Saturday, December 16, 2006

Guitars, Cadillacs, Hillbilly Music

This past October, my wife and I decided we needed to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame. We live in Nashville and the HoF is a tourist attraction we had not yet taken the time to check out. Wow, what an amazing experience. I believe it is the best $11.00 you can spend in town. I walked the entire building, looking at and reading nearly every exhibit, but the musicians and their gear were most interesting to me.

This is Merle Travis' Bigsby guitar. Travis is the first popular exponent of the fingerstyle technique that bears his name - "Travis picking". It was developed by Chet Atkins and many others after him, but Travis' version uses just two fingers on the right hand to get a galloping, rhythmic, fretted version of stride piano. Paul Bigsby was a guitar builder who's claim to fame is the Bigsby vibrato - that skinny metal bar that you grab and shake to bend the strings in pitch - up or down. Chet mastered this technique, as well. This particular guitar has no vibrato bar on it.

Merle Travis' Bigsby

The fabulous Buck Owens was a lead guitar player for many years, but after finding fiddler Don Rich and helping him become the seminal Tele-bending honkytonk guitar player, Buck stuck mostly to rhythm guitar, though he still cut loose on occasion. He had a few red, white and blue guitars made up for the stage show, eventually licensing the idea to Sears, who sold many thousands of them.

Buck Owens' Red, White and Blue Guitars

There is an entire wall at the Hall of Fame with this mural on it. Some folks forget that Elvis came into the music scene as a Country artist - there was no Rock and Roll at the time. He played the Louisiana Hayride and the Grand Old Opry. His ace guitarist Scotty Moore is on the right.

Elvis and Scotty Mural

I'm sure this fit right in at Graceland. Elvis' gold piano.

Keys of The King

Chet Atkins. The greatest guitarist that ever lived, period. He influenced everyone after him, and contributed an enormous amount to Country Music and the Music world at large. A true genius.

Chet's Guitars

This is the console from the famous RCA Studio B control room. Many classic records were channeled through this hunk of wires and tubes. This board helped define the sound of the genre.

RCA Studio B Console

Premier session drummer Larrie London's kit. London was the top-call drummer in Nashville for many years. He passed away giving a drum clinic at a music store.

Larrie London drum kit

Cash. You've seen the movie. You know the songs. Your parents and grandparents know the songs. Icon. This is his Martin D-35, a slope-shouldered beauty.

Johnny Cash's Martin D-35

Merle Travis got a bigger, fancier guitar in this Gibson Super 400.

Merle Travis' Gibson Super 400

Chet had a D'Angelico guitar, a hand-made gem from the famed New York luthier John D'Angelico. Chet's guitar was an acoustic, he needed an electric so he put pickups and a vibrato bar on it. He later regretted it. June Carter knocked this guitar off it's stand and broke the neck. It was restored and Chet used it to record his "Almost Alone" album. The D'Angelico commands top dollar on the vintage guitar market - when in original condition.

Chet's D'Angelico

Bill Monroe's Gibson F-5 mandolin. The most famous instrument in Bluegrass music. Monroe played this mandolin throughout his career, until a vandal broke into his home and smashed it to pieces with a fireplace poker. Gibson repairman, the late Charlie Darrington and team restored the hundreds of slivers and rebuilt the priceless F-5. Darrington was tragically killed this year by a drunk driver.

The F-5

Jimmie Rodgers was present at the birthplace of Country Music, in Bristol, Tennessee. He favored the small, parlor sized Martins.

Jimmie Rodgers' Martin 00-18

Canadian Hank Snow, long a Grand Old Opry staple, was a Canadian flatpicker and singer. He had several custom made guitars.

Hank Snow dreadnaught

Maybelle Carter pioneered the fingerstyle guitar techniques that Travis and Atkins later expanded and perfected. Her thumb and finger strumming style allowed her to pick out melodic lead patterns in what became known as the Carter-style. Maybelle was the first widely-known Country lead guitarist. This is her fabulous Gibson L-5, used on virtually all of the Carter Family sides.

Mother Maybelle's Gibson L-5

Emmylou Harris has used a Gibson J-200 to support her sweet and fragile vocals for most of her career. The thumping lows and fat mids of a J-2oo are a perfect bed for her voice to rest upon.

Emmylou's Gibson J-200

If you are ever in Nashville for a visit, please take the time to check out the Country Music Hall of Fame. For musicians, music lovers, Americana buffs, it's the best bargain to be found.


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