Posts Tagged ‘Darrel Higham’

Darrel Higham: Rockabilly Brit

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

Darrel Higham.

The recent Gretsch Day at Street Sounds in Brooklyn was made particularly special by the headlining appearance of rockabilly guitarist and singer Darrel Higham. While all of the other acts on the day’s roster were based in the New York City area, Darrel came all the way from the UK to entertain the crowd. So how did a native of Bedford, England get involved in a decidedly American style of music like rockabilly?

“It goes back to when I was a child in the mid-’70s,” Darrel replies, “flipping through my mom and dad’s record collection.  I discovered an album called Singing To My Baby by a singer and guitarist named Eddie Cochran.  It was the only album released during his lifetime. The front cover had two head shots of Eddie, and between them a picture of him holding this beautiful orange guitar—a Gretsch 6120. I fell in love with the guitar. From that moment onwards I grew up wanting to be Eddie Cochran. And thirty-six years later I still have the same feeling.”

Darrel had the look, the feel, and—most importantly—the authentic rockabilly sound. He credited a large part of that authenticity to the great sound of his Gretsch guitars.

Rockabilly was a pioneering style of the 1950s that influenced every genre of rock that came after. But it’s not exactly at the forefront of popular music today in terms of current recordings and radio airplay. Where does Darrel perform, and how much opportunity does he have to be a torchbearer for the style?

“I’ve been playing since I was about fourteen years old,” says Darrel.  “I’ve always been able to keep my head above water by playing professionally, which I consider a blessing. I’ve toured the world, and I’ve met some fantastic people through being a musician—and through my love of Eddie Cochran and rockabilly and Gretsch guitars.

“Rockabilly is a form of music that—once it left the southern states of America and spread around the world—had a profound effect on young musicians wherever they heard it. Of course those musicians then had their own interpretations of it. So now there are different styles of rockabilly depending on what countries they’re emanating from. There’s British rockabilly, Japanese rockabilly…German…French, and so on. Everyone plays it the way they hear it.

“The fact is,” Darrel continues, “rockabilly has morphed into something bigger over the years. It’s like any form of music: It goes through phases. Sometimes it modernizes, and then it harks back to its roots and perhaps regresses. Rockabilly is, essentially, a retro music. But when contemporary musicians experiment with it, it can be very progressive. We have guitar players like Brian Setzer, Reverend Horton Heat, and Paul Pigat—who can do such wonderful things with the music. Players from other genres will hear someone like Brian or Paul and think, ‘My goodness, rockabilly is to be taken seriously.’”

How did Darrel connect with the Gretsch company as an artist endorser?

Fred Gretsch was pleased to have UK rockabilly star Darrel Higham headlining Gretsch Day 2016.

“I bought my first Gretsch guitar in 1989, when I was nineteen years old,” Darrel explains. “I played that on everything I did until it got stolen in the late ’90s. I went through a brief period of not using Gretsch guitars, and then I went back to them—and it just felt like I was home again.

“Starting in 2008 I was working with my wife, Imelda May. We were doing a lot of TV and radio appearances. I was using Gretsch guitars exclusively, and I just felt that with what we were doing I might be able to contribute in some way to the brand. So I wrote to [Gretsch Guitars national sales manager] Joe Carducci. He put me in touch with the Gretsch people in London, and it went from there. I’d already bought a Black Falcon, and I had a 6120 Custom Shop model. So I basically had the guitars I needed, and I was using them on everything I was doing.”

Darrel concludes by saying, “Playing a guitar and being a musician is no different from being an athlete. It’s all about confidence. If you have confidence in the instrument that you’re playing and you feel that you can play to the best of your ability with that instrument…that’s half the battle. It doesn’t matter what stage you’re walking onto; doesn’t matter how many people you’re playing for…ten, twenty, two hundred, two thousand, ten thousand. And I’ve played in front of all of those numbers in my career. As long as I’ve got my 6120 with me, I feel like I can get away with it. I’m armed and dangerous.”

.

Gretsch Day 2016 At Street Sounds

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

A very special event took place in Brooklyn, New York on June 4: the annual Gretsch Day at Street Sounds. Located on 3rd Avenue in Brooklyn (and touting itself as “the world’s largest Gretsch dealer” for guitars, amps, and related accessories), Street Sounds staged an all-day event that showcased Gretsch products and Gretsch artists alike.

A large section of the wall at Street Sounds was devoted to a display of Gretsch Custom Shop guitars—each one a unique creation.

Store owner Rocky Schiano decorated the shop for the occasion with an impressive array of Gretsch guitars. This included several stunning creations by the Gretsch Custom Shop operation, which is based in Corona, California. The director of the Custom Shop, master guitar builder Stephen Stern, was on hand to describe some of the unique models on display. Meanwhile a video program on-screen throughout the day showcased Gretsch guitar artists Billy F. Gibbons (ZZ Top), Brian Setzer, Stephen Stills, and many others.

After saying hello to the assembled audience, Rocky Schiano then introduced Fred and Dinah Gretsch, who greeted the crowd on behalf of the Gretsch Family and the Gretsch Company. Fred then spoke about the long heritage of Gretsch guitars, as exemplified by the Bachman-Gretsch Collection of vintage Gretsch guitars—which is currently on exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. As Fred described, the seventy-five guitars on display provide a visually stunning window into the evolution of the instrument, from the early 1930s to the early 1980s. The full collection of over 300 guitars was amassed in the 1970s and ’80s by Canadian guitarist and songwriter Randy Bachman (of the Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive). It was purchased in 2008 by the Gretsch Foundation, the charitable arm of the Gretsch Family.

The first act of the day was a highly unusual instrumental trio called Big Lazy.

Entertainment for the day began with a performance by a band called Big Lazy. In keeping with the Gretsch Day’s nickname—“Twang-O-Rama”—this Brooklyn-based trio certainly looked like a rockabilly band. For one thing, guitarist Stephen Ulrich (who said he had grown up “in the shadow of the Gretsch factory”) was using a classic 1955 Duo Jet with a decidedly twangy character. But they quickly proved to be something totally different. Their all-instrumental set featured an eclectic mix of movie themes (including “Mission Impossible” in 5/4), middle-eastern melodies, and even an atmospheric rendition of The Beatles’ “Girl.”

State senator Marty Golden (right) congratulated Fred and Dinah Gretsch, then presented a plaque to Rocky Schiano saluting his efforts to promote music-making among young people.

Rocky Schiano returned to the stage to introduce New York state senator Marty Golden, and to bring Fred and Dinah Gretsch back up as well. Golden then congratulated Fred and Dinah on the Gretsch Company’s long history—especially its connection to Brooklyn. He then presented a plaque to Rocky Schiano saluting his efforts to encourage young people to play music.

Off The Roof is a Brooklyn-based punk-infused contemporary rock band.

The “local Brooklyn” theme continued with the next band on the bill, who were introduced by legendary custom-pickup designer Tom “TV” Jones. Called Off The Roof, this young trio featured Rocky Schiano’s 20-year-old daughter Kristina on drums. (Gretsch drums, naturally.) They offered an energetic set of punk-infused contemporary rock that wowed the audience.

Rocky Schiano was obviously emotional when introducing the next artist—who, he said, “Inspired me to go out and play live.” That artist was John “The Cat” Gatto, former lead guitarist for New York-area rock legends The Good Rats.

John’s blazing guitar solos were a high point of the group’s performance.

John’s blazing guitar solos were a high point of the group’s performance.

Playing with the support of a very talented Good Rats tribute band from New Jersey, “The Cat” reprised several of the songs made famous by the Rats during their heyday in the 1970s. His guitar solos were a highlight of the set. Then, in a surprise closer, the band finished with a rousing rendition of The Monkee’s “Pleasant Valley Sunday.”

While all this great music was going on, Fred Gretsch was spending most of his time behind the Street Sounds sales counter, where he chatted with fans, posed for pictures, and signed autographs. Quite a few of those were on the backs of Gretsch guitars that were either brought just for the occasion, or purchased in the store that day.

Throughout the day Gretsch Guitars national sales manager Joe Carducci presided over the giveaway of valuable door prizes. These included Gretsch T-shirts and tote bags, as well as ukuleles and guitars. Lots of event attendees went home with smiles on their faces and goodies under their arms.

Todd performed with the able accompaniment of bassist Mike Moody.

For the next artist, Joe Carducci invited Dinah Gretsch up to handle the introduction. Dinah, in turn, enthusiastically cited that artist’s credits, which include six Grammy nominations and a Guinness World Record as “the fastest banjo player on the planet.” This was Todd “Banjo Man” Taylor, who—accompanied by the talented Mike Moody on bass—proceeded to demonstrate why he holds that title. The soft-spoken southern gentleman more than lived up to his reputation as a speed demon—although at one point he modestly told the audience “I do play slow…sometimes.”

The Michelle Marie trio took things in an entirely different musical direction—heavy on creativity and complex composition.

In a classic example of contrast, Todd Taylor was followed by New York-based progressive jazz guitarist Michelle Marie, playing with her trio. Known for her eclectic style, complex compositions, and impressive technique, Michelle came on with an uncharacteristic opener: A hard-rocking version of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” on which Michelle sang lead as well as playing guitar. Then it was on to a series of deep and rhythmically intricate compositions full of time and feel shifts that showcased her drummer and bass player as well as herself.

With the help of two dedicated rockabilly players from New York City, Darrel played a set full of classic Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, and Carl Perkins tunes—and a few originals, as well.

The 2016 Gretsch Day at Street Sounds closed with an appearance by rockabilly star Darrel Higham, who came all the way from the UK to perform at the day’s event. Relaxed and personable when speaking at the microphone, Darrel was a bundle of fiery energy when playing and singing. With a look, style, and feel directly out of rockabilly originators Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, and Carl Perkins, Darrel proved that he was the genuine article. He was ably accompanied by a drummer and bass player from the NYC area, and the audience responded to their set with enthusiasm and appreciation.

(Check out this full-length interview with Darrel Higham.)

Joe Carducci concluded Gretsch Day 2016 by thanking Rocky Schiano and Street Sounds for staging the event, thanking everyone in the audience for attending, and offering one more round of thanks to Fred and Dinah Gretsch for their ongoing support. A good time was had by all.

.

More photos:

This giant “record” adorns the wall at Street Sounds, proclaiming ownership by the Schiano Family.

The irrepressible Joe Carducci served as emcee for the day. Joe is the national sales manager for Gretsch Guitars.

A high-quality Gretsch USA drumkit was provided for use by all of the day’s acts.

Yet another part of the wall featured a collection of beautiful “standard” professional models.

The buyer of the White Falcon guitar on the counter waited three weeks to pick up the guitar just so that Fred Gretsch could personally autograph it.

Rocky Schiano and Stephen Stern detailed this unique “aged” Custom Shop creation.

Joe Cimino (at left) flew all the way from Palm Beach, Florida to attend the Gretsch Day event. To make it even more special, he purchased a Gretsch Electromatic guitar and asked Fred Gretsch to autograph it.

Modern Drummer magazine editor-at-large (and Brooklyn native) Billy Amendola stopped by to say hello to Fred Gretsch.

Legendary guitar pickup-builder Tom “TV” Jones was called up to introduce Off The Roof.

STAY TUNED TO THE GRETSCH YOUTUBE CHANNEL FOR PERFORMANCE VIDEOS.

.

.

.