Alvino Rey: Steel Guitarist Bandleader

Thanks to Andy Volk of the Steel Guitar Forum for pointing me to Anne Miller’s fascinating profile of steel guitarist bandleader Alvino Rey for the Smithsonian in which we learn Rey, as a consultant for Gibson in the 1930s, helped develop the prototype for the ES-150 (made famous by Charlie Christian), the first modern electric guitar.  Alvino Rey, therefore, is an un(der)-acknowledged “father of the electric guitar.”

Alvino Rey:  musical bat advocate

Alvino Rey - bat fanCan you name any other pop bandleaders who played the steel guitar besides Alvino Rey? I didn’t think so.

In this TV clip, Lawrence Welk informs his audience that Alvino Rey is(was) a Capitol recording artist whose latest album is Ping Pong — and then insists that Rey play a song not even on the album!   Rey’s musicianship in this performance is masterful:

“Hindustan”     Alvino Rey on The Lawrence Welk Show     1959?

The Smithsonian article also pointed out the reason for the facial resemblance between Alvino Rey and Win (& Will) Butler of Arcade Fire:  it’s genetic.  Rey is the Butler brothers’ grandfather – a fact that becomes quite clear when you look at the photo that accompanies this tribute page from the Gibson Guitars website:

“Built by Alvino Rey and John Kutilek as a test bed for their new pickup, the instrument pictured here (below) comprises a simple frame to which a vestigial ‘body’, fingerboard and headstock – all of which are fabricated from sheet brass – are attached.  Hardware includes a brass nut and bridge, inexpensive tuners and a basic trapeze tailpiece.  The pickup itself consists of two magnets with the strings running between the top magnet and a coil of wire.  The pickup was hardwired with no jack socket or controls.”

Alvino Rey with gibson es-150 prototype in 1997     (gibson guitars website)

Alvino Rey with ES-150 Prototype

Alvino Rey:  A Futuristic Musical Coda

Alvino Rey would pass in 2004, and the following year, Arcade Fire would release a split single, with a 1940 radio broadcast of the Alvino Rey Orchestra used for the flip side.  This performance of the song, “My Buddy,” would also feature Win & Will Butler’s grandmother, Luise King Rey (of The King Sisters) on the Sono-Vox, a 1930s electronic precursor to the “talk box” that Rey himself pioneered and was “rediscovered” in the 1960s & 70s by the two Petes:  Drake & Frampton.

“My Buddy” (live)     Alvino Rey Orchestra     1940

Lucille Ball would use a Sono-Vox to emulate the sound of a freight train whistle in this fascinating Pathe newsreel snippet.

1960 Capitol LP

Alvino Rey LP