The Poets: Not Actual 12-Strings

The ringing, echo-drenched electric 12-string guitars on the debut single by Scottish rockers, The Poets, are such a striking sound for 1964 and yet a strangely familiar one:  might it be possible that the band later reincarnated as Brian Jonestown Massacre?

“Now We’re Thru'”     The Poets     1964
[play at strong volume]

What a revelation when one finds out – thanks to Richie Unterberger’s interview with lead singer and songwriter, George Gallacher – “apparently, there were no 12-string guitars, but what there was, was the two guitars having the 1st and 2nd strings tuned the same, thereby creating a semi-12 string effect.”  That very same year interestingly enough, Lou Reed would take this concept to the ultimate extreme when he tuned all six strings to the same note (D) for his satiric dance (non)-hit “The Ostrich.”

Now We're Thru - The Poets 45

With great feeling and commitment from every band member, “Now We’re Thru’” is a classic A-side from top to bottom, with the chiming guitars – and especially the lonely vocal at song’s end – ratcheting up the romance and mystery. The song would find release in Japan (manufactured by the “otherKing Records), as well as the US, Australia, and the UK, where the song charted at #31, doing particularly well in Scotland, confirms Unterberger in his (revised) history of ‘overlooked innovators and eccentric visionaries’ — Urban Spacemen and Wayfaring Strangers.

Billboard‘s December 12, 1964 edition gives the back story on the single’s release here in the States:

“Bob Crewe, independent record producer, has formed his own label, Dynovox, which will be distributed by Amy-Mala Records.

The label’s first release is ‘Now We’re Thru” by the Poets.  Crewe is currently producing sides for the 4 Seasons, and current releases ‘Watch Out Sally‘ by Diane Renay on MGM; ‘Dusty‘ by the Rag Dolls on Amy-Mala; newcomer Michael Allen on MGM Records with ‘She,’ and the forthcoming Travey Dey release on Amy-Mala.

The New Crewe label will not confine its efforts to pop releases.  The New York Youth Symphony and show and movie scores are being recorded for future releases.”

Unterberger attributes much of the “brilliance” of The Poets’ singles to their manager/producer, Andrew Loog Oldham, and proclaims the band to be “certainly the most talented act in Oldham’s production/management stable other than the Stones.”  According to a November, 1964 edition of New Music Express, the band’s name is “presumably derived from the fact that they wear their hair Burns-style and have ruffled lace-fronted shirts.”

After recording two singles for Oldham’s Immediate label, The Poets would carry on for one more single after Gallacher’s departure – 1967’s “Wooden Spoon” – before disbanding.  Wait a minute, 1967 is the birth year for Anton Newcombe:  coincidence or musical reincarnation?

The Poets would reunite in 2011 for a live performance at Glasgow’s Eyes Wide Open club.  Tip of the hat (yet again) to Tom Avazian for hipping me to this track via UK anthology album from 1983:  20 One-Hit Wonders, Volume 2.

1968 Crown Durango Electric 12-String [courtesy of Drowning in Guitars]

Electric 12-String = 1968 Crown Durango

{double click on image above for 3-D centerfold effect}

 

Historical Sidebar:  First Electric 12-String Guitar on UK Recording

Tony Bacon’s Rickenbacker Electric 12 String, The Story of The Guitars, The Music, and The Great Players informs who the electric 12-string pioneers in the UK were:

In fact, [George] Harrison’s Rickenbacker wasn’t the first electric 12-string on a British recording session.  That honour belongs to a Burns guitar played by Hank Marvin of The Shadows.  Marvin, a Fender Stratocaster player, had teamed up with British guitar-maker, Jim Burns, to design a new solid-body six-string electric.  Burns also came up with an electric 12-string, and around October, 1963, Marvin received an early sample of the Burns Double Six.  He took it along to various sessions at EMI’s Abbey Road studios in London where he was recording with Cliff Richard & The Shadows.

Marvin intended to record “Don’t Talk to Him” using the Burns 12, but problems arose, so instead he doubled a six-string line to achieve the prominent hookline.  A few weeks later, however, he recorded another Cliff session and played the prototype Burns 12-string for “On The Beach.”  Unusually, the 12 was strung like a six-string bass plus octave strings, clearly heard on the song’s low-down double string runs.  Later in November, Marvin used the Burns 12 with regular stringing for “I’m the Lonely One.”  These Cliff Richard songs weren’t released until 1964 — in the UK singles chart, “I’m the Lonely One” went to Number 8 in February and “On the Beach” to 7 in July — but they are important as early British recordings of the electric 12-string sound.

The book goes on to say:

The very first release of a British record with electric 12-string — just ahead of The Beatles and well ahead of Cliff & The Shads — was the result of another Abbey Road session.  Paul McCartney gave one of his songs to Peter & Gordon, a new duo signed to EMI.  They recorded their single “A World Without Love” at Abbey Road in January 1964, with sessionman Vic Flick [of James Bond theme fame] on guitar.
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Futuristic 50s “Touch Guitar”

Wait a dagblasted second!   How come I never heard of Dave Bunker or stumbled across his radical 1950s “Duo-Lectar” in all my musical readings until just now?

On this 1958 clip from Jubilee USA, we learn that this modernistic musical machine took eight years to put together (with his father’s assistance) — check out the beautiful steel guitar-like chording he emulates with his right hand:

 Dave Bunker playing his “Duo-Lectar”     Jubilee USA    1958

What synchronicity – just one month ago, Christopher Scapelliti wrote an appreciation of the Duo-Lectar Double-Neck “Touch Guitar” for Guitar World:

“In 1958, Bunker patented the guitar as the Duo-Lectar and subsequently showed it at NAMM when the show was still held in Chicago’s Palmer House hotel.  He recalls sharing space at the Standel amps booth with a young Barbara Mandrell and entertaining guitar greats like Chet Atkins, Mel Bay and Joe Maphis with his Duo-Lectar.

Bunker says Leo Fender approached him with an offer to buy the guitar and Bunker’s related innovations.  Leo offered $20,000 and a three percent royalty—“which at the time was like a million dollars,” Bunker notes.  But he turned down Fender and continued refining the guitar on his own.”

As Dave Bunker notes about his very first instrument on the Bunker Guitars website:

“This is the very first Double Neck touch type musical instrument ever patented.  Notice the date in the script below the photo (1956).  This first Touch Guitar which I patented as the Duo-Lectar™ was made by my Father Joe Bunker and I in 1955.  We didn’t have money to buy fret wire so we made the frets out of an old chain saw stinger (blade).”

Duo-Lectar

Bunker’s designs have evolved notably since the 1950s – and not all of his instruments are “touch guitars,” either.  And with regard to the whole “two-handed double tapping” issue, Bunker has a few things to say:

“Lots of controversy exist over who did what and when on the Touch/Tap method of play, well here it is and this is right.  Actually, Merle Travis was one of the first artists to play using two hands on the fingerboard.  The first artist to really bring it out and do something with was Jimmie Webster, who wrote the first touch system method book for a single neck type electric guitar played with two hand tapping.”

Dick Denney’s Secret Guitar Organ

Thanks to Vintage Guitar Magazine‘s October 2013 edition for its fascinating history of Vox, makers of musical amplifiers (primarily) but also effects pedals, guitars, organs and guitar-organs.  Peter Stuart Kohman’s article references Dick Denney’s futuristic appearance on Steve Allen’s I’ve Got a Secret 1960s game show – and fortunately, there’s a clip of this fascinating musical demonstration and great TV history moment:

Dick Denney Demonstrates the Vox V251 Guitar Organ     1967

It is particularly intriguing to see Denney – the instrument’s co-designer (who appears around the 6:30 mark) – show off the instrument’s “live looping” feature that allows the musician to sample & repeat a musical riff and then improvise melody lines on top of this looped musical accompaniment — a special capability that would only become accessible to the consumer market 30 years later (i.e., “one-man digital bands”).

Vox Guitar Organ

This innovative technology – “a hollow metal neck full of hand-wired contacts (each fret had an individual trigger point for each string)” – would prove, however to have still been in its beta stage.  According to Kohman, “While it did work (at least in the right hands), in the field it proved unreliable at best.”  And thus, the Vox Guitar Organ (1) “was never really a commercial success” (2) an “over-the-top design” and (3) “an infamous part of guitar history.”

voxmobile (ford cobra 289 v-8)  & Jimmy Bryant – “world’s fastest guitarist”

Jimmy Bryant & Voxmobile

Andy Tielman’s 10-String Guitar

Victor Uwaifo’s double-neck “magic guitar” with 18 strings immediately brings to mind Andy Tielman and his 10-string guitar.  I suspect that many if not most Americans are unfamiliar with The Tielman Brothers, a band of siblings from the Netherlands by way of Indonesia.  But check out this live performance of the band in flight, and you too might be floored by the realization that some of the most compelling rockabilly sounds came from a group of Indo-Dutch youngsters (many thanks to Tom Hutton for the Tielman tip):

Check out the drummer’s guitar work on “Rollin’ Rock” by The Tielman Brothers

Andy Tielman and his brothers Reggy, Ponthon, and Loulou would emigrate to the Netherlands in 1957 and get their first big gig at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair in the “Hawaiian Village” of the Dutch pavilion, where they stole the show (see live performance clip above) with their exuberant stage antics, according to Indo-Rock-Gallery.

Indo-Rock-Gallery’s story of the Indonesian expatriate music scene in the Netherlands also details how Andy Tielman and his brothers pushed the “new rock music” forward in a number of ways.  How fascinating, for example, to discover that —

  • Andy Tielman’s famous 10-string Fender Jazzmaster was a result of having switched from his original Gibson Les Paul (due to its weight) and finding the Fender sound too thin.  Tielman, therefore, doubled each string (except the highest and lowest ones) and tuned every string pair in octaves to enlarge the sound.  At the time, Tielman tried to conceal his instrument’s headstock with a towel, but other bands would copy his invention.  Even still, I can find no photos of Andy’s 10-string invention on the web.

Cees Bakker’s attempt to replicate Andy Tielman’s 10-String Fender Jazzmaster

Fender headstock

  • Cees Bakker reports that “another Tielman first” was their innovative use of dual Fender VI six-string basses, one with lighter gauge strings (Reggy) and the other (Robby) with heavier ones — furthermore, “thanks to their amp settings Reggy sounded like an octave below guitar and Robby like a real bass guitar, which is unique for a Fender VI.”
  • Bakker also points out how the output from bassist, Robby Latuperisa, was “plugged through Andy’s guitar signal” on the way to “all other Fender Bassman and Showman” amplifiers, in addition to the PA sound system.

Tielman Brothers 45-aTielman Brothers 45-bTielman Brothers 45-cTielman Brothers 45-dTielman Brothers 45-eTielman Brothers 45-fTielman Brothers 45-gTielman Brothers 45-h

Rock-It-Chain has band member lineups over the years, as well as a detailed discography.

Hear the twin 6-string basses and see Andy’s 10-string (briefly) in this live clip

“Guitar Boy”: Africa’s Guitar King

If it weren’t for Don’t Stay Up Too Late’s thoughtful (and poetic) 100 Great Singles of the 1960s (That Haven’t Been Played to Death on Oldies Radio), I might never have learned of “Africa’s Guitar King” – Sir Victor Uwaifo – and the heavenly sounds he conjured on his 1966 single, “Guitar Boy”:

According to Uwaifo’s own website, “Guitar Boy” is a song that was directly inspired by the bandleader’s encounter one night at a Lagos beach bar with a mermaid — hence, the guitar’s “aqueous” sound.  As Jusi I Love helpfully explains, the mermaid (who the singer calls mami wata) told him, “Guitar boy, if you see mami wata, never never you run away”.  This larger-than-life tale has also been immortalized with a “sculptural representation of the mermaid and his guitar, constructed in a pool at Uwaifo’s Revelation Tourist Palazzo in Benin City.”  Don’t Stay Up Late would commemorate the singer and song thusly:

Victor Uwaifo
Had a great life-o.
But he knew he was only the king
’Cos a mermaid had once heard him sing.

Could “Guitar Boy” have been the inspiration for Jimi Hendrix’s epic 1968 composition, “1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)“?

Uwaifo’s biography also informs us that, as a result of the popularity of his songs, a Ghanaian fabric was nicknamed “Joromi” (a song based on the story of a legendary hero in Benin history, as well as the name of Uwaifo’s own style of Highlife music), while “Guitar Boy” was used as a code name for a military coup in Ghana in the 1970s.

                 Uwaifo invented this double-neck “magic guitar” with 18 strings that can Be “rotated 360 degrees at the speed of sound”

Victor Uwaifo LPComb & Razor provides very interesting biographical details and music history here.

Present-day Sir Victor Uwaifo, I’m happy to report, is a vital web presence — be sure to check out all the tributes from heads of state, dignitaries, and government officials.

1954: An Explosive Year for Music

We all know that 1954 was the year of Elvis Presley’s famous and influential Sun recordings, but 1954 was also highly noteworthy for the combined impact of these 3 particular tunes — all instrumentals:

1.  “Stratosphere Boogie” by Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant:  phenomenal, blazing twin guitar work – rock and roll by any other name (although some might call it “hillbilly jazz“).  Recorded September 2, 1954.  Bryant is using a “Stratosphere Twin” double-neck guitar with 6-string and 12-string necks.  The 12-string neck, curiously, is tuned in thirds, thus sounding like twin lead guitars playing lines in harmony.

Stratosphere Twin - Jimmy Bryant

“Stratosphere Boogie”     Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant     1954

2.  “Space Guitar” by JohnnyGuitarWatson:  unhinged guitar paired with playful production (and unpredictable reverb) – as Larry Nager so adroitly dubbed it, “punk blues.”  Recorded as ‘Young John Watson’ in Los Angeles on February 1, 1954 and released on Syd Nathan‘s Federal Records.

“Space Guitar”     Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson     1954

Space Guitar 453.  “Pork Chop Stomp” by Grady Martin and His WinginStrings – crisp production,       great chops (so to speak) and a little humor go a long way.  That’s Bud Isaacs on pedal steel, with Grady Martin and Hank Garland both playing lead on this spirited piece of western swing – recorded January 13, 1954.

“Pork Chop Stomp”     Grady Martin & His Wingin’ Strings     1954

Grady Martin doubleneck guitarApproximately 12 Years Later:

Johnny Echols of seminal Los Angeles folk-punk band, Love, would be seen playing one of those rare Stratosphere double-necks originally made famous by Jimmy Bryant:

Johnny-Echols-with-Stratosphere