Zero to 180 – Three Minute Magic

Discoveries of a Pop Music Archaeologist

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 three 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 “country jazz“).  Recorded September 2, 1954.  Bryant is using a “Stratosphere Twin” doubleneck 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.

(image courtesy of Unique Guitar Blog)

Stratosphere Twin - Jimmy Bryant

Billboard‘s bloodless review in its October 30, 1954 edition (“a fast-paced instrumental with excellent guitar work) barely hints at the raging currents that propel this groundbreaking recording —

Stratosphere Boogie

Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant (1954)

2.  “Space Guitar” by JohnnyGuitarWatson –

Unhinged guitar paired with playful production (and unpredictable reverb) — as music writer/historian 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

JohnnyGuitarWatson (1954)

Cash Box‘s unintended bit of hilarity — praising Watson for his “fancy steel guitar work” in their April 17, 1954 issue — only reinforces the impression that the sounds conjured up by the pioneering guitarist were too radical for even the experienced ears of a music reviewer at one of the leading trade publications.

3.  “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)

Down Beat, would it surprise you to know, was hip to this record at the time of its release?  April 21, 1954 issue

Now some Opry news.  Grady Martin, top-notch guitarist on the Opry, has a new Decca release, “Pork Chop Stomp.”  Tune was penned by Grady and Hank (“Sugarfoot”) Garland, also a guitarist and with Eddy Arnold.  On the flip is an old tune, “My Window Faces South,” and Red Foley does the singing.

 (image courtesy of Discogs)


Approximately 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:

(image courtesy of Discogs)



LINK to Guitar Instrumentals

LINK to Steel Guitar Instrumentals

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2 Responses

  1. I’m a Deaver, I remember as a child at my uncle Russel’s house playing with his blonde double neck stratosphere and hearing the stories from my dad about how his brothers were screwed by Les Paul and Gibson out of their rights to invention. So it goes. Glad to see truth still prevails in some corners of the world and credit is given to those who deserve it.

  2. I own the widely photographed Stratosphere Twin in natural finish with the pearloid inlays in the fret markers. It is the only one I’ve seen with these fancier fret markers. Anyone know the story behind this? I’d love to hear any information. Also, does anyone know what became of Jackie Phelps Stratosphere Twin that he cut off part of the body and moved the 6 string neck?

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