Posts Tagged ‘Gretsch’

Happy Birthday Bill!

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

by Fred W. Gretsch

This coming July 13th is an important date to me. It’s the 90th birthday of Bill Hagner—a gentleman who figures highly in the history of Gretsch musical-instrument manufacturing. In fact, for many years Bill was personally responsible for seeing that that manufacturing was conducted smoothly and efficiently.

Bill started working at Gretsch on December 1, 1941—six days prior to Pearl Harbor day. In a 2009 interview with Gretsch Family publicist Rick Van Horn, Bill recalls, “I had just finished high school, and I answered an ad in the paper for someone to work in the Gretsch factory in Brooklyn. I was essentially a clerk. One day I went in to the office of Phil Nash, who was a vice president, and he said to me, ‘I want to tell you something right from the start: Someday this is going to be big company. So I advise you, if you have any interest [in a career], learn what you’re doing and stay with it.” Bill took Mr. Nash’s advice to heart.

Because he was working for Gretsch in 1941, young Bill had the opportunity to interact with my grandfather Fred Gretsch Sr. during the last year that Grandpa was running the company. In that same 2009 interview Bill tells the following story about one such interaction: “Fred Gretsch Sr. came in one day and showed me a little piece of chrome-plated metal, about three inches long. He said, ‘I took this off of a can opener. Some day you’re going to need a piece just like this to use as a throw-off for a snare strainer.’ That’s the foresight this man had.”

One of Bill’s early jobs was to prepare the payroll for the factory workers. All jobs were done as “piece work” at the time, and Bill had to review and approve individual pay slips for each job. When he didn’t understand an operation that was being paid for, he’d go to the worker and say, “Explain what you’re doing to me.” In that way he eventually became knowledgeable about every operation taking place—preparing him to become plant manager down the road.

During World War II American industry turned much of its efforts toward war-related production, and Gretsch was no exception. Speaking of these days in Chet Falzerano’s Gretsch Drums, The Legacy Of “That Great Gretsch Sound,” Bill recalls, “We manufactured musical instruments during the day, till 5:00 p.m. Then I set up a night shift to work till 1 a.m. making wooden parts for gas masks. We made one-inch-wide hoops, like for a bass drum, but only ten to twelve inches in diameter. They were used in the bottom and top sections of the gas mask. Those were the only war products that we made. We also manufactured musical instruments for the government.”

Bill remained with Gretsch after the war, eventually becoming plant manager at the Brooklyn factory at 60 Broadway. The 1950s and early 60s were heady days for Gretsch drums, with great endorsers like Max Roach, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, and Tony Williams on the jazz side, and future superstars Charlie Watts and Phil Collins on the rock side. Those drummers would visit the factory, and Bill would give them the grand tour, showing them every detail of how their drums were made.

When my uncle, Fred Gretsch Jr., sold the company to Baldwin in 1967, Bill stayed on. He eventually moved to Booneville, Arkansas when the drum factory was relocated there. But after operations were established by Baldwin, they brought in their own people to run things. Bill found himself transferred to Baldwin’s Cincinnati, Ohio headquarters as Sales Manager.

Bill Reading Gretsch Drums, The Legacy Of “That Great Gretsch Sound” by Chet Falzerano

In Chet Falzerano’s book Bill recalls, “[Baldwin] really didn’t have anybody familiar with the drum situation. From there on it went downhill. About a year later Baldwin’s vice president in charge of all their factories came to me in Cincinnati and said, ‘You know Bill, I have to apologize. I should have let you run [the Booneville factory] the way you ran it in Brooklyn.’ It was really a nice thing to say, but it was too late.”

Bill eventually left the Baldwin Company, and for a short time he manufactured his own line of drums. But marketing problems impeded his start-up efforts, and his venture was not successful. So for a while he took his talents out of the music business completely.

Meanwhile, under Baldwin’s management Gretsch’s fortunes continued to decline. By 1983 they were looking to sell the company altogether. Baldwin’s loss became my gain in January of 1985, when we formally closed a deal that returned the Gretsch Company to family ownership. This was the realization of a dream for me.

Shortly thereafter I wanted to move drum-making operations out of Arkansas and into Ridgeland, South Carolina—where the Gretsch USA drum factory is still located today. Who better to help me in that effort than Bill Hagner? I got in touch with Bill, who was living in Fort Smith, Arkansas, at the time. He offered his services to help in the move of both machinery and inventory. That help proved invaluable in getting the drum-making operation up and running in its new home.

All in all, Bill Hagner spent fifty-eight years associated with Gretsch. His contributions over those years are a significant part of the Gretsch legacy. So, on behalf of the Gretsch Family and all Gretsch fans everywhere, I want to say, “Thanks, Bill…and Happy Birthday!”

Fred W. Gretsch

Bill Hagner

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Gretsch: 130 Years and Four Generations . . .

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

An Excerpt From The Savannah Morning News:

Gretsch: 130 years and four generations of strummin’ and drummin’

The small forest of guitars is tucked into what Fred W. Gretsch calls his “studio.”

To anybody who can play even a few chords, it’s more a Shangri-la.

Colorfully decorated Gretsch Super Axes flank richly wooded acoustic guitars and stylish Thunderbirds. Renowned Chet Atkins models dot the rows.

One instrument in particular garners Gretsch’s attention. The banjo is perhaps the most unassuming of the lot. The strings and head reflect its great age — it is a 1920s model — and the aluminum rim doesn’t shine like the metal parts of its peers in the collection.

But to Gretsch, the instrument signifies what has sustained his family’s business for 130 years.

Innovation and dedication.

“We started using aluminum for banjo rims in the 1920s, and the advances we made from there we drew on in building drums in the 1930s and 1940s,” Gretsch said. “What we learned from drums we put into practice at the dawn of the rock and roll era in the 1950s and on and on. We are a company that’s consistently built on its past.”

The company is celebrating that history this year. Gretsch is the fourth generation of his family to head the Pooler-based business since his great-grandfather, German immigrant Friedrich Gretsch, opened a small music shop in Brooklyn in 1883.

The original shop specialized in banjos, drums and tambourines. The company grew as the accordion and other band instruments gained popularity in the first half of the 1900s. Rock and roll guitars and drums made Gretsch a household name starting in the 1950s.

Fred Gretsch expects the company to thrive for several more generations and continue to be renowned for the “great Gretsch sound” made famous by music legends such as Chet Atkins, George Harrison, Charlie Watts, Davy Jones, Bono, Bo Diddley and Brian Setzer.

“Antonio Stradivarius also made amazing stringed instruments and led a prosperous life,” Gretsch said of the famed violin maker. “But his family did not benefit from his name and his designs. I want to ensure that the Gretsch family remains a key part of this company for the next 100 years of business.”

See Photos and Read the Entire Article at SavannahNow.com.


TIMELINE – 130 YEARS OF THAT GREAT GRETSCH SOUND!

1883 Friedrich Gretsch, 27, who emigrated from Germany at 16, opens a small music shop in Brooklyn, N.Y., making banjos, drums, and tambourines.

1883 - Friedrich Gretsch Opens Small Music Shop in Brooklyn.

1895 Friedrich Gretsch becomes ill while traveling in Germany and dies at age 39. Fifteen-year-old son, Fred Gretsch, Sr., takes over family business.

1916 Company moves to 10-story building at 60 Broadway in Brooklyn, N.Y.

1916 - Gretsch Opens Ten-Story Building at 60 Broadway, Brooklyn (sketch).

1918 Fred Gretsch, Sr. develops revolutionary multi-ply drum lamination process resulting in the world’s first “warp free” drum hoop.

1920 Gretsch’s manufacturing facility expands to become the world’s largest music instrument manufacturing factory.

1927 Company introduces historic Gretsch-American drum series, featuring the industry’s first multi ply drum shell. Gretsch uses its own name on guitars for the first time, rather than just selling to wholesalers.

1935 Broadkaster drum line introduced. Duke Kramer begins his 70-year career at Gretsch. Known as “Mr. Guitar Man,” Kramer would become pivotal in making Gretsch® electric guitars what they are today.

"Mr. Guitar Man" Duke Kramer

1937 Historic partnership with master drummer and inventor Billy Gladstone begins. The Gretsch-Gladstone drum line is introduced.

1939 Gretsch introduces its first electric guitar – the Electromatic – and the Synchromatic archtop guitar series. Jimmie Webster, guitar innovator and player, joins Gretsch. Distinctive triangle sound hole appears on Gretsch acoustic guitars.

1942 Fred Gretsch, Sr. retires from the company, leaving the day-to-day operations to his sons, Fred Gretsch, Jr. and William “Bill” Gretsch, both of whom had been active in the business since 1927. Gretsch stops instrument production to assist in war efforts. After a brief term at the company’s helm, Fred Gretsch, Jr. leaves the company to serve as a commander in the U.S. Navy. Bill Gretsch becomes president.

William "Bill" Gretsch and Fred Gretsch, Jr. pictured with Brother Richard Gretsch.

1946 Gretsch resumes instrument production. Phil Grant, master percussionist and innovator, joins Gretsch. Gretsch and Louis Bellson team up to introduce first production double bass drum kit.

Louie Bellson with his 1946 double bass kit.

1947 Gretsch forges relationship with legendary Birdland Jazz Club in New York, N.Y.

1948 Bill Gretsch dies from illness. Fred Gretsch, Jr. assumes control of the business, kicking off a new age of prosperity for the company–the age of rock ‘n’ roll.

1951 First cutaway bodies appear on Electromatic and new Electro II guitar models.

1953 Duo-Jet production starts, sparking the entire Jet line of Gretsch solid-body guitars.

1954 Jimmie Webster strikes a deal with guitarist Chet Atkins to develop a Chet Atkins-designed Gretsch guitar. Gretsch begins its eye-catching “color revolution” by introducing sparkling Silver Jet and famous Western Orange, Cadillac Green and Jaguar Tan finishes. First Bigsby® vibratos offered on Gretsch electrics.

1955 Gretsch introduces White Falcon and 6120 Chet Atkins models.

Gretsch White Falcon

1957 Gretsch begins production of Chet Atkins Country Gentleman guitar model. The model would soon rise to popularity with other legendary guitarists.  Twang is born: Duane Eddy purchases new 6120 at Ziggie’s Accordion & Guitar Studio in Phoenix, AZ.

The King of Twang Duane Eddy

1959 Project-O-Sonic stereo guitar system introduced. Gretsch builds Bo Diddley his futuristic Jupiter Thunderbird guitar. Gretsch drum endorsee Jimmy Cobb records “Kind of Blue” with Miles Davis.

1960 George Harrison buys a used ‘57 Gretsch Duo Jet, the guitar featured during The Beatles’ earliest recordings and tours. “Gretsch Drum Night at Birdland” is recorded by four legendary Gretsch drum endorsees: Art Blakey, Charlie Persip, Elvin Jones and “Philly” Joe Jones.

Harrison Tribute Duo Jet

1962 Double-cutaway Electrotone thinline series introduced.

1964 “Beatlemania” is born on The Ed Sullivan Show. George Harrison’s use of a Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman guitar ignites frenzy among aspiring guitarists.

1965 George Harrison adds a Gretsch Tennessean to his guitar collection.

1967 Fred Gretsch, Jr. retires and sells The Gretsch Company to Baldwin Music Company. His nephew, Fred W. Gretsch, vows to buy the company back.

1969 The Rolling Stones tour the U.S. with Charlie Watts playing Gretsch drums.

1970 Baldwin moves Gretsch drum & guitar production to Booneville, Ark.

1972 Baldwin moves Gretsch’s New York business offices to Chicago. Chet Atkins’ “Super Chet” guitar introduced.

1973 Baldwin signs over production duties to Bill Hagner and his newly formed Hagner Musical Instrument Corp. Two major fires damage Arkansas guitar & drum plant.

1977 Chet Atkins’ “Super Axe” guitars introduced.

1978 Gretsch drum & guitar production reverts from Bill Hagner back to Baldwin.

1979 Baldwin moves Gretsch sales and administration offices to Chanute, Kansas.

1980 An attempt by Baldwin to re-launch guitar production in Juarez, Mexico fails after only a handful of guitars are built. Baldwin shuts down Gretsch guitar production.

1982 Rockabilly returns with Gretsch guitar slinger Brian Setzer and The Stray Cats releasing their first U.S. single, “Rock This Town.” The group also features Slim Jim Phantom on Gretsch drums.

1985 Eighteen years after the company was sold to Baldwin, Fred W. Gretsch, great-grandson of the company founder, fulfills his promise to buy the company back and return it to the family fold. Gretsch establishes drum manufacturing center in Ridgeland, S.C.

1988 George Harrison collaborates with Gretsch to produce the unique Traveling Wilburys collector guitar.

1989 Modern Gretsch guitar production begins in earnest. Gretsch introduces professional line of Gretsch electric and acoustic guitars.

1993 Gretsch begins production of Brian Setzer signature guitar model.

Setzer Signature Guitars

1998 Gretsch announces budget-priced “Electromatic,” “Synchromatic,” and “Historic” guitar lines.

1999 Gretsch purchases Bigsby Accessories from owner and former Gibson CEO Ted McCarty. Bo Diddley signature rectangular guitar re-introduced.

1999 - Gretsch Acquires Bigsby

2000 Kaman Music (KMCMusicorp) becomes exclusive Gretsch Drums worldwide distributor.

2002 Gretsch grants Fender Musical Instruments Corporation exclusive rights to develop, produce, market, and distribute Gretsch Guitars worldwide.

2006 Gretsch teams up with legendary Bo Diddley and Billy F. Gibbons to design the “Billy-Bo” Jupiter Thunderbird guitar. Stephen Ferrone signature series drums introduced.

2007 Chet Atkins’ name once again adorns extensive line of Gretsch electric guitars.

2008 Gretsch celebrates 125th anniversary.  Endows scholarship at Berklee College of Music in honor of Jimmie Webster.

For Gretsch's 125th Anniversary in 2008, a Portrait of Four Past Presidents was Commissioned. Artist: Amy Hahn-Lind.

2011 Gretsch introduces George Harrison Duo Jet tribute guitar. Chet Atkins Exhibit opens at The Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum.

Chet Atkins Exhibition

2012 New Brooklyn drum series, Rancher Acoustics, and Roots Collection introduced.

2013 Gretsch celebrates 130th Anniversary.  Iconic Round Badge returns to Gretsch Drums.

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Thank You to GP Mag for Hall of Fame Award

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

To the Editor, Guitar Player Magazine:

On behalf of the Gretsch Family past and present, I’d like to thank the editors of Guitar Player for including us among the Manufacturing Legends named to your inaugural Hall 0f Fame in the November 2012 issue. To be selected for this singular honor is quite an achievement, especially considering the stellar individuals with whom we share it.

I’d like to add how pleased I am to see that Paul Bigsby is also among the inaugural honorees. Gretsch Guitars and Bigsby Vibratos have shared a long and musically rewarding partnership, and I’m proud to say that the Bigsby brand is today a wholly owned subsidiary of the Gretsch Company.

As the Gretsch Family enters its 130th anniversary year of musical instrument manufacturing in 2013, guitarists around the world can rest assured that the legacy of innovation and quality that began in 1883 still guides our efforts today—and will continue to do so in the years to come.

Fred W. Gretsch

4th Generation

President

The Gretsch Company

Cover: Guitar Player Magazine November 2012

Manufacturing Legends: Paul Bigsby & The Gretsch Family

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The Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble

Saturday, July 14th, 2012

Elmhurst College’s Unique Musical Endeavor

Elmhurst College Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble

Ensembles of various descriptions are a staple of music education programs at colleges and universities across the country. Most tend to be based on stylistic or ethnic themes, such as big band ensembles, classical string ensembles, Latin jazz ensembles, etc. But the music program at Elmhurst College in the Chicago suburb of Elmhurst, Illinois boasts an ensemble based on a rather unusual instrumental grouping. This is the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble.

While virtually all other ensemble opportunities for electric guitarists have only one guitar chair, the GEGE features five electric guitarists, a bass guitarist, and a drummer. This provides a unique opportunity for guitarists to learn to play with each other, emphasizing blend, balance, phrasing, dynamics, and articulation.

There are actually two electric guitar ensembles at Elmhurst, and they date back to 1992. Through an audition process at the start of each academic year, the top five guitarists are placed in the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble—so named in 1993 to honor the support and contributions of Gretsch Company president (and Elmhurst College alum) Fred W. Gretsch. Since the early 1990s the Gretsch Family has generously funded student scholarships in music and music business, as well as the development of the Gretsch Recording Studio at the college.

The GEGE has had four directors since its founding. Current director Mike Pinto has led the group since 2007. The Ensemble is part of the jazz department, and while the repertoire certainly includes jazz, it also includes fusion, rock, blues, and pop. Says Pinto, “I feel that electric guitar students studying jazz here at the college need to be versatile and learn to apply jazz skills to other electric guitar-oriented styles. We play only arrangements written specifically for five guitars, bass, and drums. Charts of this type are available for sale, but there aren’t a ton of them. So I write many arrangements for the group, and students are encouraged to write arrangements as well. We’ve performed many student charts over the years that I’ve directed the group.”

Students register for the Ensemble as a class, and it is an educational experience for them. But with an eye to “the real world,” Mike Pinto teaches and directs the group within the context of preparing for professional performances. To support this approach the Ensemble performs three to five times per semester, both on- and off-campus.

After the Ensemble was named in his honor, Fred Gretsch donated a Gretsch Country Gentleman Junior guitar to the group. Mike Pinto is now entrusted with that guitar, and he uses it to teach with. It’s also occasionally played by students in the Ensemble.

Speaking of students, the current roster of the GEGE includes five very talented young guitarists, along with equally talented gentlemen on bass and drums. Most are seniors who are concluding their tenure in the group…and at the college. Individually, they are:

Andrew Ecklund (guitar). A senior music business and jazz studies major at Elmhurst, Andrew has been a member of the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble, the Elmhurst College Jazz Band, and jazz combo. His talent and dedication earned him the Gretsch music scholarship for the 2011/2012 school year. Andrew is also active in the Chicago music scene, playing with numerous rock bands and big bands. He appreciates the opportunities that music gives him to share and teach, and he does so as a member of the GRAMMY Foundation team.

Peter Jump (guitar). Peter holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music degree and a Performance Certificate from Elmhurst College. He’s a composer and arranger of a number of works for solo guitar, guitar quartet, and various types of ensembles. He has composed music for several student films and video games, which is his primary career interest. Some significant influences to his guitar playing are David Gilmour, Buckethead, and Greg Howe.

Matt Richter (guitar) Matt is a senior who’ll be graduating with a degree in Music Business. His involvement in music includes playing classical and jazz guitar, as well teaching students of various skill levels at a local music store. Matt plans to go on to graduate school to obtain his masters degree in classical guitar performance.

Owen Szorc (guitar). Owen is a senior in his third year with the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble. He’ll be graduating from Elmhurst College with joint degrees in Music Business and Jazz Studies.

Dan Weiss (guitar). Dan is an exercise science major (with minors in music and business administration) who played his first two years at Elmhurst in another one of Mike Pinto’s electric guitar ensembles, and the most recent two in the Gretsch Ensemble. Dan is also passionate about drums and percussion, as well as tinkering with any kind of instrument he can get his hands on.

Richard Stancato (bass). Richard is a senior Music Business major. He’s been playing bass with the Gretsch Guitar Ensemble for one semester. He cites his main influences on the bass as including Jaco Pastorius, Les Claypool, and Stanley Clarke.

Joel Baer
(drums). A senior and a jazz studies major, Joel began playing and learning drums from his father Jeff. He alater became interested in jazz while studying with Jack Brand. Joel works regularly around Chicago, playing with bluesman Pistol Pete, progressive rock guitarist Clark Colborn, and several jazz groups.

To document the talents of the current edition of the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble, the group has produced a professional recording of one of their unique arrangements.

Click below to check out the video and enjoy the sounds of this exceptional musical group.

Elmhurst College Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble

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Chet Atkins: CGP Exhibit To Close with Slew of Special Programs

Monday, June 18th, 2012

From The Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum:

Slate of Finale Programs Includes a Special June 30 Performance by Earl Klugh, Tribute Concerts, Film Screenings and More.

The Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum is preparing to bid farewell to the cameo exhibit Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player, Made Possible by the Gretsch Company, which opened in the museum’s East Gallery on August 12, 2011.  In recognition of the exhibit’s July 15 finale, the museum is offering a packed lineup of Atkins-themed programs including a special program starring Grammy-winning guitarist Earl Klugh on Saturday, June 30; additional concerts by some of Atkins’ friends, peers and protégés; a series of film screenings; and daily instrument demonstrations.

The Earl Klugh program, instrument demonstrations and concerts are included with museum admission and free to museum members; admission to the film screenings is free. Visit the museum’s website for complete admission details.

Born Chester Burton Atkins on June 20, 1924, in Luttrell, Tennessee, Chet Atkins became one of the most respected musicians and producers in American music history.   His unparalleled achievements were acknowledged formally with his 1973 induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.  Atkins died on June 30, 2001, and was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the following year.

Renowned for his sweet tone and his mastery of the acoustic guitar, Grammy Award-winner Earl Klugh ranks as one of the world’s finest guitarists. He was barely a teen in Detroit when he was awestruck by seeing Atkins play guitar on television. After meeting in the late 1970s, Klugh and Atkins collaborated frequently. “Earl can wail with the best,” Atkins told Guitar Player magazine, “but he prefers to touch people emotionally. He reaches your heart with that romantic special something.”

On Saturday, July 7, the museum will pay tribute to Atkins’ thumbpicking inspiration, Merle Travis, with the concert Muhlenburg County Thumbpickers, a reference to Travis’ birthplace in Kentucky. Award-winning Muhlenburg County-area guitarists Joe Hudson, Paul Mosely, Eddie Pennington and Freddie Russell will perform.

On Saturday, July 14, at 1:30 p.m., Chet Atkins: Friends and Flame Keepers will honor Atkins’ legacy as a generous teacher, collaborator, and even a student of other guitarists. The concert will highlight the relationships forged and nurtured around Atkins’ music, as well as the artists who are carrying on and expanding Atkins’ guitar style. Performers include John Knowles, c.g.p., Guy Van Duser, Thom Bresh with Brooks Robertson, Ben Hall with Megan Taylor Anderson and more.

A complete list of closing programs presented in conjunction with the exhibition follows below:

Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player, Made Possible by the Gretsch Company, Closing Programs–

Sunday, June 24, 2:00 p.m., CDT – Film Screening: Chet Atkins and Friends: Music from the Heart (1987)

Chet Atkins fronts an ace band and hosts this concert special, originally recorded for television in Nashville. Guest performers include the Everly Brothers, Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings, Mark Knopfler, Michael McDonald, Willie Nelson, and others. 60 Minutes. Free.

Saturday, June 30, 1:30 p.m., CDT, Concert: Earl Klugh

Grammy-winning guitarist Earl Klugh will perform solo in tribute to his hero, Chet Atkins. This concert will be streamed live at www.countrymusichalloffame.org. Following the program, Klugh will sign copies of his CDs and a limited edition Hatch Show Print.

Sunday, July 1, 2:00 p.m., CDT, Film Screening: The Jerry Reed Show (1976)

This colorful episode of The Jerry Reed Show features performances by and interviews with Lynn Anderson, Atkins, Jerry Clower, and Terry McMillan. Reed performs “Baby’s Coming Home” with Atkins, and all the guests join in on “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” The live house band is conducted by Bill Justis. 45 minutes. Free.

Saturday, July 7, 1:30 p.m., CDT, Concert: Muhlenburg County Thumbpickers

Chet Atkins was inspired by the complex fingerstyle guitar playing of Merle Travis called “thumbpicking.” This guitar style has been developed, passed down, preserved, and expanded by generations of players around Travis’s birthplace in Muhlenburg County, Kentucky. Award-winning Muhlenburg area guitarists Joe Hudson, Paul Mosely, Eddie Pennington, and Freddie Russell will perform.

Sunday, July 8, 1:00 p.m., CDT, Fingerstyle Guitar Demonstration: Joe Edwards

Sunday, July 8, 2:00 p.m., CDT, Film Screening: Nine Pound Hammer (1998)

In the early 20th century a few guitar players in Western Kentucky developed a unique style of guitar playing that used the thumb to pick out a steady bass rhythm while the first finger played a melody. This style, which became known as “thumbpicking” was popularized by Capitol Records recording artist and Muhlenburg County native Merle Travis, and had a significant influence on Chet Atkins. This film features stories and performances from eight Kentucky thumbpickers, some of whom have been playing since the time Travis rose to stardom, while others are from a younger generation of guitarists who have carried on and expanded this traditional style. 52 minutes. Free.

Monday, July 9, 1:00 p.m., CDT, Vocal and Fingerstyle Guitar Demonstration: Jim and Morning Nichols

Tuesday, July 10, 1:00 p.m., CDT, Fingerstyle Guitar Demonstration: Phil Hunt and Eddie Estes

Wednesday, July 11, 1:00 p.m., CDT, Fingerstyle Guitar Demonstration: Mark Mazengarb and Loren Barrigar

Thursday, July 12, 1:00 p.m., CDT, Fingerstyle Guitar Demonstration: John Standefer

John Standefer is the winner of the 2002 National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship at Winfield, Kansas, and the Open Division winner of the 2004 International Home of the Legends Competition. He teaches and performs yearly at the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society convention in Nashville. Made possible by Gibson Guitar Corporation. Presented in support of the exhibit Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player, made possible by the Gretsch Company. Limited seating. Program pass required.

Thursday, July 12, 1:00 p. m., CDT, Offsite Chet Atkins Appreciation Society Program: Panel Discussion: Remembering Chet

John Rumble, senior historian for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, will lead a panel discussion featuring four highly acclaimed music veterans who worked closely with Chet Atkins for many years. Panelists include Jim Ed Brown, Ray Edenton, Charlie McCoy, and Wayne Moss. Presented in support of the exhibit Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player, made possible by the Gretsch Company. [program at CAAS - NOT HELD AT THE MUSEUM]

Friday, July 13, 1:00 p.m., CDT, Fingerstyle Guitar Demonstration: Jonathan Brown

Jonathan Brown is a fingerstyle guitarist and composer from Nashville. His influences include Jerry Reed, Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, George Benson, Lenny Breau, and Tommy Emmanuel. Offered as part of the special exhibition Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player, Made Possible through the Generous Support of the Gretsch Company. Included with museum admission. Free to museum members. Limited seating. Program pass required.

Saturday, July 14, 11:30 a.m., CDT, Lecture-demonstration: Chet Atkins with Strings: Pat Kirtley

Starting in the late 1950s, Chet Atkins, Owen Bradley, Ken Nelson, and arranger Anita Kerr brought violins, violas, and cellos into the sonic blend that would become the Nashville Sound. The sophisticated arrangements created for Eddy Arnold, Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, and others attracted new listeners and sold millions of records. Atkins was also a pioneer in using string sections on his own recordings. Guitarist Pat Kirtley and the Endless Road Strings will tell the story by recreating some of Chet’s signature pieces, with added commentary on the history of pop and country string sections in Nashville. Offered as part of the special exhibition Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player, Made Possible Through the Generous Support of the Gretsch Company. Included with museum admission. Free to museum members. Limited seating. Program pass required.

Saturday, July 14, 1:30 p.m., CDT, Concert: Chet Atkins: Friends and Flame Keepers

Chet Atkins was known as an innovative guitarist; as a producer who helped define the Nashville Sound; as a generous teacher and collaborator; and even as a student of other guitarists. This exhibit-closing concert will highlight the relationships that have been sparked and continue to grow around Chet’s music, as well as the artists who are carrying on and expanding Chet’s guitar style. John Knowles, c.g.p., will host this tribute with guest performances by Megan Taylor Anderson, Muriel Anderson, Thom Bresh, Guy Van Duser, Ben Hall, Brooks Robertson, Joe Robinson, and others.  The program will be streamed live on www.countrymusichalloffame.org. Offered as part of the special exhibition Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player, Made Possible Through the Generous Support of the Gretsch Company. Included with museum admission. Free to museum members. Limited seating. Program pass required.

Sunday, July 15, 1:00 p.m., CDT, Fingerstyle Guitar Demonstration: Brooks Robertson

Oregon-based Brooks Robertson is a composer and arranger in the style of Merle Travis, Jerry Reed, Thom Bresh, and his own mentor, Buster B. Jones. In 2004, Robertson won first place in Prairie Home Companion’s Talent from Twelve to Twenty Contest.  Offered as part of the special exhibition Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player, Made Possible Through the Generous Support of the Gretsch Company. Included with museum admission. Free to museum members. Limited seating. Program pass required.

Sunday, July 15, 2:00 p.m., CDT, Film Screening: Austin City Limits – “Chet Atkins and Friends” (1987)

In this episode of the long-running public television series, Chet Atkins demonstrates his trademark guitar style as well his love of collaboration. His guests include Thom Bresh, Larry Carlton, Johnny Gimble, Peter Ostroushko, Butch Thompson, and the Prairie Home Companion Band. Offered as part of the special exhibition Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player, Made Possible Through the Generous Support of the Gretsch Company. 55minutes. Free.

These programs are made possible, in part, by grants from the Metropolitan Nashville Arts Commission and by an agreement between the Tennessee Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts. Film screenings are made possible by Iron Mountain Film and Sound Archives.

Accredited by the American Association of Museums, the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum is operated by the Country Music Foundation, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) educational organization chartered by the state of Tennessee in 1964. The museum’s mission is the preservation of the history of country and related vernacular music rooted in southern culture.  With the same educational mission, the foundation also operates CMF Records, the museum’s Frist Library and Archive, CMF Press, Historic RCA Studio B and Hatch Show Print®.

More information about the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum is available at www.countrymusichalloffame.org or by calling (615) 416-2001.

The Stones’ First Roll Through Georgia

Monday, May 14th, 2012

Charlie Watts backstage at the Georgia Southern show.

By Fred Gretsch

I’ve been a fan and follower of Charlie Watts and the Rolling Stones for many years. After all, Charlie is one of the longest-running Gretsch drum artists—a fact of which I’m very proud. But though I thought I knew a good deal about the band’s history, I recently discovered a bit of that history that I wasn’t familiar with . . . and which connects the Stones with the Gretsch family’s current home state of Georgia.

In 1965 the Rolling Stones were at the vanguard of the British Invasion. They were contemporaries of the Beatles, but they took a very different approach than the Fab Four. Instead of creating happy pop melodies, the Stones’ music was more heavily influenced by the raw, earthy sound of American blues. The band also looked different, with longer hair, a street-oriented wardrobe, and a generally grittier overall attitude.

After two successful European tours, the Stones headed for North America in April of 1965. They started out in Canada, then worked their way through the US Northeast . . . a routing that took them into New York City and their second appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on May 2.

The Rolling Stones play their first-ever college show on May 4, 1965 at Georgia Southern College in Statesboro.

Following their TV appearance the band headed south. And that’s where the Georgia connection comes in. On May 4, 1965 the Rolling Stones played their first college show—and their first southern-US performance—in Hanner Gymnasium at what was then Georgia Southern College in Statesboro. The show was sponsored by the school’s Sigma Epsilon Chi fraternity, and tickets cost $2.50.

Charlie Watts and bandmates Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, and Bill Wyman headlined a show that featured a popular local band called The Bushmen as an opening act. The Stones played ten songs to a subdued audience that, frankly, was largely unfamiliar with their music. Although the Stones had appeared on American TV twice, they had yet to break into the US recording scene with the sort of mega-hits that the Beatles had enjoyed.

A ticket for the show cost $2.50.

According to an item that appears as number 38 in Georgia Southern University’s 100 Things You Should Know About GSU, “The Rolling Stones performed their first United States college act at the college on May 4, 1965. Some concert attendees reported a successful show, but the George-Anne reviewer praised the opening act for saving the concert. The review suggested that the Rolling Stones would be easily forgotten.”

As we all know, The Rolling Stones were not forgotten. They went to Florida on the day after the Georgia performance, and while they were there they wrote a little ditty called “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”  Some Stones historians say that the song title was connected to a blues tune that was a favorite of Keith’s. But other Stonesophiles speculate that it might have been a response to the lukewarm reception that the band received at their Statesboro show.

After finishing the southern leg of their tour in Jacksonville, Florida on May 8, the Stones moved to Chicago. While there they worked on “Satisfaction” at the Chess recording studios.  Two days later they were in Los Angeles, where they recorded the song at RCA studios.  It was in this session, the story goes, that Keith Richards rigged a version of a “fuzz box” to his guitar, giving the song’s opening riff its signature sound and sending  “Satisfaction”—and the Rolling Stones—straight up the charts.

A pensive Mick Jagger in Florida the day after the show in Statesboro…and one day before co-writing “Satisfaction.”

Gretsch Family Connection to Titanic Passengers

Monday, April 16th, 2012

RMS Titanic

A family note from Fred W. Gretsch . . .

The Titanic has been back in the news lately, owing to the 100th anniversary of its ill-fated voyage on April 15. The stories arising from the tragic sinking of the legendary liner have captured the imagination of millions of people. Interestingly, the Gretsch Family has a direct connection to at least one of those stories.

My younger sister, Gretchen Gertrude Gretsch, is the namesake of that connection. She’s also our “family historian,” and she relates this particular story as follows:

As many fans of the Titanic story (or even just of the James Cameron blockbuster movie), one of the wealthy first-class passengers aboard the Titanic was John Jacob Astor IV, whom the New York Times referred to after his death as the man who “had put up and owned more hotels and skyscrapers than any other New Yorker.” Astor was traveling with his much younger wife, who, although they had only recently been married, was pregnant at the time of the voyage.

John Jacob Astor IV went down with the Titanic. His pregnant wife boarded a lifeboat and was rescued. When the child she carried was born, he was named John Jacob Astor V. And, twenty-nine years later, he would become the husband of Gertrude Gretsch, the cousin of my father William “Bill” Gretsch.

Gertrude Gretsch Astor was born in 1923 to Walter and Gertrude Gretsch—both of whom were in their early 40s. Gertrude’s father Walter and his older brother, Fred Gretsch Sr.(my grandfather), ran their late father’s musical instrument company for almost twenty years together after the business was incorporated around 1903. Fred Gretsch Sr. was the president of the Fred Gretsch Manufacturing Company. As the younger brother, Walter had a less noble title and a smaller role in the business. So in 1923 he started his own business—Gretsch & Brenner—in partnership with a man who had once worked for the Gretsch Company.

Gertrude married John Jacob Astor V in 1943. Her father Walter had died the previous a year, so she asked her uncle Fred Gretsch Sr.—whom she barely knew—to walk her down the aisle. The family story goes that Gertrude was actually a lot closer to her uncle Louie Gretsch. Gertrude had spent a lot of time with Louie’s daughter Marion as a child, and Gertrude wanted to ask her Uncle Louie to walk her down the aisle. But Gertrude’s mother thought it would look better in the newspapers to have Fred Gretsch Sr. (who was then president of the Lincoln Savings Bank as well as of the Fred. Gretsch Manufacturing Co.) walk her daughter down the aisle. Gertrude’s mother insisted, Gertrude reluctantly agreed, and Fred Gretsch Sr. walked the soon-to-be Mrs. John Jacob Astor V down the aisle.

More information about the Gretsch family, particularly the ladies of Gretsch, can be found here.

Chet Atkins Exhibit Extended Through July 15!

Friday, April 13th, 2012

From the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum:

COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME® AND MUSEUM TO EXTEND ITS EXHIBITION CHET ATKINS: CERTIFIED GUITAR PLAYER THROUGH JULY 15, 2012

Upcoming Programs Include April 28 Interview with Jerry Bradley and May 5 Concert, Guitar Man: A Tribute to Jerry Reed

The Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum’s special exhibition Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player, which was originally scheduled to close June 11, 2012, has been extended through July 15, 2012, museum officials announced.  The exhibit is being held over in part to accommodate members of the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society, who will visit Nashville in July; the extension also allows the museum to present additional public programs exploring the Hall of Fame member’s robust career and lasting influence.   Among the upcoming programming highlights are an April 28 interview with Jerry Bradley, and a May 5 concert saluting Jerry Reed.

On April 28, music executive Jerry Bradley will sit down with museum Senior Historian John Rumble for an interview at 1:30 p.m. in the museum’s Ford Theater. Bradley, son of Country Music Hall of Fame member Owen Bradley, learned record engineering and production from his father before working at RCA Records with Chet Atkins. First Atkins’ assistant then his successor, Bradley headed RCA Nashville from 1973–82. He signed Alabama and Ronnie Milsap, among others, and contributed greatly to the creation of country music’s ‘Outlaw’ movement. Bradley will discuss his career and the influence Atkins had on it.

On May 5, Guitar Man: A Tribute to Jerry Reed, a concert celebrating the music of Chet Atkins’ friend and collaborator, will begin at 1:30 p.m. in the museum’s Ford Theater. Jerry Reed was known for his innovative fingerstyle guitar playing; his catalog of boisterous country hits including “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot” and “She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft)”; and his good-humored film roles (Smokey and the Bandit). Chet Atkins helped shepherd Reed’s career at RCA, recorded dozens of his musical compositions and gave him the coveted honorary designation certified guitar player (c.g.p.).  Thom Bresh, Craig Dobbins, John Knowles c.g.p., Brent Mason, Richard Smith, Mark Thornton, Darrell Toney and Sean Weaver, backed by a house band of Steve Bryant, Ric McClure and Matt Raum, will perform their favorite Reed tunes.

Both programs, offered as part of the special exhibition Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player, made possible through the generous support of the Gretsch Company with additional support provided by Great American Country Television Network, are included with museum admission and free to museum members. The Ford Theater offers limited seating. Museum ticket or membership does not guarantee entry to museum programs. Both programs will also be streamed live at www.countrymusichalloffame.org.

Chet Atkins:  Certified Guitar Player Upcoming Programs Schedule

All programs are included with museum admission and free to museum members, except as noted below.

Sunday, April 29, 1:00 p.m., CDT

Fingerstyle Guitar Demonstration: Pat Kirtley

Guitarist Pat Kirtley blends the musical heritage of Merle Travis and Chet Atkins with an eclectic and contemporary repertoire, in genres from bluegrass to Brazilian. Kirtley has won the title of U.S. National Fingerstyle Champion, and in 2006 he was inducted into the National Thumbpicking Hall of Fame.

Sunday, April 29, 2:00 p.m. CDT

Film Screening: Chet Atkins: Rare Performances 1976-1995 (FREE)

Saturday, May 12, 1:00 p.m. CDT

Family Program: Introduction to Thumbpick Guitar (FREE)

Learn to play guitar like Chet Atkins and Merle Travis. This hands-on workshop will teach the basics of thumbpick guitar. Led by versatile guitar player Sean Weaver, recipient of awards from Home of the Legends Thumbpickers Contest and the Jimi Hendrix Electric Guitar Competition. Guitars provided. Ages 6 to 18. No reservations required.

Sunday, May 13, 1:00 p.m. CDT

Fingerstyle Guitar Demonstration: Craig Dobbins

Craig Dobbins is an Alabama-based guitarist, writer, and composer. He has authored many books and recordings about fingerstyle guitar, and has contributed to Acoustic Guitar, Acoustic Guitar Workshop, Fingerstyle Guitar and Just Jazz Guitar magazines.

Saturday, May 19, 2:00 p.m. CDT

Community Outreach: Introduction to Thumbpick Guitar at Nashville Public Library, Goodlettsville Branch

205 Rivergate Parkway, Nashville, TN 37072. (615) 862-5862. Ages 13 to 19. No reservations required. Free.

Museum programs are made possible, in part, by grants from the Metropolitan Nashville Arts Commission and by an agreement between the Tennessee Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Accredited by the American Association of Museums, the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum is operated by the Country Music Foundation, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) educational organization chartered by the state of Tennessee in 1964. The museum’s mission is the preservation of the history of country and related vernacular music rooted in southern culture. With the same educational mission, the foundation also operates CMF Records, the museum’s Frist Library and Archive, CMF Press, Historic RCA Studio B and Hatch Show Print®.

More information about the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum is available at www.countrymusichalloffame.org or by calling (615) 416-2001.