(Son of) Plays Guitar Like a Piano

I finally got around to learning how to convert VHS into DVD so that I could preserve a rare piece of Ameri-music-ana:  a live performance of “Tulsa Trot” by noted western swing outfit, Tex Williams and His Western Caravan, that offers a second startling peek at the unorthodox technique of Dickie Phillips who plays guitar in “lap” fashion — like a piano.

“Tulsa Trot”     Tex Williams and His Western Caravan     195?

[note:  Look for drummer, muddy berry, who pulls a great face at song’s end]

Capitol Records would pay for a full-page ad in Billboard’s February 24, 1951 edition that identified “Tulsa Trot” — first mentioned two weeks earlier as a new “folk” release — as a “hot seller.”

Tex Williams 78-bBillboard’s Country & Western (Folk) Record Reviews in the February 17, 1951 edition would include this (terse) write-up:  “Williams hands a danceable ditty his usual virile rendition while the ork maintains a fine terp tempo via swinging strings.”  Music Weird blog rightly asks:  what is aterptempo?

As it turned out, it would be Jimmy Bryant – not Phillips – who joined Dean Eacker and Smokey Rogers on guitar at the January 8, 1951 Capitol recording session, along with Fred Tavares on steel guitar, Ossie Godson on piano, Pedro DePaul on accordion & Deuce Spriggins on bass.

Smokey Rogers – a recording artist in his own right, who also co-wrote “Tulsa Trot” along with steel guitar wiz, EarlJoaquinMurphey – would release his own version soon after, as reported in the April 14, 1951 edition of Billboard.  Check out Joaquin Murphey’s hot steel guitar riffing on Rogers’ somewhat more polite version:

“Tulsa Trot”     Smokey Rogers     1951

Link to previous piece on Dickie Phillips

THIS JUST IN:  Late-breaking news (June 16, 2017)

An electric violin that was developed by Leo Fender, in partnership with Dickie Phillips, was purchased in 2004 Ben Heaney (of DeltaViolin – deltaviolin.com) on Ebay but “took me a long time to get my head round what I’d bought.”  As it turns out, the story has taken on considerable historic significance, as this 1958 production prototype is the world’s rarest electric violin!   One of two of its kind — and “500 times more rare than a Stradivarius” according to Heaney, who adds that “the BBC just broadcast a recording of the 1958 Fender Electric Violin – no samples, no synths, no loops… – a single take divided into three sections and multi-layered.”

UK music fans will hear this electric violin for the first time, essentially, as Heaney prepares to take this instrument on tour, as well as in the recording studio, in the coming months.  The instrument can already be heard on a track called “Where’s the Fire Gone” by The August List — the first recording “to feature this particular age of Fender violin,” according to Heaney, who also enthuses to Zero to 180:

“The sound is fantastic.  Totally unlike ANY electric violin on the market today … with the possible exception of a prototype I’ve helped a new maker develop…

The reason is simple, seemingly no one has used Fender’s pickup solution.  That’s why it sounds different.  Almost every other violin is using a piezo, so ultimately share a root sound” — save this prototype.

Click on this link to hear a solo recording of the world’s rarest electric violin.

Plays Guitar Like a Piano #2

It’s shocking & sad what little footage exists of “Dickie Phillips that shows his unorthodox method of playing the electric guitar.  Here is the only clip on YouTube that shows Phillips playing with Tex Williams & the Western Caravan — note how he places the guitar across his lap and presses his fingers firmly downward on the strings in the manner of a pianist:

“the Talking Boogie”     Tex Williams & His Western Caravan     195?

[Guitar solo by “Dickie” Phillips begins at the 0:45 mark in the video]

Herb Steiner chimes in via the Steel Guitar Forum on Tex Williams’ musical personnel:

The steel player in ‘Talkin’ Boogie’ is Wayne Burdick.  Singing with Tex is Deuce Spriggens on bass and Jimmy Widener on guitar.  Max Fidler is the lead violinist, Ossie Godsen on vibraphone, Warren Penniman on drums, and I don’t recognize the other players.  Really good band, y’all.

I have a (better quality) clip of this same band performing “Tulsa Trot” that features a wonderful and more intricate solo from Dicky Phillips that is really fun to watch — I regret that this performance is not yet available on YouTube.

Sorry – distracted by the vintage vegas architecture

Tex Williams LPHowever, Tex Williams did do another live performance of “The Talking Boogie” on TV’s Town Hall Ranch Party with our old friend Joe Maphis, who plays his one-of-a-kind doubleneck guitar:

“The Talking Boogie”     Tex Williams with Joe Maphis & Western Ranch Party     1958

Phillips’ individualistic approach to playing the instrument, although similar to a Chapman Stick (without the “double tapping“) is somewhat unique — I challenge you to produce a video that shows another guitarist whose playing method duplicates Dickie’s. Text below is excerpt from Phillips’ obituary:

JAMES RICHARD “DICKIE” PHILLIPS, b. August 30, 1920, Beamon, Pettis County, Missouri; d. April 23, 1991, Jackson County, Missouri; m. MARTHA KILLEBREW, ca. 1940, St. Louis, Missouri.

James Richard Phillips was an accomplished musician, playing the fiddle and guitar with many well known bands, such as Spike Jones, Tex Williams and Bob Scobey.  He played with Pat Boone’s backup band and appeared on the Arthur Godfrey Show as a regular attraction for several months, both on radio and television.

When he was with the Tex Williams band, he played background music for a number of movies, including several of the Walt Disney animated films. During his youth, he played with a band which appeared in Hawaii and during this time he contracted tuberculosis.

Link to follow-up piece on Dickie Phillips.

THIS JUST IN:  Late-breaking news (June 16, 2017)

An electric violin that was developed by Leo Fender, in partnership with Dickie Phillips, was purchased on Ebay in 2004 Ben Heaney (of DeltaViolin – deltaviolin.com) but “took me a long time to get my head round what I’d bought.”  As it turns out, the story has taken on considerable historic significance, as this 1958 production prototype is the world’s rarest electric violin!   One of only two of its kind, and “500 times more rare than a Stradivarius,” Heaney adds that “the BBC just broadcast a recording of the 1958 Fender Electric Violin – no samples, no synths, no loops… – a single take divided into three sections and multi-layered.”

UK music fans will hear this electric violin for the first time, essentially, as Heaney prepares to take this instrument on tour, as well as in the recording studio, in the coming months.  The instrument can already be heard on a track called “Where’s the Fire Gone” by The August List — the first recording “to feature this particular age of Fender violin,” according to Heaney, who also enthuses to Zero to 180:

“The sound is fantastic. Totally unlike ANY electric violin on the market today … with the possible exception of a prototype I’ve helped a new maker develop…

The reason is simple, seemingly no one has used Fender’s pickup solution.  That’s why it sounds different.  Almost every other violin is using a piezo, so ultimately share a root sound” — save this prototype.

Click on this link to hear a solo recording of the world’s rarest electric violin.

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 himself 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.”

Hedges & Jordan Planted a Seed

The radical “double-tapping” guitar style pioneered by Michael Hedges and Stanley Jordan was a phenomenon I got to witness firsthand when a former musical sparring partner of mine went away to Boston’s Berklee School of Music and – like Robert Johnson and his famous pact at the crossroads – came back forever changed and, by 1988, exploding with talent in all directions, his music all-encompassing:  progressivefolkjazzrockgospelfunk.

I recall clearly how one particular composition – “Thunderfoote” – signaled a seriousness of intent that was startling to behold at the time and no less impressive today:

[Pssst: Click the triangle above to play “Thunderfoote” by Michael Avraham HaLevy]

It was more than a little dismaying to realize that Michael’s interest in “non-traditional” tunings meant never again would I be able to pick up one of his guitars and strum along.

Cover Art – Unreleased Box Set – Volume 1

Michael Andrew Frank - cover(Mrs. Zero to 180 at right)

I will always have especially fond feelings for Michael’s original four-track version with the double-tracked, double-tapped guitars, even though Michael would subsequently go into a “proper” studio and record an equally excellent full-band version of the song (the Michael Andrew Frank Band, as they were known) that features the work of Anders Bostrom (flutes), Maury Rosenberg (keyboards),  Dan Foote (drums/percussion), and Rich Lamb (synth bass), along with Michael’s own guitar & keyboard work.

Michael’s “The 11th Step” is another composition that was created during this especially fertile period when Michael lived in Boston and New York City:

As late as March, 1993, Michael could be heard/seen in New York City playing at places like the Cornelia Street Cafe (the same place where David Amram would hold musical court, I would learn later in John Strausbaugh’s excellent The Village:  400 Years of Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and RoguesA History of Greenwich Village).

For the last 20 years or more, however, Michael has been living in Jerusalem in the Holy Land.

Michael Avraham-1aMichael Avraham-4dMichael Avraham-5e

Q & A with the Artist

Q:  With regard to the original 4-track demo of “Thunderfoote,” did you regard that composition as a ‘breakthrough’ moment of sorts for you, artistically?
A:  No, that would mean the end of physical existence which is next to impossible while donning the earth suit.

Q:  Did the song come to you all at once – or was it something that manifested itself more slowly over time?  Somewhere in between (or neither)?
A:  Slowly, over the illusion of time.

Q:  How many guitar tracks did you lay down altogether on the original 4-track recording?
A:  2 Tracks

Q:  Any noteworthy stories associated with the studio recording of “Thunderfoote” you made with the Michael Andrew Band?
A:  Labor of love…

Q:  What do you treasure most?
A:  Jerusalem.

Favorite color?   orange

Michael Avraham-2b

Melody, Health and Healing

The life and workings of the body are governed by ten basic pulses. These in turn are vitalized by ten kinds of melody emanating from the soul. Negativity, anxiety and depression weaken the pulses, and this can cause illness. But when the melody of the soul is joyous, it strengthens the vitality of the pulses and brings health to the body.

Likutey Moharan I, 24

Hedges & Jordan: Two-Handed Tappers

The most radical thing about Emmett Chapman’s Stick is that it requires you play the neck of a guitar like a piano, with each hand playing an independent part and the fingers tapping the strings in a keyboard-like fashion.  As Alphonso Johnson stated in that 1979 Rolling Stone piece (Zero to 180 post about the Chapman Stick), “Most musicians are not put off [by The Stick], but they don’t comprehend what’s happening.”

Q:  Do you remember where you were the first time you saw a musician employing that “two-handed tapping” technique on a six-string guitar?

For me, it’s basically a toss-up between Michael Hedges and Stanley Jordan, since both musicians were exploring this innovative guitar technique around the same time.  But 1984’s Aerial Boundaries – Michael Hedges’ grand “opening statement,” (though admittedly, his second album release) – would make a fairly seismic impact on the guitar world (or was it just me?) just before Stanley Jordan’s released his equally illuminating debut album, Magic Touch, on Blue Note the following year:

“Aerial Boundaries”     Michael Hedges     1986

Interesting that Hedges and Jordan utilized similar tapping techniques, yet each musician produced a distinctive sound and style.  Certainly, one musician playing an acoustic (Hedges) vs. an electric (Jordan) would explain a number of the differences in sound, but there’s no denying the difference in spirit that animates these two artists:

“Stairway to Heaven”     Stanley Jordan     198?

Singles-wise, Blue Note would initially bestow a decent amount of promotional muscle upon Stanley Jordan, whose debut Blue Note 45, “The Lady in My Life” b/w “New Love,” would enjoy release in the US, UK, Canada & Netherlands.  Altogether, at least three 7-inch and three 12-inch single releases, plus a pair of CD singles, would bear his name between the years 1985-1994.  Also, Guitar Player would issue Jordan’s “A Touch of Blue” as a flexi-disc in their October 1985 edition.

“Autumn Leaves”     Stanley Jordan     1990

Michael Hedges, meanwhile, on indie New Age label, Windham Hill, would be the beneficiary of at least two promo 7″ singles in 1984 (“After the Goldrush”) & 1985 (“Streamlined Man”), plus two 12″ singles in 1985 (“Streamlined Man”/”All Along the Watchtower”) & 1987 (“Ready or Not”).  Intriguing, too, to see “All Along the Watchtower” b/w “Aerial Boundaries” get UK & European release in 1988 as a 7″ single.

Michael Hedges 45-aMichael Hedges 45-b

If you are wondering why you haven’t heard much about Michael Hedges, it is because Hedges died tragically young in a car accident in 1997 at the age of 43.  The bottom of Hedges’ Wikipedia page includes quotes from a number of music notables that convey the awe and high regard in which he is held by his colleagues.

One other key composition by Hedges shows him playing an older instrument – harp guitar – in a fresh and fairly “futuristic” way:

“The Double Planet”     Michael Hedges     1984?

“The Double Planet” – as Hedges dryly informs us in the intro that precedes his live performance – was purchased for use in the soundtrack to Santabear’s First Christmas, a 1986 book + cassette aimed at the children’s market!  The voice of Santabear, by the way, was supplied by none other than Bobby McFerrin.

1985 UK single

Stanley Jordan 45-z

Alphonso Johnson + The Emmett Chapman Stick

I was having a rare meal out alone and needed something to read, so I purchased a Rolling Stone back issue from 1979 that included an article about a new and somewhat radical 10-stringed electric instrument invented by Emmett Chapman called “The Stick.”

Emmett Chapman in 1970 with prototype and Emmett Chapman today

Emmitt Chapman's Stick #1Emmitt Chapman's Stick #2

The ten strings of this futuristic “pian-o-tar” are divided into 2 groups of five, with the first group for melody & chords, and the second for bass lines and bottom end sounds.

I still have my quadruple-fold 1980s brochure for The Chapman Stick that includes testimonials from musicians, such as Miroslav Vitous (“the sound of The Stick reminds me of a clavichord”) to Alphonso Johnson (“during my studio recording experiences I’ve noticed that the bass register of The Stick has a precision and deep bottom end that I can’t get from the normal bass”), as well as a separate pricing sheet ($945 for instrument, case, stereo cord, instructional book + $21 per set of 10 strings + $295 for effects pedal).

“A unique case where the inventor of a remarkable instrument is a remarkable musican as well”  — Joe Zawinul

Michael Barackman’s piece for Rolling Stone points out how the learning curve associated with the The Stick’s challenging tuning scheme, combined with the instrument’s cost and the piano-like technique required to play it proficiently might help explain why only “about 550 Sticks have been sold since they first became available in 1975 [i.e., four years].”   Here it is 40 years later, and Stick Enterprises is still in business, so clearly Chapman has found a way to sell instruments of the 8-, 10-, and 12-string variety.

The Rolling Stone piece adds —

“Many prominent rock and jazz musicians, including Steve Miller, Joe Zawinul of Weather Report, and John Entwistle of The Who have a Stick.  In addition, Tony Levin of Peter Gabriel’s band played on the latter artist’s latest album and tour.”

Alphonso Johnson, as you can see from the album cover of 1977’s Spellbound, very much embraced The Stick, which you can hear prominently featured in the composition, “Face Blaster:

“Face Blaster”     Alphonso Johnson     1977

Michael Barackman quotes Alphonso Johnson in his piece:  “I use the Stick in three ways,” says Johnson.  “First, I use it as a composing tool.  I wrote two songs on Spellbound with the Stick.  I also use it as a solo instrument and as an accompanying instrument.  I feel the Stick expands the limitations of guitar and keyboards.  It doesn’t sound like anything else.”

Check out this related ad (archived online) from The Stanford Daily – Nov. 28, 1977:

“FOR ALPHONSO JOHNSON, BASS IS THE PLACE.  The place to take off on old forms, in new flights of musical fancy.  The place from which to expand his tonal palette to include new instruments like the electric stick, which he’s cradling here.  But the stick is not the whole story.  Between Alphonso and the four other musicians in his group, there’s something like twenty different instruments with which to make the joy of electric music. And on their new album, Spellbound, they do just that.  Alphonso Johnson’s Spellbound is a little magic from the sorcerer of the bass (and the stick, etc.).”

Tony Levin’s Stick

A Key Ingredient in 1980s King Crimson Sound

Check out this live performance of King Crimson on weekly live TV comedy show, Fridays, that shows Tony Levin making great use of this futuristic music technology on Adrian Belew’s sly piece of thesaurus pop about dysfunctional communication, “Elephant Talk“:

“Elephant Talk”     King Crimson     1982

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