the one in the above photo, he is usually seen playing a Bigsby double neck. He also used a custom made 1957-58 Gretsch Country Gentleman. 

Grady Martin with
Gibson ES-345 12 string

He played a borrowed Martin on 'El Paso' and did the guitar fills in one take. Martin used a Gibson ES-345, and a Gibson ES-345 12 string on some recordings. Grady Martin played recordings and  concerts backing artists from Ernest Tubb to John Prine.

Paul Yandell
Paul Yandell went on to be Chet Atkins accompanist in concerts and television appearances. He started out by backing The Louvin Brothers in concerts, the went on to play guitar for Kitty Wells, and back up Jerry Reed. He worked for Chet Atkins from 1975 until Chet passed away in 2001.

Paul Yandell with a
Gibson Country Gentleman
He favored the same Gretsch guitars that Chet was using. However when Gretsch went out of business, both he and Chet played Gibson's Country Gentleman versions.  Paul was also instrumental in aiding Gretsch when they started building guitars again.

Jim Colvard

Jim Colvard had over 140 recordings that he was credited as being the guitarist. He was one of the first guitarists to play steel guitar lick on his six string guitar. 

Jim Colvard on the right
with Little Jimmy Dickens

Colvard backed up Wanda Jackson, Jimmy Dickens, and George Jones. He had his own trio that played in Nashville and his home town of Minneapolis. Colvard favored Gibson L-5 CES guitars.

Chip Young

Chip Young was a guitarist known for his thumb picking style of guitar playing, and he was a session player for many hits that included those made by Elvis, Jerry Reed, Dolly Parton, and Billy Swan. Young was also a record producer.

Chip Young with his Super 400 CES

He played Martin and Gibson acoustic guitars, a Gibson Les Paul, and a Gibson Super 400 CES.

The Anita Kerr Singers
Both studios employed The Anita Kerr Singers, and the Jordanaires Gospel Quartet to provider backing vocals. String players from the Nashville Symphony were hired to play on the recordings.

It was during these days that Country Music became more ‘Pop’ music. The music coming out of Nashville now gained the reputation of being ‘Countrypolitan’.

Roy Orbison in RCA Studio B
 using a coat rack as a baffle

Not only did songs cross over to popular format radio, but some popular artists of the day came to Nashville to record. These included Elvis, Perry Como, The Everly Brothers, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Joan Baez, Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt, and Paul McCartney.

Willie Nelson In
His Nashville Days

Willie Nelson wrote so many hit songs that were sung by other artists, such as Crazy for Patsy Cline, Pretty Papers for Roy Orbison, Hello Walls for Faron Young, to name but a few. He tried desperately to fit in as a Nashville entertainer. Nelson dressed in Cowboy clothing, and combed his hair the right way. But Nelson realized he was never going to be the new Ernest Tubb.

Willy Nelson and Trigger
He packed up, shook the dust off, and headed to Austin, where he was embraced, and became an extremely popular entertainer. Nelson started off playing a Martin 000-28. He later struck up a deal with the up-and-coming Baldwin Piano Company, who just got into the guitar business.

Nelson with a Baldwin
Vibraslim - Getty Images
He started using a Baldwin Vibraslim electric guitar. Later on the company gave him a Baldwin Classical electric guitar, model 801CP, that was actually made by The Harmony Company. It had a unique piezo pickup that was called a Prismatone. They also gave him a Baldwin C-1 amplifier. This amplifier was unique since Bud Ross, the creator of Kustom amps, sold his solid state design to Baldwin. At a show, Willie Nelson set his guitar flat on the floor. Some drunk guy, that was anxious to meet him walked up on stage and stepped on the guitar, crushing it's body.

Willie Nelson's Trigger - Martin N-20
Willie took the broken instrument to Shot Jackson's music store. Jackson determined the guitar was beyond repair. He had a Martin N-20 in his shop, and discovered the Prismatone pickup would fit in the Martin.

Willie has beat this guitar to hell and back, but continues to use it. He named it 'Trigger' after Roy Roger's horse. Though he could afford a much better amplifier, he has used that Baldwin C-1 amp throughout his career.

Kris Kristofferson
Kris Kristofferson was well educated, a Rhodes Scholar, and after serving in the Army he went to West Point. He decided his first love was writing music. There were other circumstances, but Kristofferson wound up doing janitor work at a Nashville recording studio. Eventually some of his songs were recognized and recorded.

Kristofferson With His Gibson SJ
But the Nashville Sound just did not fit his style. Kristofferson is usually seen playing a Gibson SJ (Southern Jumbo) guitar. He also sometimes plays a Martin D-28.

Young Waylon Jennings
Waylon Jennings wrote music, and recorded in Texas at Norm Pettys’ studio. The same place where Buddy Holly got his start. Jennings famously played bass in Holly’s traveling band, after the split with The Crickets. He gave up his seat on Holly’s ill-fated flight. Waylon eventually moved to Nashville, and much like Willie, and Kris, he just did not fit in with The Nashville Sound.

Waylon Jenning's  1968 Telecaster

Like Holly, Waylon started out playing a 1956 Fender Stratocaster. But Waylon Jennings is best know for playing a Fender Telecaster that is wrapped in a leather covering. He had more than one Telecaster.

The one that he was usually seen playing is a stock 1968 sunburst Telecaster with a white pickguard, that he took to a leather saddle maker, who encased the guitar in a hand-tooled leather covering, etched with roses.  This was stitched on both sides. 

Waylon Jennings with 1953 Telecaster

Waylon's first guitar was a 1953 Telecaster with a black pickguard. Waylon sold this one early in his career. Waylon also favored Fender amplifiers, including a Fender Super Reverb, and the huge Fender Super Six Reverb, which had six 10 inch speakers.

Hillbilly Central
Recording Studi

Down the street from RCA’s studio B, and Quonet Hut, Tompall Glaser purchased a two story stucco building, that author Shel Silverstein dubbed ‘Hillbilly Central’. Tompall had been in a band called 'The Glaser Brothers'. Artists that desired for Country Music to return to its roots, began to flock to record their music at this small studio where clocks and budgets did not matter. The goal to record great music.

Tompall Glaser In The Studio
Kristofferson, Mickey Newbury, Billy Joe Shaver, Jimmy Buffet, John Hartford, and others began recording at this studio. Because these musicians broke out of the Nashville Sound mold, and because some had even been released from contracts with RCA, and Decca, Glaser’s secretary, Hazel Smith dubbed them as The Outlaws.

And the Outlaw movement in Country music began.

The Outlaws
Perhaps the most notable recording from this era was the album, ‘Wanted! The Outlaws’ that featured a wanted poster as a front cover that featured pictures of Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser performing some of their own songs, and many songs written by others.

The Highwaymen
They later added Johnny Cash and put together a band, calling themselves The Highwaymen after one of the songs from the original record.

Despite taking the Nashville music industry by shock, the masters were sent to RCA for distribution.

It became the first Country Music album in history to reach platinum certification for selling over a million units. And this once again changed Country Music.

Click on the links under the pictures for sources. Click on the links in the text for further information.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)

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