Home Truck Gear Vince Gill-admired guitar; Tom Johnston’s trashed amp

Vince Gill-admired guitar; Tom Johnston’s trashed amp

Annie Proulx’s richly wonderful novel from 1996, “Accordion Crimes,” uses a green, button accordion as the vehicle to chronicle the lives of the people whose hands play it over a span of a century.

Like Proulx’s accordion, many musicians have instruments with personal meaning, a nostalgic connection, or a fascinating story behind them. Grandfathers pass down their guitars; aunts leave a violin; or guys get lucky and buy timbales from famous percussionists.

Local musicians were recently asked to share the stories of some of their well-loved instruments. Send in your stories, and we may run them in future installments of “Gear Tales.”

Curley’s Gibson Guitar

I will offer a story to set the table. Two Thanksgivings ago, I was visiting the Santa Monica area for the long weekend. After scouring the local craigslist.com pages for interesting guitars, I inquired about a Gibson guitar that whet my whistle.

The rap on Craigslist is that one needs to be ultra-careful about the scoundrels, or “scamdrels” as I call them, that you might encounter. I forged ahead.

After arranging time and location, I drove to a very nice area of suburban San Fernando Valley. A man in his late 30s answered the door. After brief pleasantries, I was handed the instrument and that’s all it took. The sound and feel were just right, the condition not perfect but cared for, and the price was fair. After about 10 minutes, I handed over the cash and made my way to the door.

Only then did the guy say in a wistful way, “Let me tell you a story about that guitar.” With no need to lie to me, as the deal was done and his pocket was full of cash, he told me about my new guitar.

He bought the guitar brand new in 1999 from the Chicago Music Exchange, a large retail store, now with a very visible presence online. The man said he had babied it, watched it like a hawk, and never let anybody else play it.

He told me that he had recorded and released a couple of CDs, a statement that later checked out. He also told me he was staying at that house with friends, but otherwise was living in the van parked in the driveway. He hated parting with the guitar, but he needed the money.

In 2014, his wife had been a finalist on one of the “got talent” shows and was touring the country on the freshness of that exposure, with him playing guitar in the band. City after city, they’d play their 35 minutes and clear the boards for the headliner.

He told me about one night when they were playing a gig at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, one of the most hallowed music stages in America. After their set, the headliner commented on the sound of his guitar, and asked to play it. That headliner was country superstar Vince Gill, of Pure Prairie League and now of the Eagles.

On that day in Thousand Oaks I became only the third person to play this guitar, with one being Vince Gill. Not Garcia or Lennon, but pretty cool. And it happened at the Ryman!

By now, many local guitarists have played that Gibson. But to me that guitar represents one degree of separation from greatness. And it serves to remind me how lucky I am.

Carlson’s Fender Amp

Pete Carlson is a sound engineer who has lived in Sonoma since 1990. His story involves his time spent working with the little local band known as the Doobie Brothers.

Carlson said he had been living in Santa Cruz and “was driving (to Sonoma Valley) every day to rehearse with the Doobies, so I just moved here,” Carlson said.

Carlson spent time in the studio and on the road with the band and got to know the players quite well. And you know what friends are asked to do now and then: they’re asked to help with a move.

One weekend, Carlson agreed to help Doobie Tom Johnston move from Mill Valley to Novato. Several truck loads and several trips into the day, Carlson watched as Johnston casually threw a bunch of stuff into a dumpster. Relieved that there was now less to move, Carlson curiously glanced into the dumpster, while adding his share of debris to it.

Carlson noticed several bags of clothing and an old, beat-up amplifier. Closer inspection revealed the clothes were not street clothes but stage attire, probably worn by the diminutive Johnston. Carlson called to Johnston, “Hey, Tommy, you can’t throw this sh– out!”

Carlson dove and retrieved flashy pants, flashy shirts, and five pairs of flashy platform shoes that the Doobie wore onstage. The stage outfits were dry cleaned and the shoes shined. The lot now resides in the Doobie exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

The beat-up old amplifier turned out to be a Fender Princeton that Johnston had used as a practice and tuning amp in the green rooms on the various stops of several tours. Guitarists will recognize the value of the amp, even without the story and provenance, as being equal to about one month’s rent in Sonoma.

While the clothes and shoes did not fit Carlson’s stature or style, the amp suits him just fine, and is a regularly used piece of gear in his studio.

One man’s garbage…

Are there more Gear Tales out there? Send ‘em on in to eltimcurley@gmail.com.

Credit: Source link


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