George Barnes recorded a boss guitar instrumental – “Spooky” – that should be part of everyone’s Halloween soundtrack:
“Spooky” George Barnes 1962
Billboard conferred three stars (“moderate sales potential) upon this B-side, as well as its A-side “Trainsville,” in their June 23, 1962 edition. Exactly fifty years later, in 2012, someone would pay $126 for a copy of this record.
Mercury promo/DJ 45
- “Spooky” (humorously) holds down the number thirteen spot on a 3-CD set released in the UK and Europe, I Just Love Halloween.
- “Spooky” is featured as the second track of 2013’s triple-disc compilation for the European market — A Taste of Honey: Gems from the Mercury Vaults — songs all from the year 1962.
- “Spooky” is also part of 2016’s offbeat compilation, Follow Me To The Popcorn: The Untold History Of The Belgium Popcorn Scene,
- “Spooky” serves, coincidentally enough, as the final track of a 2-CD retrospective — Restless Guitar (1952-1962) — from 2015 that was released in Spain.
Link to Volume 1
I agree with 45Cat and (unwitting) Zero to 180 contributor, mickey rat, who declares George Barnes to be “an important but neglected figure in the development of American popular music” (not to mention, “one of the very first people to play electric guitar”). Another 45Cat contributor, porcupine, notes the similarity between these two tracks and 1959’s Guitar: Twangy With a Beat album, recorded by Barnes using the nom de guerre, Dean Hightower (an alter ego solely on the ABC-Paramount label).
Dean Hightower: The Back Story [courtesy of Discogs]
Hi…I’m George Barnes’ daughter, and can tell you the history of this album. It was a one-off for ABC-Paramount, who wanted to compete with Duane Eddy and — knowing my father could play anything, which he did as a NYC studio musician — asked him if he’d record something in that genre. He didn’t want to associate his name with it, so took the pseudonym Dean Hightower as a joke. The name’s a fake, but the stereo mix is real. Some people love this album — but this is certainly not representative of his entire body of work! I recently launched The George Barnes Legacy Collection, in case anyone here is interested in learning more about this jazz great and electric guitar pioneer: https://georgebarneslegacy.com
Cheers, Alexandra Barnes Leh
People have forked over considerable cash for George Barnes’ 1959 Country Jazz album, — as much as $250 and more. But wait! For just 1/10 of that amount, you can purchase the entire Country Jazz album remastered on compact disc, plus “rare selected tracks from the airchecks of Barnes’ early national radio performances on NBC’s Plantation Party.” For those who prefer vinyl, Modern Harmonic has re-released Country Jazz in gatefold format that includes extended liner notes and images from the CD.
Rodney Gene Jr. plays “Hot Guitar Rag” from 1959’s Country Jazz album
What a kick in the pants to discover that YouTube does not yet have streaming audio available for Barnes’ debut 45 on Decca — “Hot Guitar Polka” (although you can hear its flip side “Clarinet Polka“, which was used as the theme song for Max Ferguson’s “Rawhide” Canadian radio program). Fortunately, you can hear a great version of “Flintstones Theme” from the album Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, recorded live at Concord, California’s Willow Theater in 1977.
This Just In: Zero to 180 has been informed by Alexandra Barnes Leh, producer of The George Barnes Legacy Collection, that a video for “Hot Guitar Polka” will be part of the promotional push for next year’s re-release of 1958’s Guitars By George! album.
1951 single release = Norway
Besides Country Jazz, the “George Barnes Quartet” recorded 1977’s Blues Going Up for the Concord Jazz label, as well as a series of lauded albums with cornetist, Ruby Braff. Barnes’ obituary in the New York Times notes that this quartet made a “notable debut” at the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival, “winning most of the critical acclaim for the evening.”
Barnes and his Quartet first appeared on record as the backing band for Patti Page on “There’s A Man In My Life“ b/w “The First Time I Kissed You” – a 78 release from 1947 on the Mercury label. The following year, the George Barnes Quartet would back Snooky Lanson on “Long After Tonight” b/w “Hearts Win, You Lose.”
Son of a gun — the label says “George Barnes Trio“!
In addition to his Quartet, Barnes has also fronted a 2nd Quartet (!), as well as Quintet, Sextet, Octet, Chorus and Orchestra, Guitar Choir, and Gran Orquesta de Percusion, not to mention an orchestra jointly owned with bassist, Jack Lesberg. Barnes also enjoyed renown as a Guitar Duo, first with Carl Kress, then with Bucky Pizzarelli (and his 7-string guitar) after Kress’s passing in 1965. Did I mention that Barnes once led a Trio, who were mis-identified as a Quartet, even though it plainly says “Trio” on the label?
“Organizing an octet of musicians from the Chicago Symphony, George created non-traditional jazz with the unusual instrumentation of electric guitar with clarinet, bass saxophone, English horn, oboe, flute, piccolo, piano, vibes, bass and drums. The George Barnes Octet became a highly-acclaimed weekly feature on the ABC Radio Network.” [excerpt from Art of Sound Gallery]
Audio LINK = “Baseball Baseball” (1954) – Barnes & his Quintet
- 15-minute video piece, “George Barnes: Country Jazz – A Modern Harmonic Industrial Film Short“
- Blues Unlimited — Episode #218: “George Barnes & the Early Electric Guitar Heroes” (2-hour radio program that closes with “Quiet, Two Gibsons at Work“)
- In 2013, NPR recognized Barnes as one of “5 Pioneers of Electric Jazz Guitar“
- George Barnes: Country Jazz by Rich Kienzle, Vintage Guitar (August, 2017) — an appreciation.
- Vinyl Treasures: George Barnes’ Be There at Five — Guitar Player (Feb, 2016) — in which Jim Campilongo informs us that Barnes “may have been the first player to record with an electric, Spanish-style guitar when he backed Big Bill Broonzy in 1938 on the tracks ‘Sweetheart Land‘ and ‘Lowdown Dirty Shame.'”
George Barnes Album Covers on Parade
Grand Award — 1957
Decca — 1958
Mercury — 1960
Mercury — recorded 1945
Mercury — 1962
Carney Records — 1963
Billboard‘s July 10, 1965 edition would include this “Pop Spotlight” review:
Two guitar wizards supplying all the music of a full orchestra. The program is played to perfection, and includes much of the material Barnes and Kress performed at the White House Christmas Party last year. With ease they segue from the mellow “Willow Weep for Me” to the sparkling “Girl Friend,” with a standard version of “Sentimental Journey” completing the bill.
Ten Duets for Two Guitars — Kress & Barnes’ “Guitar Karaoke” LP – 1962
Note: “On the even numbered tracks, there’s only the accompaniment played by C. Kress for ‘the home guitarist to join in.'”
Instructional LP – 1961
Collector’s note: Highest prices paid for George Barnes vinyl? Private label release of a “rare, impromptu” session of duets with pianist Ralph Sutton that have sold for $429 in 2015 and $371 in 2013.
Young Professional + Ubiquitous Session Guitarist
- Barnes’ obituary in the Sept. 6, 1977 edition of the New York Times notes “he was a member of the musicians union playing in a trio in Hammond, Indiana, when he was only 12 years old.”
- Art of Sound Gallery notes that at 17 years of age, “George was the youngest staff arranger at NBC in Chicago and soon became a featured artist on the nationally-broadcast Plantation Party.”
- Okeh issued the first recording of Barnes as a solo artist in 1940 (when the guitarist was just 19), eleven years before his Decca debut.
- This YouTube contributor asserts that “George Barnes appeared on more recordings than any other person in the musician union files.”
- George Barnes Guitar Player interview (February 1975 issue):
Q: Do you have any idea how many recording dates you have played on?
A: “Between 1951 and now, I have recorded 23 albums under my own name. From 1953 to 1961, I recorded 61 albums with the Three Suns alone. From 1961 to the present, I have recorded with practically every bigname singing star from Frank Sinatra to Bing Crosby, Patti Page, and loads more. It would be very difficult to find a singing star I haven’t recorded with. They tell me down at the union, that I have recorded more than any other person in their contract file. I don’t know how many recording dates I’ve done, but one day I intend to add them up. I know the number is well into the thousands.”
“Georgie” Barnes — 1940
George Barnes: King Records Alumnus
Zero to 180’s recent celebration of King’s jazz legacy points out that George Barnes played guitar for (who else) Earl Bostic on a Jan. 11, 1956 session that took place in NYC, with four songs recorded including “Bugle Call Rag”; “I Love You Truly” and “’Cause You’re My Lover.”
- Listen: Barnes & Kress’s take on Rodgers & Hart’s “Thou Swell” (recorded 1962)
- Don’t forget: George Barnes gets name-checked on “Springfield Guitar Social“
- Worth a read: George Barnes biographical sketch by The Art of Sound Gallery
Alexandra Barnes Lah notes:
“The George Barnes Estate receives no royalties from all of those European re-releases [mentioned above] … it’s a terrible and heartbreaking ripoff experienced by many American artists and their families. But my relationship with Modern Harmonic is quite the opposite, for which I’m grateful.”