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!
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.
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.”
We’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.
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.
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!
I was recently asked about a guitar I used to call the Frankencaster and thought I’d post some pictures and tell its story. Mainly as a brain exercise to see if I could remember.
The guitar started out as an early eighties ’52 reissue, one with the super thick urethane finishes that I couldn’t stand. I bought it used around 1990 and shortly after, I striped the paint off the body and re-sprayed it copper with a spray can. I used the guitar that way until I left the Fly Rite Trio in ’92.
The body was one of the heavy ones and I was always thinking about chambering it to make lighter. Plus, I had been thinking about putting a guitar together that matched the Summertone amp I had built a few years earlier. So at that point, I took the guitar apart. I started by milling 5/16’’ off the top of the body and then cut four chambers to shave off a few ounces. For the top I used a piece of knotty pine because I loved the look of Gretsch Roundups and added a piece of 1/4’’ rope for binding which seemed like a good idea at the time, hahaha. I finished the body and the neck with shellac. I later found out that shellac wasn’t the best finish for necks because I wore through it in less than a year.
For pickups I used a set of old Carvins that I had and made some Bigsby looking covers for them. That’s when I discovered that the cover has more to do with a pickup than just appearance. I used a B-5 for the vibrato. I ended up cutting the tension bar off shortly after I put it together and went with the neck shim angle/ bridge height that I still use today for my tele conversions. I played it for number of years with my band Smiths Ranch Boys during the mid nineties. I was constantly changing pickups and experimenting with pickup covers.
In 2004 I needed something to test out an original Charlie Christian pickup that I had so I took the guitar apart again, planed the pine top off, made the chambers larger and glued a new top on. I got a lot of play out of that guitar. Below is a photo of the remaining parts and a video of one of the first Smith’s Ranch Boys shows at Linda’s Doll Hut (it looks like a DeArmond for the bridge pickup). Who knows, maybe some day it will get put back together for the next phase of its evolution. On second thought probably not.
Nothing makes me happier, or do I find more inspiring, than seeing friends kick ass doing something they love to do. I first met Smokey Hormel back in the 80’s, going to watch bands around the LA area. He played in a western swing band called the Radio Ranch Straight Shooters and a few other blues bands at that time. I later took his place in the Radio Ranch Straight Shooters after Smokey left to pursue other projects.
I clearly remember one time in particular seeing Smokey play at the Shamrock Club. He was with a small combo and played Benny Goodman’s Till Tom Special. It was the first time I had seen someone play a Charlie Christian solo note for note. Seeing Smokey play like that was super inspiring to me. I later learned that he had studied with the great swing guitarist Jimmy Wyble. Since then, Smokey has continued to have a successful career as a musician and recording artist.
A few months back Smokey emailed and asked if I’d put a tele together for him with one of my CC pickups at the neck position. I was thrilled! I put together a guitar with a Marc Rutters body and neck, my CCesque pickup in the neck position, my tele bridge pickup, wound by Curtis Novak, and I inlayed Smokey’s name on the pick guard.
Smokey has played and recorded with everyone from Beck to Johnny Cash to Adele, as well as many other talented musicians. Last night I got a text from him saying he just used the guitar I made for him with Beck on the Colbert Report. Here it is…
Check out all the incredible projects Smokey’s worked on, and is involved with now on his website here. Thanks for the continuing inspiration Smokey.
I’ve been on a Lenny Breau kick lately, listening to his 1961 Hallmark sessions (which he recorded when he was only 20) at least once daily for the last couple of years, and more recently, the 1956 Boy Wonder compilation which he recorded when he was unbelievably only 15! I don’t like to think about his age at the time of these two sessions because it makes me think I should have taken up something other than guitar playing as a hobby, haha. But, if you can get past that, both CD’s are full of great ideas.
Here’s my favorite off Boy Wonder… Side by Side
And off the Hallmark sessions… Oscar’s Blues