Posts Tagged ‘Gretsch’

Gretsch Guitar Connects Past to a New Era of Women

Monday, May 2nd, 2016

By Alessandra Femenias

Sometimes the past can connect with the present to create something totally new…

1966 was an eventful year. The war in Vietnam was escalating, Batman and The Monkees premiered on television, while John Lennon announced the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus”.

The Colonists 1967. Photo: J Etheridge Ward Photography.

Also formed in 1966 were the Colonists, an all-girl rock band from Richmond, Virginia. Teenage guitarists Pat Kennedy and Betsy Cockriel had both been inspired to play music after watching the Beatles’ historic first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.  Two years later, these girls met by chance at a Paul Revere and the Raiders concert in the spring of ‘66 and decided to form a band.  “I wanted a Gretsch because of George Harrison,” says Betsy who would trade her Gretsch Princess for a Gretsch Tennessean.  Pat had already chosen a new Gretsch Model 6123 – best known as a “Monkees Gretsch“.

Pat and Betsy on stage with their Gretsch guitars. 1967. Photo: Robert Earl Cockriel.

The Colonists became a popular band at school dances, country clubs and several military bases where they played for American soldiers about to leave for Vietnam.

In 1969, Pat left the Colonists to pursue other ventures. Her Monkees Gretsch remained untouched for almost 40 years, until the world of eBay brought the guitar out of retirement and found its way to Australia.

Fast forward to 2015 and Chicanery, an all-girl rock band from Sydney, Australia, entered the recording studio with Pat Kennedy’s 1966 Monkees Gretsch. The band recorded their debut single “Open Road” with the guitar which gave the song a tough, vintage rock sound.

“I love vintage guitars, so it was really cool to have the privilege of playing Kennedy’s Gretsch. The fact that the Colonists were an all-girl rock band like us, just makes it even cooler,” says guitarist Alessandra Femenias.

Chicanery (Ellen Martin, Alessandra Femenias, Annique Edye, Natalie Ang, and Rachel Fogarty) with The Colonists' Gretsch Monkees Guitar. Photo: Larry McGrath.

Like the Colonists 50 years before them, Chicanery was inspired to start a band after attending various concerts across Sydney. Drawing inspiration from Paramore, Fall Out Boy, and Muse, the girls began writing music and posting covers onto their YouTube channel.

“We got together every weekend and started jamming, then later writing music. At the time we were all high school students so a lot of our songs were written about changing, growing up, and both the good and bad friendships we had. It was a really fun, creative outlet for us,” says singer Annique Edye.

Chicanery & Gretsch. Photo: Larry McGrath.

The girls played various venues across Sydney from 2012-2014, both as a full band and acoustic act. However, it was not until 2015 that they decided to take things seriously and recorded “Open Road” backed with a music video of such sheer visceral energy that it continues to catch the attention of thousands of music fans in Australia and the USA.

Now 18-19 years old, Chicanery have matured since their high school days. Their inspirations have broadened and their sound has grown. “Initially, most of us listened to mainly pop-punk music. However, over the years, our music tastes have broadened and we’re inspired by so many genres. I really love artists like Halsey and Melanie Martinez–artists who create concept records. It’s really inspiring,” says Alessandra.

Chicanery are predominately self-taught musicians who drew inspiration from their teenage musical heroes, friends, and family.

Chicanery. Photo: Larry McGrath

“When Chicanery started, I always wanted to play like Chris Wolstenholme from Muse or even learn such fun bass lines as those Paul McCartney played on most Beatles tracks,” says bassist Ellen Martin.  Ellen was inspired to learn to play the bass guitar by her older sister, who also played the instrument. Intrigued by the way a song could be changed by a bass line, she began teaching herself to read tabs and learning simple riffs at the age of 15.

Rhythm guitarist Rachel Fogarty was inspired to pick up the guitar after her older brother began playing songs around the house. “I used to watch him learn songs and then play them until they were perfect. I thought that was really cool, and made me want to pick up a guitar and play too. He still teaches me,” says Rachel.

Lead guitarist Alessandra also cites Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, Kings of Leon, Paramore, and Brand New as her inspirations for picking up the guitar at 14. Alessandra grew up in a musical household. Her parents would play The Eagles, U2, Dire Straits and KISS around the house and in the car. It was this exposure to music at a young age which would inspire her to begin song writing.

Alessandra with Gretsch Monkees Guitar. Photo: Larry McGrath.

Despite all five members currently studying at University, they are determined to continue making music and playing live shows. They are currently recording their debut EP, set for release in late 2016, which will feature both old and new songs.

In the still male-dominated world of rock music, Chicanery are hoping their EP of original songs will help them to go from one small victory to the next, and perhaps one day inspire other teenage girls to follow a simple dream to play music…much like the Colonists did 50 years before them.

As Annique sums up, “Our goal is to inspire people to make music. If we can do it, you can do it”.

More on Chicanery can be found on Facebook.

And check out their debut single “Open Road” music video.

Chicanery on location for Open Road video. Photo: Larry McGrath.

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The Gretsch Building

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

The Birthplace of Silver Jets, White Falcons, Round Badges, and “That Great Gretsch Sound” Turns 100

By Fred Gretsch

The Gretsch Building circa 1916.

From the outside, the renovated Gretsch Building, now the home of luxury condos in the chic, trendy Williamsburg area of Brooklyn, looks like it could be a factory, an office building, or even a hospital.

The renovated Gretsch Building; home to 120 luxury condominiums.

And considering how today’s generation of Gretsch guitars and drums (played by young artists like guitarist Russell Marsden of Band of Skulls and drummer Ashton Irwin of 5 Seconds of Summer) can trace their origins and DNA to the seventh floor of this big, gray building, the hospital comparison isn’t too far off.

Today’s Williamsburg has been called the “new” Brooklyn and is one of the most popular, hippest places to live and work. It’s no surprise Brooklyn was recently named the #1 city in the nation for Millennials. The revived neighborhood is bustling with creative energy much like it was 100 years ago when factories, foundries, and the nearby waterfront energized Williamsburg and made it one of the largest and busiest industrial areas in the nation.

1916 Gretsch catalog cover featuring the new factory.

In 1916 my grandfather, Fred Gretsch, Sr., was 36 years old and had a bold vision of growing Gretsch into the largest music manufacturing company in America. (Remember, he was only 15 when he took over the family business after his father died unexpectedly in 1895.) Along with his mother Rosa and brother Walter, he took a leap of faith and oversaw the construction of a large 10-story factory that, at the time, was the biggest building in Williamsburg. You couldn’t miss it when you crossed the Williamsburg Bridge.

The factory was a source of pride for my grandfather and I believe the tall building with his family’s name on top motivated him to achieve his dream. Within a few years, Gretsch was recognized as the largest musical instrument manufacturing company in the nation. Catalogs from the 1920s and 1930s boast of “Nearly 3,000 Articles To Choose From,” and an image of the Gretsch Building adorned catalog covers and advertising for years.

1928 Gretsch Dealer Catalog promoting over 3,000 band and orchestra instruments.

While skilled Gretsch craftsmen built a wide range of drums and stringed instruments like banjos, mandolins, ukuleles, and guitars, other instruments were purchased and distributed from major instrument manufacturers. And, since the factory was only a few blocks from the East River waterfront, Gretsch imported many top-quality violins, accordions, brass instruments, harmonicas, and other instruments and accessories from Europe.

Even though it was 10-stories high, Gretsch didn’t occupy the entire building. The 20,000 square-foot seventh floor housed the main factory and administrative offices, while the machine shop and plating department took up half of the ninth floor. The basement was used primarily for storing drum hoops, parts and accessories. And while today’s condo residents relax, tan, and enjoy the skyline views from the rooftop terrace, Gretsch used the roof for business purposes: tanning hides for drumheads!

A student sheet music holder from the 1940s. Image courtesy of Ed Ball.

My grandfather was an entrepreneur and recognized the importance of real estate in building a solid business enterprise. Like the smaller factory on Fourth Street the Gretsch Building replaced, my grandfather rented valuable office space in the building to a wide range of businesses – from bookbinders and publishers to vacuum cleaner makers. One of the largest tenants was Robert Hall, a national retailer of men’s clothes.

After 57 successful years as president, my grandfather retired in 1942. My uncle, Fred Gretsch, Jr., became president but soon left the company to serve as a commander in the Navy during World War II. My father, Bill, then became president and guided Gretsch through the scaled-down production war years. Unfortunately, my father’s tenure was cut short due to illness and he passed away in 1948. When Fred Jr. resumed the leadership role, he led the company’s new focus on building professional drums and guitars and into Gretsch’s “Golden Era.”

The 50s and 60s were decades of explosive growth and success for Gretsch. The best jazz artists playing the New York clubs chose Gretsch Round Badge drums, and with advances in guitar electronics and amplification, Gretsch electric guitars were getting noticed.  The 50s saw the introduction of the Duo Jet, Silver Jet, White Falcon, White Penguin, Anniversary, Country Club, and many other models still offered today.  And, thanks to our landmark endorsement with Chet Atkins in 1954, the rollout of the classic line of Chet Atkins 6120, Country Gentleman, and Tennessean guitars.

I sometimes wonder if the people currently living on what used to be the seventh floor of the Gretsch Building are aware of all the musical history that happened there (and all of the stars and legends that walked those floors when they visited the factory). By far the biggest innovation and game changer for the music industry was my grandfather’s invention of the multi-ply drum lamination process that he patented in the 1920s. This revolutionary new method not only made construction faster, but also made drum shells and hoops lighter, stronger, and more perfectly round. It soon became the drum industry standard for manufacturing drums and – 90 years later – is still the method used today.

Several books have been written about the iconic and historic guitars and drums built within the walls of the Brooklyn factory. Some of the most important drums in my opinion are the groundbreaking Gretsch-Gladstone and Gretsch-American drums, the first double-bass drum set built for big-band star Louie Bellson, and the kits we made for drumming legends like Chick Webb, Charlie Watts, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Tony Williams, Mel Lewis, Philly Joe Jones, and Chico Hamilton.

On the guitar side, Chet Atkins’ ’59 Country Gentleman he used on all of his records and George Harrison’s Duo Jet, Country Gentleman, and Tennessean guitars are probably the most famous Gretsch guitars built at the factory. But, you can’t overlook the Chet Atkins 6120 models made famous by Eddie Cochran, Duane Eddy, and Brian Setzer; the White Falcons played by Stephen Stills and Neil Young, or Billy’s Zoom’s trademark Silver Jet. By far, the most unusual guitar was the rectangular-shaped guitar Gretsch custom built for Bo Diddley in 1958.

I had the fortune of literally growing up in the Gretsch factory during its heyday of the 50s and 60s, and I started there full-time in the Industrial Engineering Department in 1965. But, things changed after my uncle sold Gretsch to the Baldwin Company in 1967. Within a few years, guitar and drum production moved from the Brooklyn factory to Arkansas. The sales office stayed in the building for several years, but by 1972, all Gretsch connections to the historic Brooklyn factory were gone.

The building remained mostly empty for several decades as the Williamsburg area experienced a cycle of decline, but by the 1990s, the area bounced back with a new infusion of galleries, clubs, music, art, and young people. Although our family still owned the Gretsch Building, we decided the time was right to sell it in 1999. Several years later, the old factory was the first condo conversion in the area, and more have followed in Williamsburg’s transformation and rebirth from an industrial area to a popular, desirable residential area.

Interior of a multi-million dollar loft apartment in the Gretsch Building. Photo courtesy of Corcoran Group Real Estate.

One hundred years later, I think my grandfather would be amazed at how the neighborhood has changed, and would be proud that the factory he and his family built in 1916 has survived and is still a vital part of the Williamsburg community. He would also be proud that we’re still making guitars and drums using the original recipes invented at his factory so many decades ago. It’s ironic that the building that made beautiful guitars and drums that looked like a million bucks, now has condos that sell for well over a million bucks. That’s left the Gretsch Building with a brand new pedigree for the next 100 years or more.

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Gretsch Greatest Hits . . . and Hitters

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

Mark Guiliana: A Jazzer For Today

By Fred Gretsch

I want to start this article about Gretsch drum artist Mark Guiliana with a quote from a review of his 2013 recording, A Form of Truth, taken from Relix magazine: “There are musicians that the general public recognizes for their greatness, and then there are the musicians that other musicians stand in awe of. Drummer Mark Guiliana falls squarely into the second category.”

What places Mark at the forefront of today’s jazz drummers is the fact that he combines a genuine respect and reverence for the artistry of historic icons like Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, and Max Roach with a totally fresh and contemporary approach all his own. Blending impressive technical skills on acoustic drums with electronic sounds and processing, Mark can—and does—cover all musical contingencies.

In addition to playing in his own quartet, in his band Beat Music, and in an electronic duo dubbed Mehliana (with keyboardist Brad Mehldau), Mark is a first-call drummer for artists as varied as Avishai Cohen, MeShell N’degeocello, Matisyahu, Gretchen Parlato, and the group Now Vs. Now. In 2014 Mark had the opportunity to play on the late David Bowie’s final album: Blackstar (released on January 8 of this year).

Noted for his ever-changing musical personas, Bowie’s last turn took him into acoustic jazz—albeit with a dark and moody tone—and he wanted a rhythm section that could support his concept. So he called on Mark, with the able assistance of bassist Tim Lefebvre.

Reviews of the album have repeatedly mentioned the contributions made by Mark and Tim, as with this one from Billboard magazine: “Blackstar is unmistakably a band record, showcasing a talented group of musicians who are comfortable navigating the songs’ harmonically twisty byways. Special credit goes to bassist Tim Lefebvre and drummer Mark Guiliana, who lock into Bowie’s grooves, tilting the music in the direction of spooky funk.”

The Wall Street Journal added: “Mr. Guiliana’s staccato drumming pieces the band’s moody wash of sound under Mr. Bowie’s voice as he sings an ominous tale. With Blackstar the delicious conceit of David Bowie conspiring with modern jazz artists is fulfilled beautifully.”

In 2015 Mark “returned to his roots,” recording an acoustic-jazz album called Family First with his quartet. Commenting on that album, Rhythm magazine said: “Mark is undoubtedly one of the most exciting new jazzers out there, and after his more electronic-style recordings of previous years, in 2015 he embraced the classic quartet format for some truly brilliant small-group jazz playing.” The magazine went on to name Mark as one of the top jazz drummers of the year.

In addition to his performing skills, Mark is a dedicated educator, eager to share his distinctive musical concepts with other drummers. He conducts frequent workshops in the New York City area, as well as clinics in various locations around the country. He can also be contacted for private lessons through his Web site, MarkGuiliana.com.

On July 30 of 2014 I had a unique opportunity to take a step back into Gretsch Company history. I walked the streets of the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, visiting several sites that mark the evolution of the Gretsch company from its inception in 1883 through 1969, some seven decades later.  I had the pleasure of being joined by more than twenty drummers who are fans of Gretsch drums and their history. I’m happy to say that Mark Guiliana was among that group. Following the tour, Mark had these kind words to say:

“I guess by most accounts I’m a jazz drummer, so my heroes are Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Max Roach, and Art Blakey—a long list of guys who made their names on Gretsch drums. It was cool to tie the research that I’ve done on those drummers to the history that Fred Gretsch was providing—oftentimes from his own first-person experience. I specifically remember Fred talking about one of the first buildings we saw—on South Fifth Street. He pointed to a window on the second floor and said that it was where they did some of the drum wraps back in the early 1960s. It was nice to imagine how, as he described, great drummers would come in all the time—some to get new drums, some to just bounce ideas off each other. That was really cool.”

I’ll conclude this piece in the same manner as I began it: with a quote, this time from Modern Drummer magazine’s November 2014 cover story on Mark. In it, they refer to him as “the guy to watch if you want to know where the great art of drumming is right now—and where it could be headed.”

YouTube Clips

Here is Mark performing during his clinic at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention, held this past November in San Antonio, Texas.

In this clip Mark walks us through some tips and tricks for emulating drum samples with an acoustic kit and few toys.

Here is Mark with Beat Music, at New York City’s Zinc Bar in 2014.

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Gretsch Greatest Hits…and Hitters

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

Stefanie Eulinberg:  Rockin’ With The Kid

by Fred Gretsch

Stefanie Eulinberg is a contradiction in terms. On the one hand, she’s petite (just five feet tall), bubbly, smart, outspoken, funny, and sassy. On the other hand, she’s the hard-hitting drummer for Twisted Brown Trucker—the band behind the ultra-macho superstar known as Kid Rock.

Born on December 11, 1967, Stefanie grew up in Youngstown, Ohio. She displayed an early talent for music on a variety of instruments, including the trombone and the cornet. It wasn’t until she spent a summer at the Percussion Institute of Technology in Los Angeles that she gravitated to the drums.


Starting at the age of fifteen, Stefanie worked in cover bands all over the country. Playing different songs for a living was fun—but more importantly it gave her the opportunity to develop her drumming skills. Her influences included Jack DeJohnette, Dave Weckl, Tony Thompson, Chester Thompson, Neil Peart, Dennis Chambers, and Terry Bozzio. That’s quite an eclectic mix, and it helped her develop a slamming style that fuses Sly Stone funk with Bonham-esque heaviness.

After laboring for more than a decade in cover bands and less-than-successful “original” acts, Stefanie found herself in Milwaukee in 1998. That’s when she got a call from her friend DJ Swamp. He told her, “This Kid Rock guy in Detroit has a record out on Atlantic. He needs a drummer for his touring band…right now.” After playing phone tag for a while, Stefanie and the Kid finally connected. “We’ve narrowed it down to three drummers,” Rock told her. “You’re one of them.” (He hadn’t even heard her play yet.)

Stefanie shipped a tape overnight, and within days was the drummer in Twisted Brown Trucker. Kid Rock told her she got the job because she doesn’t play drums like a girl. (A classic understatement if ever there was one.)

In the early days, Kid Rock’s music was a testosterone-fueled brand of punk-meets-rap. In order to anchor the band, Stefanie had to make adjustments in her playing style—adapting from the fluid chops she’d used in cover bands to the rigidity of sequencer-and-click-based music. But over the ensuing years and million-selling albums, Kid Rock’s style has evolved dramatically. After fusing hip-hop and hard rock seamlessly on the 11-times platinum Devil Without A Cause in 1998, the self-described “Bullgod of trailer trash” went from rapper to country balladeer with his 2001 album Cocky. From there it’s been anything goes…and Stefanie has been going right along with it.

Kid Rock’s music now incorporates as much classic rock and country as R&B and rap. (The 2007 Grammy-nominated hit “All Summer Long” was an undisguised homage to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.”) In addition to powering the band from the drums, Stefanie also performs as a vocalist on live shows, and she adds her talents on several other instruments in the studio.

Here’s a bit of Stefanie Eulinberg trivia that you might not know: In addition to her skills as a drummer and multi-instrumentalist, Stefanie is also a vocal actress. Along with Kid Rock and other members of Twisted Brown Trucker, Stefanie voiced a character in the Farrelly Brothers’ 2001 animated movie Osmosis Jones. She also writes theme music for the Disney studios.

Video Clips

You can see and hear dozens of examples of Stefanie’s work by searching for “Kid Rock” on YouTube. In the meantime, though, here are two clips you might particularly enjoy:

Stefanie talks about Gretsch drums (while on tour with Kid Rock in 2008).

Here’s a great clip of Stefanie rocking with the Kid on “All Summer Long” from a music awards show in 2010.

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Remembering the 50th Anniversary of Ted McCarty Buying Bigsby Accessories

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

…and Leaving the Gibson Company

The Gretsch-McCarty-Bigsby family legacy still going strong today.

By Fred W. Gretsch

I was thinking recently about how three well-timed telephone calls forever linked three families and changed the history of Gibson Guitars, Bigsby Accessories, and the Gretsch Company.

Bill Gretsch

The first call was placed in 1948 from my father, Bill Gretsch, to Maurice Berlin, the Chairman of the Board of Chicago Musical Instruments, the company that purchased Gibson Guitars in 1944. My father called Mr. Berlin because his good friend, Ted McCarty, who was visiting in my father’s office, had shared that he was resigning from the Wurlitzer Company, getting out of the music business, and waiting on a job offer from the Brach Candy Company.

Ted McCarty

My father told Ted he was too well known and respected, and that the music business couldn’t afford to lose him. Before Ted could leave my father’s office, my father called Mr. Berlin and arranged a meeting between Ted and Mr. Berlin. As you know, that meeting lead to Ted being offered the position of President at Gibson Guitars. His leadership and keen business and engineering skills turned Gibson around and guided them through their golden years of innovation and production in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Paul Bigsby

The second call was placed a little over 50 years ago in 1965 (the year I started to work at the Gretsch Company) by Paul Bigsby from his small factory in Downey, California to his good friend, Ted McCarty, who was in his 17th year as President of Gibson Guitars. Paul had been manufacturing his innovative guitar vibratos since 1952, but he was 65, having health issues, and looking to retire and sell his business.

Ted had helped Bigsby grow in the 1950s by being the first company to put Bigsby vibratos on Gibson’s factory-built guitars. Ted even used his engineering skills to design the swing away handle to replace Bigsby’s original fixed-handle design. When Paul Bigsby called that day, he was calling to offer his business to Ted, not to the Gibson Company. Bigsby felt his business would be in better hands with his friend Ted McCarty and wasn’t interested in selling it to a company.

In 1965, Ted was 57 and very unhappy with recent management changes at Gibson’s parent company. He also probably sensed more changes coming to the guitar industry. Fender had been purchased by CBS Corporation for $13 million in January and Ted knew the guitar boom years couldn’t continue forever.

So, in November 1965, Ted flew out to California, met with Paul Bigsby and bought his company the same day. On New Year’s Day 1966, a truck loaded everything from Bigsby’s shop and drove back to Kalamazoo, Michigan. Ted resigned from Gibson in March and became owner of Bigsby Accessories for more than 30 years.

I was more than happy to contact Ted in 1989 (he was a longtime friend of the family and even attended my baptism) after I bought the family business back from Baldwin and was ready to roll out the new lineup of Gretsch guitars. Even at 80 years old, Ted had a razor-sharp memory and was the world’s leading authority on Bigsby vibratos.

Fred Gretsch with Ted McCarty, NAMM 1995

I always felt Ted McCarty didn’t get the proper recognition for all the contributions he made to the guitar industry. With the Gretsch-Bigsby relationship reestablished, Dinah and I were pleased to host a gala dinner to honor Ted (as well as our friend, Duane Eddy) at the 1997 Summer NAMM Show in Nashville. Hundreds of Gretsch retailers, distributors, and guests attended this special tribute to an unsung giant of the guitar business. It was a night all who attended will never forget.

Ted McCarty and Fred Gretsch, 1999

The third call is special to me because it continued the McCarty-Gretsch family friendship started by my father more than 70 years ago in Chicago. In 1999, I was delighted to get Ted’s phone call offering to sell Bigsby Accessories to me. It was a great opportunity since Gretsch guitars and Bigsby vibratos had been inseparable since the 1950s. We were more than happy to purchase Ted’s company on May 10, 1999, and in October 1999, Ted retired at the age of 89 after a long, successful 63-year career in the music industry.

There have only been three keepers of the Bigsby brand the past 60 years and Dinah and I are proud to be the current keepers. Hopefully both Paul Bigsby and Ted McCarty are looking down and smiling at how the Gretsch family has grown the business and preserved the Bigsby heritage. We’re continuing to follow the successful formula established more than 60 years ago, using the same hand-made processes and as many of the original machines and suppliers as possible. There is no better way I can think of to honor friends of the family and keep their legacy alive. I think the previous three generations of Gretsch Company Presidents – my father, uncle, grandfather, and great-grandfather – would agree.

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Chet and Paul: Playing Side-By-Side for 25 Years

Friday, October 30th, 2015

Remembering the 40th Anniversary of Paul Yandell becoming Chet Atkins’ right hand man

By Fred Gretsch

Forty years ago, three of the finest fingerpickers–Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, and Paul Yandell–participated in a friendly band member swap. Yandell, a guitar virtuoso and the consummate sideman, had been in Jerry Reed’s band for nearly five years. By 1975 though, Jerry was focused more on growing his acting career than recording and touring, and no longer needed a band.

Chet Atkins

Paul visited his friend and mentor, Chet Atkins, and asked if he needed a guitar player. Chet said he might, but would need Jerry’s permission first before hiring him. Fortunately, Jerry gave Chet his blessing and told Chet something Mr. Guitar already knew: Paul Yandell was the best rhythm guitarist and accompanist in the business.

A week later, Paul was in a rented tuxedo and playing onstage alongside his guitar hero, Chet Atkins, with The Jackson Symphony in Mississippi. It would be the first of countless shows Chet and Paul would play together over the next 25 years.

I was fortunate to be friends with both Chet Atkins and Paul Yandell. It was amazing how similar their backgrounds, interests, and personalities were. They could have easily been brothers. Like Chet, Paul came from a humble, rural upbringing and had a passion–some might call it an obsession–for guitars, music, and electronics. In fact when Paul was a teenager, he built his own radio device and first heard Chet Atkins playing “I’ve Been Working On The Guitar” on a Cincinnati radio station. Chet’s fingerstyle playing had a huge impact on Paul and he started buying as many Chet Atkins records as he could afford.

Paul’s dream of being a professional musician came true when he joined the Louvin Brothers in the mid-1950s. He was an accomplished guitarist with a style similar to the popular Chet Atkins. Paul even played a Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins Hollow Body electric in honor of his guitar hero.

After a brief stint in the Army, Paul joined the Kitty Wells band in the early 1960s and even wrote her 1965 hit “I’ll Repossess My Heart.” By 1970, Paul was tired of the road, burned out, and looking for a new musical challenge. That challenge came from Jerry “Guitar Man” Reed. Jerry and Paul were Army buddies and Jerry was a rising guitar and singing star whose biggest admirer was Chet Atkins.

Joining Jerry Reed’s band turned out to be an important career move for Paul. In addition to learning new guitar techniques from the second best fingerpicker alive, Jerry also taught Paul the art of recording and engineering, and helped Paul get session work in Nashville. The biggest prize Paul received from being in Jerry Reed’s band was the opportunity to be around and become better friends with Chet Atkins. Jerry and Chet were very close and Chet produced several of Jerry’s albums and the two also recorded together. Paul said he “went to college” working for Jerry Reed, and all he learned from Jerry helped qualify him to work for Chet.

About the only difference between Paul and Chet was that Paul didn’t want the spotlight or the fame; he preferred being a sideman and just playing music. That was the role he loved. Paul had outstanding rhythm and timing and was a good improviser. He knew exactly what to play and was there to complement Chet onstage or in the studio, not to get in his way or upstage him. Paul said many times that working for Chet Atkins was a dream job. He said he never got over the thrill of going out on stage with Chet and that no one had a better job or worked for a nicer, more caring person. In their 25 years together, Paul and Chet became very close friends, as did their families. Chet was quoted as saying that next to his wife, Leona, Paul probably knew him better than anybody.

Paul Yandell

Being Chet Atkins’ right hand man required Paul to have many valuable roles: accompanist, bandleader, songwriter, guitar technician, guitar and amp repairman, and more. Like Chet, Paul was self-taught and very knowledgeable of electronics and enjoyed tinkering with guitars and amplifiers at his home workbench. Paul and Chet spent countless hours exploring ways to improve the sound and playability of the electric guitar. Paul always carried tools with him whenever he and Chet toured and fixed many amps and guitars that were damaged inflight. Paul even built Chet a solid body guitar he called “The Peaver”, and when Chet wanted his priceless 1950 D’Angelico guitar restored back to an electric, he trusted his friend Paul Yandell with the project because he knew it would be done right.

After Chet passed away in 2001, I wanted to honor Chet’s legacy by working with Paul to faithfully recreate Chet’s famous 1959 Country Gentleman, the guitar on which he recorded most of his RCA hits. Paul loved the idea because he thought it was a great way to remember Chet and also gave guitar players a chance to own a copy of one of the world’s most historic guitars. Paul worked diligently to measure Chet’s original guitar, read the pickups, and spec everything for the Gretsch production team. The result was the G6122-1959 Nashville Classic, a name Paul suggested. We were both very satisfied with the end result.

Chets Guitars. Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

We are forever grateful to Paul for his important role in bringing Chet Atkins’ name back to Gretsch guitars. Chet’s family trusted Paul’s advice and like many music fans, Paul believed Chet’s best work was performed on Gretsch guitars and that Chet and Gretsch should be reunited. Announcing the release of new Gretsch Chet Atkins signature guitars in 2007 was one of my personal career highlights.

It was fitting that Paul received the fifth and final Chet Atkins CGP Award in 2011, only a few months before he passed away. Chet’s family presented the award to Paul during a ceremony at the Gretsch-sponsored Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. With Paul’s passing, we lost a good friend, and the music world said goodbye to one of the most unassuming master guitarists that ever put on a thumb pick.

From left: Fred Gretsch, Paul Yandell, and Dinah Gretsch together at the August 10th reception celebrating the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum’s new tribute exhibit Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player. (Donn Jones Photography)

Oh What A Night…With Doyle Dykes!

Monday, August 10th, 2015

Saturday night, August 1, was a musically magical night in of all places, Bloomingdale, Georgia, a quiet southern community just west of historic Savannah. Randy Wood’s Pickin’ Parlor hosted a special evening featuring the stylings of Doyle Dykes, “one of the finest fingerpicking guitarists around” as described by the late Chet Atkins. The sold out show was attended by area music lovers–several never having seen Doyle perform before–and none of whom left the event disappointed.

Doyle Dykes. Photo courtesy of Don Aliffi.

For most of the evening, Doyle performed masterfully with his new Gretsch White Falcon guitar to which he had added an LR Baggs acoustic pickup.  He also used a recently-acquired Gretsch 12-string electric. Doyle graciously shared some nice comments about his Gretsch instruments with the audience and also called area resident Fred Gretsch up on stage to talk about Fred’s 50 years in the music business (which is being celebrated throughout 2015).

Also joining Doyle during Saturday night’s show were Keith Miller and his son Nathan from Summerville, South Carolina. Quite a skillful ukulele player, Nathan delighted the audience with a song he composed while visiting a little German village and inspired by their daily church bells. Watch his performance.

Doyle with Dinah & Fred Gretsch along with Keith and son Nathan Miller

What a night and what a terrific time with one of the best cross-genre
fingerstylists today! If you don’t yet know Doyle, you need to visit his website and Facebook page to learn more.  And watch Doyle’s tribute to Chet Atkins from the Pickin’ Parlor.

While out in the Savannah area, add some great music to your evening.  Check Randy’s Pickin’ Parlor’s schedule for upcoming events.

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Special thanks to Chris and Missy and to Jim Wethington for posting videos from the show!

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Gretsch Greatest Hits…And Hitters

Friday, August 7th, 2015

Keith Carlock: Mr. In-Demand

by Fred W. Gretsch

It’s almost easier to talk about what Keith Carlock hasn’t done than what he has. Since graduating from the prestigious music program of the University Of North Texas in 1992, the Greenville, Mississippi native’s career has been one exciting gig after another—and often more than one at a time. Along the way his unique blend of technical ability, southern-infused looseness, unshakeable groove, and intense musicality has established him as one of today’s most in-demand drummers.

Photo: Tom Schwarz

That demand has come from a veritable “who’s who” of the musical world. It started in 1998 when Keith took over the drum chair for the original Blues Brothers Band (from the great Steve Jordan) and also began a long association with fusion guitarist Wayne Krantz. In 2000 Keith gained international attention for his playing on Steely Dan’s Grammy-winning album Two Against Nature. Working again with Steely Dan on their 2002 record Everything Must Go, Keith played drums on every track—no small feat, considering that the Dan’s Walter Becker and Donald Fagen are legendary for using multiple drummers on their records.

In fall of 2003 Keith was invited to join Sting’s touring band in support of the Sacred Love tour, which kept Keith on the road into 2005. In the ten years since then he’s recorded and/or toured with John Mayer, Steely Dan, James Taylor, Diana Ross, Faith Hill, Leni Stern, David Johansen & The Harry Smiths, Richard Bona, Chris Botti, Wayne Krantz, Harry Belafonte, Oz Noy, Clay Aiken, Rascal Flatts, Paula Abdul, and Grover Washington, Jr.

As the latest testament to his status as “the guy to call,” in January of 2014 Keith replaced the legendary Simon Phillips in the drum chair for Toto. He helped record the band’s Toto XIV album and has been wowing audiences on their recent tour dates.

In explaining what makes Keith Carlock so valuable as a drummer, guitarist Wayne Krantz says, “Keith is as advanced technically as anyone I’ve ever played with, but his technique always serves the music. When he plays he’s not mathematical. He’s very spiritual.” Avant-jazz guitarist Oz Noy puts it even more succinctly: “Within one bar of the groove, I can tell it’s Keith. There’s nobody out there who sounds like him.”

Keith has also made a name as an educator. In 2005 he embarked on his first clinic tour of eight US cities, performed at the Modern Drummer Festival and Montreal Drum Fest, and appeared at various other events around the world. Since that time he’s somehow managed to maintain a busy clinic calendar in addition to his staggeringly busy touring and recording schedule.

Perhaps Keith’s most impressive educational effort is his 2011 DVD titled The Big Picture: Phrasing, Improvisation, Style & Technique. In it he explains and demonstrates creative and technical concepts, illuminated by specific exercises, many of which are transcribed in an accompanying printable PDF eBook. Keith also plays to tracks from Oz Noy and from his own group, Rudder, dissecting his drum parts and relating each of his performances to the educational themes of the DVD.

When it comes to his Gretsch drums, Keith himself says, “I’m playing the Brooklyn Series, which are great-sounding drums. They’re similar to USA Customs, with a few little differences. They have their own round badge, and the shells are combined maple/poplar woods that produce a very distinctive, low-end open tone. The rims aren’t die-cast; they’re thinner and lighter. I think this helps the heads breathe a little more so I get a lot of sustain. I play a 20″ or a 22″ kick, depending on the music, and 10″, 12″, 14″, and 16″ toms. My snare varies with the situation, but I’m particularly fond of Gretsch’s chrome-over-brass model.”

Photo: Tom Schwarz

Carlock Performance Clips

Keith’s playing with TOTO (live, including a stunning solo) is showcased.

A great funky groove track with Oz Noy, Will Lee, and John Medeski.

A clip taken from a 2012 clinic in Korea focuses on Keith’s imaginative and technically awesome soloing abilities.

And for all you Gretsch drum fans, here’s a clip of Keith demo-ing a new Brooklyn Series kit. Just Keith and a great-sounding drumkit!

Many more tracks are available on YouTube, and are well worth your time to research.  And don’t forget to visit Keith’s website.

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