The Missing Rickenbacker

The Missing Rickenbacker

Everyone knows the saying, “you had to be there.” Another one is, “no one understands how I feel.” This is one of those stories. Only a guitarist knows how it feels to have a well-loved guitar stolen. I’ve had two such guitars in my life lost to maleficence and it something you never get over, much less forget.

The first guitar I lost was a 1965 “Mapleglow” 360-12 Rickenbacker. I had worked like hell to get it, a dream in the making since first seeing The Byrds play “Mister Tambourine Man” on TV. It seemed a member of the band I was in at the time was in need of money, if my memory is correct, to buy some very expensive white powder-like substance. He and another “friend” broke into my parent’s house, took some of my mother’s jewelry, cash and my Rickenbacker. A neighbor saw them climbing through the window, thought it odd and called the police.

The police arrived as they were heading across the front lawn with the “loot” in hand. At that point, my bandmate stopped carrying the guitar under his arm and started using the handle so he could run faster, not realizing I had not bothered to snap the latches. The guitar went tumbling to the ground. He picked up the guitar and ran into the woods across the street from my parent’s house. Once deep into the woods, he buried the guitar under some leaves. By the time the police caught up with him it was decided he would go back the next day and find where he hid the guitar.

I was mildly relieved until I was awakened from sleep by a very large bolt of thunder at about 2am. From then on it was thunder, lightning and heavy rain for most of the night. By the time my Rickenbacker guitar was found the next afternoon it was destroyed. It took me a couple of years to get the money for another one. They fell out of favor with guitarists in the early 70’s and used ones could be bought pretty cheap. My parents gave me money to buy lunch my first semester of college and instead of eating, I bought a replacement Mapleglow 360-12 Rickenbacker from a fellow student who was no longer playing it.

Stay tuned for the story behind guitar number two!

Remembering Jeff Beck

Remembering Jeff Beck

Jeff Beck Group, Woolsey Hall May 9th, 1969

In 1968, living in New Haven had its advantages. The one that lives on in my mind as a guitarist is Yale’s Woolsey Hall. April of 1968 brought us Cream and in November, The Jimi Hendrix Experience. As 1969 dawned, the world was wide open for a guitarist to paint their own canvas. I was a 16-year-old guitar player, with a Les Paul, sitting in New Haven and it felt like the entire Rock & Roll world was coming to me. The explosion of new bands, created from old bands breaking up, discovering new sounds, reimagined from the roots of rhythm & blues and early rock, pushing the evolution of Rock & Roll forward at warp speed, making each new LP a gospel of enlightenment, to be studied and made a part of your language, was beyond anything I can put to words.

The Jeff Beck LP Truth is one such album. In my mind, it secured Jeff Beck’s position in The Rock & Roll Trinity, along with Eric and Jimi and when the concert at Woolsey on May 9th, 1969 was announced, I was up early, in line for tickets.

I don’t recall much about the opening act, Rhinoceros, but I did think enough of them to buy their LP after the concert. The band had two guitarists that played Fender guitars, with the finish stripped off and no pickguards.

I’m not 100% sure which song the Jeff Beck Group played first. Maybe it was “You Shook Me,” to get into a groove. However, I do know that things turned bad fast, as Rod Stewart’s vocal microphone went dead on that first song. The band conferred for a bit and then blasted into “Let Me Love You.” When Rod came in with his vocal, the entire band cooled it down to a whisper! This is Woolsey Hall. Rod didn’t need a PA, as long as the band played the room. I’m not sure how many songs this went on for, but the band played on, until it was sorted out. I also remember them playing “Morning Dew,” “Shapes of Things” and “Jeff’s Boogie.”

Random memories: Jeff played his Les Paul for the whole show; there was a Stratocaster leaning against the side of a speaker cabinet, but I don’t recall him playing it. Jeff never took center stage — most of the time, he stood in the shadows or behind the Marshall stack, even when taking a solo. Ron Wood looked cool with a Fender Tele bass. Who would have known he would become a Rolling Stone?

I wish I could remember more and have something epic or profound to say about Jeff’s passing. I was 16 years old, and that show is a part of my personal mythology; the last time I sat in the presence of The Rock & Roll Trinity.

(Concert ticket photo courtesy of Bob Anderson; ticket stub courtesy of Tom Smith; concert ad courtesy of Timothy Wood)

Traffic At The New Haven Arena

The New Haven Arena was on Grove Street in New Haven. It was built for indoor ice hockey in 1914, burned down in 1924, and reopened in 1927. I never saw a hockey game there. My first visit was to see the circus as a very young child. I have a vague memory of the elephants and the tightrope walker, and not much beyond that. The Arena was demolished in 1974, replaced by the New Haven Coliseum that was completed in 1972.

What I remember most about the “Arena” are the rock & roll concerts I saw there. My all-time favorite was Traffic touring in support of the Low Spark of High Heel Boys LP, released in November of 1971. The concert took place on January 11, 1972. I was lucky to be working for the local newspaper at the time and had a New Haven Register ID. This allowed me to go up to the stage and take pictures. 

Generally, the sound at the arena was horrible; it sounded like you would expect a loud rock & roll band to sound like in a cavernous hockey rink. Also, they just put wood over the ice, so it was always freezing sitting in floor seats. 

That night’s show was completely different from all others. The sound was fantastic! JJ Cale opened and did a solo set. I have to say I had no idea who he was and don’t remember his set. 

Then Traffic hit the stage and hit the ground running with a tight set, playing the entire Low Spark of  High Heel Boys  LP. Steve Winwood switched off between a Gibson Firebird (later stolen on tour), a Martin D-28 (that looked pretty much new) and keyboards. Of course, they also played “Dear Mister Fantasy”. My favorite part of the show was when Steve played his D-28 on “John Barleycorn Must Die” and “Rainmaker”. Chris Wood looked like the picture of cool with his sax hanging from him while playing flute. I got right up to the stage and took pictures. This night was one of those concerts I look back on often. 

Yeah Yeah Yeah – Remembering The Beatles

Yeah Yeah Yeah – Remembering The Beatles

What follows is a collection of memories I have carried with me since 1964. I was 11 years old, almost 12, and on February 9th, at 8 PM, my life was forever changed. I hope you enjoy my journey through the past. Please forgive any historical errors.

I was into the guitar, partly because my older brother had one. I used to try and play his. My father saw my interest, and whenever he saw someone playing a guitar on the television, he would call me into the living room to watch. On January 3rd, 1964, he called me to see The Beatles on The Jack Paar Show. That was the beginning of a musical obsession that would reshape my life and is with me still.  

On February 9th, The Beatles made their live television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. In that short span of time, their music had conquered America, and every waking moment of my life. My cousin Bette and I would scan the radio stations listening to their songs as many times as we could find a station playing one spinning the dial wildly looking for another sonic fix. We could barely contain ourselves waiting for a show featuring the Beatles to air, and, of course, the discussions would carry on well afterward. All we could think about was their next appearance scheduled for the following week, to be broadcast from Miami Beach on February 16th. 

Next up was the news that there was going to be a movie, A Hard Day’s Night. Bette and I were off-the-charts crazy to see it as soon as we could. The movie came out in the US in August. We were lucky to see it in an old-fashioned movie house, the Rivoli Theatre in West Haven, Connecticut. The experience was surreal, actually getting to see them on the big screen for over an hour, talking, joking, and playing music. 

The balance of 1964 into 1965 was filled with the release of Beatles LPs and 45s. August of 1965 would find Bette and me back at the Rivoli seeing Help!, the Beatles’ second movie. This one was in color, unlike the black and white Hard Day’s Night. They were already bigger than life; full color just made the experience more real. 

I bought my first 12-string Rickenbacker sometime in 1965. Playing guitar by this point had become one of the only things I truly cared about. Since George Harrison, John Lennon and Roger McGuinn of The Byrds played Rickenbacker guitars, I simply had to have one. They were not cheap, and to raise the money, I started working odd jobs, helping neighbors, delivering newspapers, selling my bike and most of my toys. It was worth it.   

One day in the summer of 1966, after spending some quality time playing guitar in the barn behind our house, my mom and dad said they had something they wanted to tell me. We were going to Shea Stadium on August 23rd to see The Beatles.  

(The author’s photo of the Beatles, taken from the back of Shea Stadium in 1964)

The journey down to New York included listening to the Beatles on the radio and singing along with the songs. The stadium seats were quite high up, and I will admit that the sound system was not great, but we could hear the band despite the screams around us. Fortunately, my father brought binoculars and a camera.  

I remember the setlist (at least some of it): 

  • Rock and Roll Music (Chuck Berry cover)
  • She’s a Woman
  • If I Needed Someone
  • Day Tripper
  • Baby’s in Black
  • I Feel Fine
  • Yesterday
  • I Wanna Be Your Man
  • Nowhere Man
  • Paperback Writer
  • Long Tall Sally (Robert “Bumps” Blackwell, Enotris Johnson and Richard Penniman, better known as “Little Richard”)

Little did we know that the August 29th show at Candlestick Park would not only be the last concert of that tour, it would also be their last tour. 

Between 1964 (the year of the first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show) and 1966, (the year of The Beatles’ last concert) they released an incredible number of albums in the United States. 1964 saw the release of Meet the Beatles!, The Beatles Second Album, A Hard Day’s Night, Something New, and Beatles ’65. In 1965 they released Beatles Vl, Help!, and Rubber Soul. The Rubber Soul LP saw the band starting to take a major step beyond traditional rock & roll music. This continued with their next two albums released in 1966, Yesterday and Today, and the groundbreaking Revolver

Also, in 1966, The Beatles came up with a creative alternative to performing live. They would make videos that they distributed to TV stations. Years before MTV, The Beatles laid the groundwork for what would become a major networking tool. 

We started hearing that the next Beatles LP would be one of epic scope. To this day, 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is considered one of the greatest rock & roll LPs ever made. 1967 also saw the release of the trippy Beatles film Magical Mystery Tour and its soundtrack. 

The world was changing at breakneck speed both culturally, politically, and musically. Much of the expansion of popular music can be directly tied to The Beatles and Bob Dylan, each inspiring the other.

It was no surprise that 1968 would see yet another shift of musical direction from the Beatles. The Beatles (or The White Album as it’s commonly known) was released as a double LP. I have always felt that every great double LP would have made a fantastic single LP. In the case of The Beatles, I will admit there are songs I could have lived without back in 1968. But listening now, there were way too many great songs to fit on a single record, so why not take some chances with the left-over grooves!

1969 saw the release of Abbey Road featuring the classic John Lennon song “Come Together,” and the beautiful George Harrison songs “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun.” Side two included a collection of song fragments tied together that end with the lyrics, “and in the end, the love you make is equal to the love you take”. This line would soon take on greater meaning. John Lennon had privately left the band six days before the LP’s release, and by the following April, Paul publicly announced the band’s breakup. One of my favorite Beatles songs, “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” was produced at the end of these sessions and released later as a 45. It was recorded as a duo with just Paul playing bass and drums, and John on acoustic and electric guitars. Despite the tension in the band, John and Paul were still able to pull it together in the studio.

1970 brought the long-awaited release of the final Beatles LP, Let It Be. Well ahead of its release bootlegs were leaked and we could hear firsthand the tension and dysfunction within the band, though there were still some amazing songs waiting to see the light of day. I went to see the Let It Be movie at the theater in Madison, Connecticut, with my friend Bill Thompson. By that time, he and I had a band and had been playing songs from the Let It Be bootlegs. Together we watched the final movie The Beatles would release as a band.

1970 would also bring the release of solo albums from each of The Beatles. My personal favorite is John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band. John made it clear there would be no more new Beatles music. In his song “God,” John lists the many things he no longer believes in, leading up to these lyrics, “I don’t believe in Beatles… and so dear friends you’ll just have to carry on, the dream is over.”

There has never been a day in my life since 1964 that the music of The Beatles and their many solo efforts have not been playing as a soundtrack to my life. The music of the four Beatles, both as a band and solo, has offered me a worldview and a lifelong endeavor that has led to a life well-lived, “Yeah Yeah Yeah, Yeah!….”

The Replacements at Toad’s Place

I spent the greater part of the early Nineties playing guitar in the electric alt-rock band The Name. One night in Middletown, CT, the band’s instruments and amps were stolen from a parked car. After a gig at The Moon in New Haven, we weighed our options and decided the easiest course of action was to become an acoustic rock band. The advantages were clear: less stuff to own, move and maintain.

I traveled to all our gigs in a beat-up Dodge van. The only thing that worked right was the cassette player. At the time, I was living on a steady diet of REM, The Silos and The Replacements. I was a true believer in The Replacements and devoured every recording. I would search out magazine articles and read everything I could about them.

Musician did two major stories that formed the backbone of my knowledge of the band (beyond their music). The December 1990 issue had the story “Replacements Kaput (say it ain’t so, Paul)”. After reading it, it was clear the band was not long for the road. When a February 1991 show at Toad’s Place in New Haven was announced, it was also clear that if I wanted to see one last show, I had to get my ass down to Toad’s!

It was a shitty snowy stormy night, and no one wanted to go with me, so I went alone. I got there early and sat down on the stage just to the right of where Paul Westerberg would end up taking the stage. I made a deal with another early arrival that we would hold each other’s spot by the stage if one of us left for a drink or to take a piss. Uncle Tupelo opened the show with a blistering take-no-prisoners set that was so tight and fast-paced that it felt over before it really got started.

It was pretty close to midnight when The Replacements took the stage, opening with an ear-bleeding “ Don’t Know”. For a band on the verge of breaking up, you wouldn’t see any evidence that night. They played an amazing 28-song set. Slim Dunlap’s leads on “Bent Out of Shape” were just that. I remember him leaning into Paul and the two of them cracking a simultaneous smile. I’ve never heard “Waitress in the Sky” played so fast or “Chuck Berry” played like that, before or after. Not only did they play all their classic songs, but they also played a bunch of songs from the new All Shook Down LP. Tommy Stinson looked happy as a kid in a candy shop and Paul wasn’t too far behind with a constant shit-eating grin on his face. The band was really “on” and the audience loved it. They ended the set with “Left of The Dial” and “Alex Chilton”.

Walking out into the cold night air singing “who knew that avenue was bound for Happy Town?,” I ran into a friend who also had been at the show at the parking lot on Broadway, where I parked my car. When she started talking to me about the concert, I realized her words sounded like paper being torn. I’m pretty sure the show was the loudest concert I had ever been to and standing against the stage dead in front of the speakers was not the best plan after all.

I remembered this while reading The Replacements bio Trouble Boys, where Steve Foley (the drummer on that tour) recalled the deafening volume of that last tour. I had seen Neil Young with Crazy Horse, Sonic Youth, and Social Distortion eight days before (third row at the New Haven Coliseum). and that show was nowhere near as loud. At some point, my hearing came back, kind of. I have hearing loss to this day and feel attending concerts starting in 1965 with no hearing protection played a part in it.

That last concert included many songs from the “last” Replacements LP All Shook Down. The LP has been referred to as the “Paul gets a 12-string acoustic guitar” album. This is not completely fair as Paul used an acoustic from the beginning. Paul recorded most of the songs without the band, bringing them in for overdubs. It is a testament to how tight the band could be live, and that with electric instruments the songs retained the feel and vibe they had on the more acoustic treatment they received on All Shook Down.

There was the benefit album for Slim Dunlap who suffered a stroke in 2013, but little else new has been released under The Replacements name. Tommy and Paul continue to release amazing solo recordings to this day. To quote a line from one of Tommy’s songs, “anything could happen.”

Lunch Is For Suckers

(Photo of Jerry Garcia at Woolsey Hall  by Joe Sia)

Between 1972 and 1975, I worked at the Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. We used to get an hour for lunch, which was pretty nice, but I’ve never been a big lunch eater. Most days I would wander down the street to Rhymes or Cutler’s Record Shop and sort through the import record section for any LP’s with cool vintage guitars on the cover. Another favorite pastime was to go over to Woolsey Hall with a cup of coffee and play my guitar.

The Beinecke Rare Book Library is one side of a plaza at Yale created with Woolsey Hall and a dining hall. Woolsey Hall is one of Yale’s premier performance spaces. Its main lobby was on a well-worn path between colleges and generally unlocked to allow students to cut through and save time. The actual Performance Hall was always locked. Most of the time I would just go up the hallway from the lobby to a balcony for some privacy.

This one time, I was sitting there with a cup of coffee and I could hear guitar playing. It was 1:00 in the afternoon (not a time for performances), so I was curious. I tried the main Hall doors and found them unlocked. I quietly entered and sat in the very last row. To my amazement, on the stage was Jerry Garcia and one or two other people. Jerry was plugged in and playing some crazy good stuff. It’s too bad the iPhone hadn’t been invented yet.

I was there for about 20 minutes before one of the people on the stage noticed me. He came back and told me to leave. I explained that wasn’t really an option and that I promised to sit and be quiet. We finally agreed that I could stay as long as I didn’t move from my seat and made no effort to interact or disturb Jerry.

I asked where the rest of the band was and why was he sound checking by himself. He explained that Jerry liked to check out performance venues and play by himself as a way of connecting with the space before every show: “to get to know the room.”

Sitting there I could not help but think of how insane it was. I was the only one in the audience with Jerry standing alone on the stage of Woolsey Hall for about two hours lost playing the sounds inside his head. If I was the kind of person who liked to eat lunch, I would have missed it. When he was finished playing, he looked back at me and waved. True to my word I smiled and left, getting back to work from lunch quite late. The date was 10/22/1975 and I’m pretty sure Jerry was playing his white Travis Bean guitar.

Cream Go To Yale

When my father got his first stereo component system, instead of tossing the console unit to the curb, he and I dragged it into my bedroom, down the end of the hall. It was on this unit late one night on the Yale FM station WYBC I first heard The Cream’s first LP played in its entirety. It was one of those life-changing nocturnal emissions that changed the way I viewed playing electric guitar forever. My best friend Peter Mitchell and I promptly went to Merle’s Record Rack in New Haven and bought the LP.

I had a trio at the time with Peter on bass and his brother John on drums. We started learning the Fresh Cream LP song by song. When we found out that Cream was going to appear a short drive down I 95 at Yale’s Woolsey Hall, Peter and I knew we had to attend the concert. The online date for this show is recorded as 4-10-1968, which would have made me 16 years old for only three days, explaining why my father drove Peter and me to the concert. There will be more about my dad in this story later on.

Our seats were front row balcony, almost in a direct line with the bass player Jack Bruce. The strongest recollection I have of the set was the first song, “Spoonful.” I had never heard it before and was transported to a state of ecstasy. It was not included on the US release of Fresh Cream , so the song was a complete surprise. It was centered on just two notes and went on for what seemed like forever, most likely about 20 minutes or so. It took the help of a friend to figure out those two notes the next day! The other song from that show that sticks in my mind is the last song, “Toad.” Ginger Baker’s extended drum solo in this song was equally as long as the extended guitar solo in “Spoonful.” Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce left the stage for this part of the song, leaving Ginger alone on stage. When they came back they both had a beer in their hand.

After the show, we went down to the stage to check out their amps. By the time we met up with my father, it was well after the concert. He asked what took so long? “Eric wanted to meet you. I told him you had a Les Paul and had spent hours learning his songs.”

I was pretty skeptical. My father was known for being a joker. It was when he showed me the beer he had from backstage that I knew he was telling me the truth. My dad was in law enforcement and knew the police doing security backstage. They let him in, and he got to hang with the band during “Toad’s” drum solo.

Seeing Jimi Hendrix Live

I saw Jimi Hendrix play Woolsey Hall on the Yale campus in New Haven, Connecticut, on November 17th, 1968. It was an early show.

I was there with a blonde girl whose name has been lost to time. It was cold and she wore an itchy wool sweater. Our seats were close to the stage, maybe the third row. We wondered if Jimi would smash or burn his guitar (he did neither).

There were two support bands, Cat Mother & The All Night Newsboys and Terry Reid. I became a true believer in Terry Reid from the first note. I left the show thinking more about Terry than Jimi. To this day I’m not sure who had a bigger influence on me as a musician.

It was a very long time before Jimi came out. The story was he didn’t know there was an early show. I kept wishing they would let Terry do another set. Jimi eventually took the stage and claimed he would make it up to us. He promised to play “Foxy Lady” like never before. He played the first few notes and the hall suddenly fell into complete darkness. It wasn’t for dramatic effect: the band had actually blown the main fuse. They needed a bit more time to run a power line from another building to continue the show. Jimi engaged the audience to help pass the time (as best he could) by telling jokes. The only one I remember was something like: “What’s green and hangs from the trees in Africa? Elephant snot.”

He said he was going to play the next song really loud. He turned it up and played an insane version of “Red House.” It was so loud I thought my ears would bleed.

Looking back, It was a great honor to see many of the guitarists who have influenced both my playing and my worldview. I learned from Jimi that you can never underestimate the power in your left hand, Fuzz and Wah can create magic in the right combination, and most of all, nothing in music is as important as a beautiful melody.

“I’m the one that’s going to have to die when it’s time for me to die, so let me live my life the way I want to, sing on brother, play on drummer….”

On The Road To Nick Drake

On The Road To Nick Drake

It was a long time ago and therefore a bit murky. As best I remember, the first time I became aware of Nick Drake was seeing a copy of his album Bryter Layter in the import section of Rhymes Records in New Haven, Connecticut. I wondered why anyone would choose to pose with an inexpensive mahogany Guild M-20 and passed on buying the record. I had never heard Nick’s music, and import records were pretty expensive.

Not long after, the printing company I worked for printed a New Times Magazine feature on Nick, written by Arthur Lubow. To my knowledge, this was the first feature written on Nick in the USA, though a few reviews of his records had appeared in other publications. Arthur’s piece captured my attention and boosted my curiosity. I drove back to New Haven and bought the LP. I was an instant believer. To this day, the song “Fly” gives me the chills. Its haunting beauty was like no other song I had ever heard.

The next Nick Drake LP I found was Five Leaves Left. It appeared in a Greenwich Village record shop. Five Leaves Left affected me even more deeply than Bryter Layter. “Time Has Told Me” and “Riverman” held me in a trance. How could these two amazing records not be major hits? Nick’s third LP Pink Moon proved to be very hard to find. Luckily, after a few trips back to NYC, I scored a copy in another record shop in the Village. There was a bit of a cult demand and some original gatefolds of Pink Moon were actually fetching over $100, but I was determined to own it, so I didn’t flinch. Soon I was back home in Connecticut dropping the needle on the first track of the LP, Pink Moon. To say I was not ready for what I heard was an understatement of biblical proportions. It opened a door to another world. I played it start to finish more times than I can recall. It became the only LP I played for quite some time.

Many years later, I was playing a gig and someone in the audience bought one of my cassettes after my set. He said to me, “You should know that the only other cassette I own is Nick Drake’s Pink Moon. Pink Moon had become and is, to this day, deeply rooted in my DNA. Anyway, once I owned all three of Nick’s LPs, two things became apparent to me: First, Nick was not using the same alternate tunings everyone else was using and in the case of the Pink Moon, a lot of songs were in their own unique tunings. Secondly, the Lubow article quoted a line from a song that was not on any of the three LPs.

I had to know more, so I called his publisher and asked to speak to him about the story. I was told that he did not speak to people he did not know. I left a message, stating that I had read the piece, tracked down and bought all three LPs and I had a few questions and would love to talk to him. He returned my call about a half-hour later, appreciative that his article had inspired me to search out all of Nick’s music. After speaking with Arthur for some time, he decided to give me Nick’s parents’ phone number in the UK and suggested they would very much enjoy talking to me.

I mustered the courage and made the first, of what was to be many trans-Atlantic phone calls. Nick’s mother, Molly, answered the phone. She projected a beautiful spirit and an amazing amount of generosity to me. After a while, she put Rodney, Nick’s father, on the phone and he shared the same qualities. They were amazed that I had found all three LPs (By that time, I had also acquired a copy of the very rare USA compilation LP of the first two LPs). I mentioned that I had learned to play all of the songs on the Pink Moon LP and various songs from Nick’s other LPs. I said I would send them a cassette.

A short time later, I received a very long letter from Molly thanking me for the cassette of me playing Nick’s music. She also sent me a cassette of Nick’s demos and “bedroom” recordings. From then on, we shared many letters, cards, and phone conversations. Molly also shared many of her observations regarding my own music. Years later, I learned that she was also a songwriter.

During the course of one of our conversations, Molly suggested I contact TJ McGrath, another fan of Nick’s music, who also lived in Connecticut. At that time, TJ was the editor of the music fanzine Fairport Fanatics which went on to become the magazine Dirty Linen. TJ and I met for a night of playing Nick’s music and sharing information we had discovered about Nick and the music associated with his, such as John Martyn, Richard Thompson, Fairport Convention and earlier influences, Davy Graham, Jackson C Frank and Bert Jansch. Each new door that opened led to another and after some time, there was a network of people connected by their love of Nick’s music. At a certain point, it felt like we were part a secret society and that was going to pretty much be the way it would be.

Then in 1999, one Thursday at 8pm, before an episode of Friends, the haunting chord that opens Pink Moon was heard across the USA. The song “Pink Moon” was the soundtrack to a VW commercial. Within a few days, everything was different. Pink Moon became one of the top selling CDs on Amazon. After that, Nick’s music also started showing up in movie soundtracks. I’ve been continually struck by the great care exercised by Nick’s estate in determining who is suitable to be licensed to use his songs.

By this time, I was working at AcousticMusic.Org, which is a Martin guitar dealer. It has become known that Nick only posed with the Guild M-20 on the album cover. The guitar actually belonged to the photographer. While we could talk about my theories regarding what guitars Nick owned and didn’t own, we know Nick’s last steel string guitar was a Martin 000-28. We know by its serial number that it was imported into the UK after Nick had recorded all three of his LPs, so the only recordings he could have used this Martin on were the last five songs: “Rider on the Wheel,” “Black Eyed Dog,” “Hanging on a Star,” “Voice from the Mountain” and “Tow the Line” (found many years after the other four songs).

Around 2004, I contacted both CF Martin Guitar Company and Nick’s estate to propose the idea of a limited-edition Martin Custom Shop guitar, based on Nick’s 000-28. It would take until 2019 with the support of Nick Drake’s estate, Leonard Wyeth (owner of AcousticMusic.Org), and the CF Martin Custom Shop to make a limited edition run of ten guitars possible. These ten guitars will be available exclusively through AcousticMusic.Org. We arrived at a guitar that is sonically perfect for the style of music that Nick composed. We chose understated design elements that will appeal to fans of Nick’s music, as well as to other musicians, for whom this guitar may be the door that leads them to the music of Nick Drake.

My First 12-String Rickenbacker

My First 12-String Rickenbacker

I remember the compressed guitar sound coming out of our black and white Motorola TV set like it was yesterday. That moment in time has become part of my sonic DNA. It was like nothing I had ever heard before. There on the TV was this skinny guitar player with strange rectangular sunglasses and a blonde guitar that sounded like it was sending messages from another dimension.

I recognized the guitar instantly as a Rickenbacker because John and George of The Beatles both played Rickenbacker guitars. This one sounded completely different than either of theirs. I discovered pretty fast that the guitar had 12 strings, with the bass strings tuned an octave apart and the treble strings tuned in unison. George’s Rickenbacker was also a 12-string, but this new sound was a sonic game changer. The song was “Mister Tambourine Man,” and the band was The Byrds.

The guitarist Jim McGuinn (later to change his name to Roger) had created a new sound by compressing the signal and boosting the treble. He was also a banjo player and fingerpicked the guitar with metal fingerpicks. This sound became known as “Jangle” Rock and pretty soon almost every band had a 12- string Rickenbacker on both sides of the Atlantic.

There were three basic models; the solid body 450-12, the semi-hollow 330-12, and the deluxe semi-hollow 360-12. The two most popular finishes were the natural, which was referred to as Mapleglow, and the sunburst, which was named Fireglow.

I had to get my hands on one of these. The problem was they were very expensive. Even the least expensive one, the 450-12, was around $250, which was a lot of money in 1965 for a 13-year-old kid to lay his hands on. It was decided that I would have to get an after school and weekend job if I was ever to afford one.

At this point, a little back story is in order. My first guitar was a robin egg blue Kapa Continental. It was an okay guitar, but not what it was sold to me as, which was “better than a Fender,” I got it in around 1963 at Goldies in New Haven. A year later, I was at Caruso’s in New London trading it in. I had a bunch of money saved and hoped that with my trade-in I could get a 450-12. I asked what could he do. He opened up the case of a Rickenbacker 450-12, thought for a bit, and offered me a red Fender Mustang. I don’t know why I took the Mustang. I suspect I was sick of the Kapa.

I then went back to work at my job at the local Hammond Organ shop. My job was to polish the organs, help deliver them, along with cleaning and vacuuming the shop. Oh yes, and every Saturday I had to clean both sides of the very large plate glass window in the front of the shop. The owner insisted that I use only Windex and old newspapers to clean the window. It took me forever to get rid of all the streaks.

It wasn’t until 1966 that I finely had enough money to get my first Rickenbacker, a Fireglow 450-12. The guitar was my pride and joy until one night, playing at a coffeehouse in Ivoryton, the neck fell off. For a very short period of time, Rickenbacker experimented with changing the guitar’s construction to a glued-on neck, from “neck through” construction, where the neck and body are one piece of wood (the body is created by gluing “wings” to either side of the core). Sadly the amount of string pressure was too much and the glued on neck joints failed. The guitar had to be sent off to Rickenbacker for replacement.

This took over a year and by the time I got the guitar back, I had acquired a used Mapleglow 360-12 on loan. My father met a guy at a bar named the Woodlawn in Madison, Connecticut. He had the Rickenbacker and a Stratocaster that he gave up playing. He told my dad I could keep the 360-12 until I got my 450-12 back. Needless to say, I tried my hardest to keep the 360-12, but it would not be until a couple of years later that I would be able to get one from Harmony Music in Madison. By then, I got a job there and worked it off, instead of getting paid. I’ve almost always had a 450-12 and 360-12 in my “toolbox” since high school. There were very long periods of time when I would not play them and was tempted to sell one or both of them. However, there always seemed to be a song or project that only sounded right with that haunting compressed jangle of my youth.

Jr Saw It Happening

Jr Saw It Happening

Sometimes a picture will stay with you forever. I had already owned one of the first Les Paul Goldtops to arrive in Connecticut in 1968 and sold it due to its weight — I was a pretty skinny kid and it killed my shoulder.

I was not a stranger to Gibson Les Pauls. I had seen black Customs and Sunburst Standards in the hands of various rock stars, but this was something different. It did not take long to read an interview with Leslie West to discover the guitar in the Life Magazine Woodstock issue, that I had an instant love of, was a Les Paul Junior. Now, how to get one!

I made a few trips to W48th street in NYC, but no luck. There was a weekly newspaper in Connecticut named the “Bargain News” that I checked weekly. One ad seemed promising, but the guitar turned out to be a single cutaway Melody Maker. It was a very cool single pickup guitar that I got for $50, but it was not a Junior. I had $150 saved up from painting a neighbor’s garage so I was ready for one to show up. At this point in time the only Junior I had ever seen was Leslie’s, and to my knowledge that was what a Junior was. 

After a while my chance to own one came. I found an ad for one in the Bargain News. The guitar was in Monroe, Connecticut, about an hour drive, but I was not going to miss my chance. My band mate Peter and I got into my VW and drove to Monroe.

When I walked into the room the first thing I noticed was it’s cool brown alligator case. I slowly opened the case. To my complete surprise the guitar looked nothing like Leslie West’s Junior. This one was red and a double cutaway, but it did say “Les Paul, Junior” on the headstock so it was a Junior. I dig it anyway, it had the appointments I liked, one pickup and a wraparound tailpiece so while not what I thought I was buying, I was happy.

At that point I had the Melody Maker and my first Junior. Shortly after that I picked up another red double cutaway at a pawn shop in New London. Because new Martin guitars had black pickguards and older ones had red “tortoise” guards, for some time I thought the red ones were older. 

I finally got my first no issues sunburst single cutaway Junior on W 48th Street sometime in the summer of 1970. It would not be until around 1972 that I got my first TV Model, a 1959 double cutaway. I traded George Gruhn a Brazilian rosewood 00-28G for it. 

Over the years I would own many Juniors, TV’s and Specials (two pickups). As time went on I learned more about the history of the model. I’ll share my understanding of the evolution of this model.

The Junior was introduced in 1954 as a single pickup, sunburst finish economy Les Paul. Some early examples have Maple bodies. I saw what appeared to be a prototype from 1953 at Gruhn’s awhile back. Gibson moved the position of the pickup in relationship to the treble side of the wraparound tailpiece stud because it had a bad habit of breaking through to the pickup route. In 1955 Gibson introduced the TV Model, which is identical to the Junior except for its straw blonde-like “Limed Oak” finish and black tone and volume knobs. There was a myth that the finish was created to show up better on TV, but I’ve never believed that. 

At some point in 1958 the Junior and TV went through a major design change. In what appeared to be an effort the create a guitar with greater neck access, both models became a double cutaway guitar. The earliest examples in 1958 had a very “squared” off slab body. At some point in late 1958 or early 1959 the body edges were rounded and the neck heed was extended, to achieve a more stable neck joint. The Junior acquired a red finish and the TV model became a bit more yellow, and both guitars had red tortoise pickguards. Another detail was that the neck profile on the 1959 models were for lack of a better word, huge. In 1960 the neck profile became more of a thin, flat oval. 

The Junior was originally introduced as an economy student grade guitar. I doubt Gibson would have ever dreamed that it would become the guitar of choice for so many and varied rock guitarists. From Leslie West, Keith Richards, John Lennon, Neil Young, Mick Jones, Johnny Thunders, Billie Joe Armstrong and many others. I venture to say almost every serious rock and roll guitarist has one in their toolbox. 

Hey Kid Rock & Roll

Hey Kid Rock & Roll

There’s a thing that happens when you hear a band for the first time and you know they have forever changed the way you relate to a type of music. I would liken it to a zen satori, like getting to the essence of something you didn’t know you were missing until you heard it, and from then on everything is different. This happened to me one afternoon in 1977. I was working the graveyard shift in a printing plant and tended to stay up all day hanging around the house drinking coffee, playing guitar, reading and listening to WPKN.

One day I was having a cup of coffee and WPKN was playing a band I had never heard before. The DJ played the whole LP start to finish, and from the first song I was a true believer. Not only did I not know who the band was, but their approach to rock & roll was coming from a place that caught me off guard. They sounded like they took a turn off a familiar road and ended up somewhere between The New York Dolls, Bob Marley and Chuck Berry, if they had all been jacked up on speed and quite angry about the state of the nation. If you haven’t guessed, the band was The Clash, and I got to hear the first LP in one glorious shot of anarchy.

The LP simply named The Clash stands today as strong of a statement, both musically and lyrically, as it did in 1977. The topics and the songs written in the late 70’s UK seem equally at home today with the current state of affairs in the USA (maybe the UK also).

In the song “I’m So Bored With The USA,” the lyric “Yankee dollar talk to the dictators of the world, In fact it’s giving orders, an’ they can’t afford to miss a word,” rings like part of the current news cycle.

“Remote Control” takes aim at what is currently referred to here in the USA as “the one percent.” “They had a meeting in Mayfair, They got you down and wanna keep you there, It makes them worried, Their bank accounts, That’s all that matters, You don’t count”.

“Career Opportunities” takes on the lack of good jobs, political conditions and the poor economy. “Career opportunities, the ones that never knock, Every job they offer you is to keep you off the dock. Career opportunities, the ones that never knock”.

The one cover on The Clash is the Junior Murvin reggae classic “Police & Thieves,” taking the band in a direction (reggae) that would serve the band well in the future. My favorite lines from this song are “Police and thieves in the streets (oh yeah), Scaring the nation with their guns and ammunition, Police and thieves in the street (oh yeah), Fighting the nation with their guns and ammunition.” Once again the lyrics are perfectly at home with the current climate here in America.

As a band, Joe Strummer’s rhythm guitar parts played on a Fender Telecaster are the perfect foil to Mick Jones’ style of playing and guitar of choice  –like so many others before him, most notably Johnny Thunders — a single pickup double cutaway Les Paul Junior. While most guitarists in punk bands avoided taking leads, Mick’s leads cut through the mix with razor sharp precision. Paul Simonon on bass and Terry Chimes on drums are the perfect rhythm section for whatever the band decided to take on. From straight out high velocity punk, classic rock & roll and reggae, everyone is up to the task.

This is as damn near perfect as it gets for a first LP. The bands next two LP’s would reveal that as great as it is, The Clash would be the first of three of the most groundbreaking UK R&R LP’s from a band since the original British Invasion of the 60’s.

1965 Rickenbacker 360-12

George Harrison, Roger McGuinn and Pete Townshend played a 1965 Rickenbacker 360-12.

George Harrison acquired his Rickenbacker 360-12 12 string in 1964 during the Beatles first U.S. Tour.

Guitars For Trade Rickenbacker 360-12 Roger McGuinn

Roger McGuinn

Guitars For Trade Rickenbacker 360-12 George Harrison

George Harrison

Guitars For Trade Rickenbacker 360-12 Pete Townshend

Pete Townshend

James Taylor and the Gibson J50

James Taylor recorded Sweet Baby James with a Gibson J50. The Gibson J50 with its mahogany back & sides, spruce top, Brazilian Rosewood fretboard and adjustable bridge helped produce the album’s iconic sound.