C.A.R. Pickup Demo-Stewart Southern

Stewarts guitar arrived safely in the UK. We just got a clip of him playing some Grady Martin licks. It looks like its in good hands. Stewarts using Thomastik .012 flatwounds, a Tweed Bassman amp and an Alter Ego delay pedal.

Guitarist Jimmy Raney

Happy New Year everybody! Its been a while since we’ve posted but fortunately, the last few months have been really busy in the shop. We have a lot of things to share coming up but in the meantime, Sean Mencher recently sent me a link to this interesting blog post on guitarist Jimmy Raney that he wrote himself in ’93.

This is a direct re-post from a blog called Prepared Guitar. There are a lot of great interviews featured on the site like Johnny Smith and Tal Farlow to name a few, so when you have time, check it out. More links to Prepared Guitar at the bottom of the story. Thanks Sean for sharing with me.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Things Downbeat Never Taught Me by Jimmy Raney

Back in 1939 or 1940, when I was just starting out to be a jazz musician, I was a Downbeat and Metronome freak. I devoured these two magazines in search of news of my heroes. I’m not talking about Benny Goodman or Artie Shaw. They were household words to everybody, as the Gabor sister, The Grateful Dead, and Kentucky Fried Chicken are today. I’m talking about the guys who played jazz on offbeat labels. I knew they all lived in New York City and had penthouses overlooking Central Park. I went to the movies and saw jazzmen (portrayed by Cary Grant and David Niven) doing just that. I figured maybe I could do that too, if I just kept practicing my hot licks. That’s what they called them back then – honest.

Louisville in those days was different than today. Back then there were only a half dozen musicians who could play jazz, but couldn’t make a living at it. Nowadays there are at least ten times as many who can’t make a living at it. Louisville has come a long way.
Anyway, from reading Downbeat I figured the only hope I had was to get to New York. I knew there weren’t any penthouses here, not to mention Cary Grant or David Niven. Since I didn’t have any money but did have an uncle and grandmother in Chicago, I thought I could try there first. It did have tall buildings, a lot of people, and Downbeat was published there; even if they only wrote about musicians in New York, they wrote it there.
Chicago turned out OK. There were a lot of talented young musicians, and they all played bebop. They didn’t get paid for it though. Nobody liked bebop. Not the jazz fans, not the older musicians, not even the Downbeat writers. We mostly played for free in a B-Girl joint on South State Street called the “Say When.” They didn’t like bebop either, but they let us play there to make the place look like a real club, instead of a clip-joint that rolled drunks who were looking for some action. They got action alright, but not the kind that they had hoped for. They ended up in the alley with a sore head and no money. The bartenders were all ex-prizefighters – they had to be.
I finally found a place where I got paid to play. It was called Elmers and it was on State Street too. Not on South State Street, but right in the heart of the Loop. The leader of the trio was a man named Max Miller. His age placed him in the Dixieland – swing era, but his style was an unidentifable creation of his own, and was more dissonant and modern sounding than either. He was a fierce looking man with a black walrus mustache, and a menacing, enormous grin. He was stocky and powerful and had a vile temper, and as a consequence everyone gave him a wide berth. He was an accomplished vibraphonist but preferred to play the piano, on which his technique was quite limited.
He had created a repertoire of originals and had quite a following. At least more than enough to fill this small club. The bandstand was in the center of a semi-circular bar, and we hammered out his collection of peculiar pieces with such titles as “Heartbeat Blues,” “Blues for Beethoven,” and many others whose names I have long since forgotten. For some reason he was quite fond of my embyonic bebop efforts, and treated me very nicely for a time.

Our bassist was another young bebopper named Gary Miller, and Max really gave him a hard way to go for reasons I couldn’t fathom. Max would play some figure in his left hand and glare at Gary saying, “Dig this riff.” Gary, who had absolute pitch, would pick it up instantly. After a few bars Max would shout at him, “Get off my road.” And so it went. No matter what Gary did he couldn’t please him. It ended finally when a Downbeat writer came in to see name was Malemud, said, “He’s my father,” and the writer printed it. C’est finis pour Gary.

A little while later it came to be my turn on the rack, and since I thought I played better than he did, I wasn’t having any – money or no – so we parted company.
There was another style going on at the time in Chicago. This was the Lenny Tristano style. We boppers didn’t think much of Lenny, and viceversa. As far as I could figure out, nobody liked Lenny’s music except Lee Konitz and his mother. (Lenny’s mother, not Lee’s.) He hated our music and we hated his, and everyone else hated all of us. Lee and Lenny left for New York City soon afterward, so we had the unpopular music scene all to ourselves.
After awhile, I got lucky. It seems that bebop was beginning to making some headway in New York in spite of the critics, and some of our boys were working on 52nd Street. A couple of them had heard me in Chicago and recommended me for the guitar chair in Woody Herman’s new bebop band.
It was a great band, but there wasn’t much for me to do. I scratched around on my old rhythm guitar while my electric Charlie Christian model Gibson sat idly by. There weren’t many guitar solos for me to play. inally Ralph Burns and Al Cohn took pity on me and wrote a few things.
Anyway, I knew my penthouse was still waiting if I could only get to New York to claim it.

Jimmy Raney, 1979, Louisville, KY (photo by Doug Raney)

After about eight or nine months on an old bus I was ready to cry uncle. They never told about this in the Glenn Miller movie “Orchestra Wives.” There were a lot of disillusioned orchestra wives with us too.

I stayed in New York after that. I figured I was ready to conquer the Apple and lay claim to my penthouse in Manhattan. We didn’t call it “The Big Apple” then. I think that was invented much later by Mayor Koch and his P.R. men.
Things got better after that. I had made my first record with Stan Getz. I played it a lot, looked at it a lot. Just think! I was one of those guys who had made a record for an offbeat label. Maybe there were kids out there somewhere wishing they were me. I made some more records with stars such as Buddy DeFranco and Terri Gibbs. I even worked jobs at Birdland with them. Still, all I had was a furnished room on 81st Street and less money in the bank. By the time I got down to $60 I really started to get worried. I had started out with $2000 in 1948 dollars.

Artie Shaw came to my rescue by hiring me for what was to be his last big band. It was a fine band, as good as Woody’s, and I got much more to play. I was afraid of him because I had heard how tough he was to work for, but it wasn’t true. If you could play he didn’t bother you. He seemed to care only about the music.

Unfortunately, the people didn’t care only about the music. In fact, they didn’t like what we were doing. They wanted to see the man who had married so many movie stars, and hear “Begin The Beguine” and “Frenesi.” He broke up the band and I was back in my furnished room with a somewhat smaller stash of 1949 dollars. I was getting a little better known around town by now. I worked once a month instead of every three months. I was starting to get calls from people from out of town and Europe wanting to find out which of the glamorous Manhattan night clubs I was appearing in nightly. My first telephone was my one tangible sign of success and adulthood, but I began to hate it. I started answering my phone by saying, “Grand Central Roach Control.”

I played and recorded with Stan Getz in 1950,’51, and ’52. Then I did a one-and-a-half year stint with the Red Norvo Trio. After that I got married and settled down in New York City. I found out soon enough that you can’t make a living playing jazz in one city. Not even New York City. So I started doing other things in order to get by. TV jingles, club dates, recordings-both commercial and jazz-along with other stuff. I even played the full run of two Broadway shows. That’s the nearest thing in music to stuffing mattresses for a living.

I met and played with several of the older musicians who I had admired so much when I was starting out in Louisville. I met them while making TV jingles. Alas, they were in the same boat as I. I can’t complain though; I did make a living, and a pretty good one at that. I made a lot of jazz records over the years . Around fifty under my own name at last reckoning, and many more than that with other people. So I did OK after all. There were many who didn’t.

I never did get my penthouse, and I never met another jazz musician who had one either. I did see a few now and then. They belonged to millionaire stockbrockers and the like. Perhaps it’s just as well I didn’t; I most likely would have fallen off the terrace when I was drunk.

See you in the funny papers–or maybe Downbeat.


Five Favorite Bryant Recordings

TK Smith

I first heard the Sammy Masters 45, Pink Cadillac/ Some like it Hot, on a visit to Levi Dexter’s apartment in L.A. some time in the mid 80′s.  I remember being completely blown away. The guitarist sounded like Jimmy Bryant but at the time, I didn’t know it was him.

  A year or so later while in London with Big Sandy, I bought the Rockin’ Red Wing LP on the German label Hydra. It had Flat Feet, 2 Rock-A-Four and Whop-T-Bop, along with Pink Cadillac and Some Like it Hot. The funny thing is that the session details on back of the LP listed the guitar player as Ralph Roe. I was so enamored that for a few years I looked everywhere for more recordings of Roe! haha.

 I can’t remember how, but eventually I found out that it was Bryant on the recordings. I really love his playing on these five because they are so full of great ideas. It sounds like he had complete freedom to play what he wanted and he went for it.

 I know these recordings are easy to find now with the Internet and all, but thought I’d put them up just in case some of you have never had a chance to hear them.

 Later, around 1998, I got to meet Sammy Masters and play a few songs with him at a club in Hollywood which was an honor. If you have a few minutes, take a listen.


Blake Wright, the publisher of online magazine Gearphoria, recently came by for a visit. It was a pleasure spending the morning talking shop with Blake and then of course, lunch at Pappy’s. Here’s what came out of it. Thanks Blake!

JLV’s Custom Trini

TK Smith

Jimmie found this unfinished new old stock Trini body on eBay a while back and sent it over for a neck, paint, pickups and hardware. He also said “do whatever you want” which made it a lot of fun and challenging at the same time.

I have always wanted to do a tobacco sunburst paint job and thought Jimmies guitar was the perfect candidate. I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out. The tailpiece is a vintage German made Hofner unit. To add something interesting, we made the cast aluminum banner in the shop to say “Custom”. I used my C.A.R. pickups, binding around the inlaid pick guard and also inlaid a small mother of pearl diamond at the back of the neck. In case anyone is wondering, the lower switch is an out of phase switch.

I had hoped to create a really classy custom instrument that would look right at home being played by such a class act. Here are a few photos of the process.

TK Smith

TK Smith

TK Smith

TK Smith

TK Smith

TK Smith

TK Smith

Good Shit

Just got this clip from Dan Nosovich in Australia using my C.A.R. pickup along with the note below. Nice break in my day.

“Mark aka @juniorjukewalters took this clip of us doing some Johnny Guitar Watson on my tele. Bridge pickup straight into a Bassman RI.  I’ve been playing my own (dodgy) takes on rockabilly and instros on the tele in other bands but enjoyed how it went in these fellas.” 

TR Crandall Guitars

 TK SMithWe’re lucky that many players and customers come through the Joshua Tree area on their way in or out of Los Angeles, and many come to play at our great neighborhood bar, Pappy and Harriet’s. When they do, we love having them come by the shop to hang out, play and talk guitars. But we get asked all the time if there is anyplace on the East coast that someone can see or play our guitars in person. We’re  excited that now they can.

We just sent Smith Special #003 to TR Crandall Guitars in New York City. Located in the East Village, Tom Crandall and Alex Whitman have earned a reputation for providing some of the best repairs and restorations available, but also for creating a completely unique experience for musicians who stop by their shop. Not only can you hang out and play their well curated collection of vintage guitars, you’ll get an education about each ones history and what Tom has done to bring each instrument to spot on condition before putting them on their wall for sale. Its not often that you’ll find a shop owner who is also one of the best Luthiers in the business. So on a quiet street away from tourists, we’re proud that our friends on the East Coast can now go to TR Crandall to play and purchase a Smith Special in person, and get the service and experience I want as a musician.

Here are a few photos we took before the guitar headed East. It includes a custom case and black leather strap. If you’re in New York or will be visiting soon, stop by and check it out.

TK Smith

TK Smith

TK Smith

TK Smith

In The Shop With: Adrian Demain

For years I’ve been a big fan of longtime friend Adrian Demain’s guitar playing, and fortunately this weekend, he had a chance to stop by the shop. Adrian lives down by San Diego but lucky for us, he now plays once a month at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs with artist Nena Anderson in a trio that includes bassist Jim Austin. A favorite way for Jill and I to start a weekend; nice dinner in Palm Springs and great Jazz in the Amigo Room at the Ace.

I have always admired the fact that Adrian can play so many styles of music on a variety of instruments really well. From Jazz to Country to Hawaiian and Blues, he might be on guitar, steel guitar or ukulele. Adrian has a solo thing called Exotica-Tronica or you can catch him in current bands Brawley, Tiki Two with Susanna Kurner, Nena Anderson or Billy Watson.

In the video above, Adrian plays “Lush Life” with beautiful restraint and a subtleness that few players can achieve. He plays with so much intent. Then I had the pleasure of playing with him on the song “All the Things You Are”. Adrian played Smith Special 001 while I played rhythm on 003 before it leaves our hands this week. (more on that soon)

Hope you enjoy this session of “In The Shop With” as much as I enjoyed spending a few hours with Adrian talking music, guitars and listening to him play.

Monthly Motivation-Little Rock Getaway

If you’ve been to this site before, you know what a George Barnes nut I am. I’ve been wanting to work out his late 1930′s version of Little Rock Getaway for a long time so last week I spent every evening trying to work it out. I think I’m maxed out at about 80% of Barnes tempo. Any faster than that, the clams start flying, hahaha. I also played it at slow speed at the end of the clip for any one who wants to see the fingering that worked best for me. This is a really fun exercise and even though I’ll never get as fast as Mr. Barnes, I like to challenge myself to try.

First, you can listen to his original version and below that, the video where I’m trying to keep up!

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