The Legendary James Burton

the legendary james burton

James Burton is one of the most legendary guitar players of all time, in both rock and country. At the age of 14, he was already playing club gigs and private parties. He was known to skip school just to play his guitar. He started with a 1952 Fender Telecaster, and would later become known as the “Master of the Telecaster”.

In 1955, he began playing with the Dale Hawkins band. Two years later, he wrote and played the lick for Hawkins’ hit, “Suzie Q”. The song would later become one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. Shortly after making this song, he started playing with James Kirkland and Bob Luman. The trio ended up going to Hollywood together to make a movie called “Carnival Rock”.

While in Hollywood, Ricky Nelson heard them rehearsing. Impressed, he asked Burton and Kirkland to play with him. Burton played guitar for Ricky Nelson from 1958 to 1967. In 1965, he started playing as the house guitarist for the TV show Shindig! Feeling overextended he stopped playing with Nelson in 1967. In fact, he was so busy with the show that he turned down offers to be in Bob Dylan’s band as well as Elvis Presley’s.

Elvis was persistent though, and in 1969 Burton agreed to start playing for him. He formed the TCB band, which stands for Taking Care of Business. At this time, he also purchased a new 1969 pink paisley Fender Telecaster. Elvis loved the guitar, and Burton’s playing, and the two stuck together until Elvis’ death in 1977.

In 1977, Burton appeared on a John Denver television special. During the show, Denver asked him if he wanted to go on tour in Europe. Elvis died shortly after this, which freed up Burton’s schedule. He spent the next 15 years playing with Denver. When Denver died, Burton was a speaker at his funeral.

Burton’s contributions as player and songwriter to rock and roll and country music are unparalleled. He played with many notable artists besides the aforementioned ones, including Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Costello, Glen Campbell, Gram Parsons, Claude King, Joni Mitchell, and Joe Osborn. He was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001. Keith Richards, a long-time fan, gave his induction speech. He is also a member of the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. He is still playing today, and he has been throwing the annual James Burton International Guitar Festival in Shreveport, Louisiana, since 2005, to raise money for his charitable foundation.

In 1996 Fender Guitars introduced the James Burton Telecaster, it is available in two models, the standard, and the upgrade. Both models are patterned after the mid-century vintage fender telecaster guitars played by Burton during his long career.

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Steve Cropper: Artist, Song Writer, Producer

steve cropperSteve Cropper was born in Missouri in 1941, and moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1950. He picked up the guitar at age 14 and found his passion. Among his early influences were Chuck Berry, Tal Farlow, Chet Atkins, Jimmy Reed, Lowman Pauling of the Five Royales and Billy Butler of the Bill Doggett Band. He would become one of the most innovative guitarists ever seen or heard. Currently he is listed as #36 on Rolling Stones’ 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.

Cropper along with his friend and fellow guitarist Charlie Freeman formed a band called the Royal Spades, which later changed to the Mar-Keys. They produced an album with Satellite Records and in 1961 and one of their songs made it to the top 5 in both R & B and pop charts. This was a big accomplishment for 20 year old Steve.

Satellite Records changed its name to Stax Records. At this time, Steve had spent countless hours in the studio. Stax co-owner Jim Stewart saw potential in Steve and gave him the keys to the studio, as well as a job. Steve became the label’s engineer and A & R man. A & R is short for artists and repertoire, and in the music business this job title mainly entails scouting for new talent.

Alongside keyboardist Booker T. Jones, drummer Al Jackson and bassist Lewie Steinberg, Steve became a part of Booker T. & the MG’s. The band’s first hit was a song that Jim Stewart recorded without their knowledge when the band was practicing. The song was titled “Green Onions,” and it made number 1 on the R & B charts and number 3 on the pop charts.

Steve was beginning to be recognized as the incredible artist and song-writer he is. He was recorded on several recordings with Otis Redding. He got the attention of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and had arrangements to record with them. However, Brien Epstien, who was the manager of the Beatles at the time, cancelled the session.

In 1970, Cropper left Stax and formed the Trans-Maximus (TMI) recording studio and record label. There he produced several musicians such as Rod Stewart, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, Tower of Power, and The Jeff Beck Group. In 1978, he received a call from John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, who were both actors on Saturday Night Live at the time. The result was the Blues Brothers Band being formed and featured on SNL. In 1980, Belushi and Ayk starred in a comedy film called The Blues Brothers. Belushi died in 1982, and the band ceased playing at that point. They reunited in 1988 and have played together many times since then.

Steve traditionally played a Vintage Fender Telecaster, and is known for being able to produce a wide variety of sounds with it. About 15 years ago, a Peavey rep brought him a guitar and he loved it, and switched over to it permanently. Peavey has now released the Steve Cropper Classic guitar in his honor.

There is no doubt that Steve made major contributions to the music industry as an artist, song-writer and producer. He has been described as “the greatest living guitar player” by Mojo magazine. Keith Richards described his playing as “perfect”. In 1992, he made it to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Booker T. & the MG’s. In 2005, Steve was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. His most recent work was on an album released last year called Dedicated: A Salute to the 5 Royales, in which he played a Gibson Byrdland on.

Today he is still playing and producing music.

See Steve take the lead with Booker T. and the M.G.s on the Bob Dylan Classic “You Gotta Serve Somebody” from the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Celebration at Madison Square Garden.

See Steve with The Blues Brothers in 1978.

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Power Rumble, Legendary Guitarist Link Wray


Link Wray was a North Carolina Native American born in 1929, who grew up in Virginia. He would become one of the most influential guitarists for modern rock music. Rolling Stone named him number 45 of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time. His main style of music was what’s referred to as surf guitar. He borrowed the distorted electric guitar sound from early electric blues music and introduced the power chord, making timeless riffs and changing rock music forever.

Link served in the military during the Korean War in his early 20s,. During this time he contracted tuberculosis, and in the end, lost a lung over it. Having been told by a doctor he would no longer be able to sing, he focused heavily on his guitar playing skills from that point out. He later defied the doctor and managed to sing on a few of his tracks.

In 1954, Link joined his brothers, Douglas and Vernon, and two of their friends, Shorty Horton and Dixie Neal, and together they formed the band ‘Lucky Wray and the Lazy Pine Wranglers’. Being natives of Virginia, they played mostly country and Western swing music. They later changed the band name to ‘Lucky Wray and the Palomino Ranch Hands’, and played as the house band on the television show Milt Grant’s House Party. Lucky Wray and the Palomino Ranch Hands recorded some songs for Starday Records in 1956, but none of them were hits.

In 1958, everything changed for Wray. At a live performance on Milt Grant’s House Party, his band was asked by the audience to play something that had a similar sound to the Diamonds’ hit, “The Stroll”. What Wray’s band came up with was an eleven and a half bar blues song that they called “Oddball”. The audience loved it, and made the band repeat it four more times over the course of the night. Later, Wray’s band played it for a few record labels and got rejected by both Capitol and Deca records. Eventually they played the song to Archie Bleyer, a producer for Cadence Records. Wray poked holes in his amplifier to make it sound more like it did in the original live performance, and Bleyer hated it. His teenage daughter and her friends loved it though, and he decided to release the song despite thinking it was awful.

Bleyer sought a title that would resonate more with radio listeners, and they came up with “Rumble”, which was a slang term for “gang fight” in the ‘50s. Rumble hit the radio and became an instant hit. Because of its unfamiliar, distorted new sound, and because of the implications of the song title, Rumble was banned on several radio stations throughout the United States. It remains the only instrumental song ever to be banned from the radio in the U.S. In spite of its being banned, the song became a huge hit in America as well as the United Kingdom.

Link Wray’s “Rumble” went on to become a major influence in rock music. Rock ‘n Roll was still a developing genre in the late ‘50s. The rock ‘n roll that existed up until that point was more like easy listening, and Rumble had a completely new style, with a dirty and distorted sound to it. Without Link Wray’s influence, rock music and the American music culture would likely be very different today.

Pete Townshend once said, “He is the king; if it hadn’t been for Link Wray and ‘Rumble,’ I would never have picked up a guitar.” Many of the greatest guitarists of all time have mentioned Wray as one of their influences, including Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Jack Rose, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Duff McKagan, Neil Young, Cub Koda, Marc Bolan, and Bob Dylan.

Wray’s band went on to produce several more hits in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, with titles like “Ace of Spades”, “Rawhide”, and “Jack the Ripper”. His career continued on and off with intermittent periods of retirement for the rest of his life. He moved to Denmark in the 1980s after marrying a Danish woman, and continued to tour around the globe until he died of heart failure in 2005 at the age of 75.

Before and after his death, Link Wray has received several recognitions. He was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the Native American Music Hall of Fame. The Mayor of Dunn, North Carolina and the Governor of Maryland have each declared separate “Link Wray Days” in their respective areas. The Library of Congress added “Rumble” to the National Recording Registry in 2009, and Wray’s Danelectro guitar is currently on exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute Museum of the Native American.

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Former Breaker, Former Stone, Continues Alone.

mick taylor playing the guitar

Mick Taylor is one of the most recognized rhythm guitarists of all time. Born in England in 1949, he grew up listening to blues and rock ‘n roll. He picked up the guitar at age nine and found his passion. In 1965 at the age of 16, he went to see John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in concert. Eric Clapton, the guitarist for the Bluesbreakers at the time, did not show up that night. His guitar was set up on stage though, and during the setbreak Taylor approached John Mayall, told him he knew some of their songs and asked if he could play the guitar with them for the rest of the show. Mayall accepted, and was impressed by Taylor’s playing skills. They exchanged phone numbers, and a year later when Clapton left the band, Mayall asked Taylor to join them. Thus began his highly successful career.

In 1969, after Brian Jones was separated from the Rolling Stones, Mayall suggested to Mick Jagger that Taylor should be their new guitarist. He joined the Rolling Stones at the age of 20. Taylor’s playing, influenced heavily by blues and also by jazz and Latin music, added a touch to the Stones’ music that previously was nonexistent. He played on the albums Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main St, and It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll. He was only with the Rolling Stones from 1969 to 1974, but these were arguably their best years. He participated in some exceptional songs such as “Honky Tonk Women” and “Time Waits for No One”. During this time with the Stones, he played some unique guitars.

The Gibson Les Paul is one of the most well-known vintage gibson guitars, and it was Mick Taylor’s favorite guitar during the peak of his career. It was created in 1952, but the versions made in the late 1950s had unparalleled sound. The 1958-1960 sunburst models were particularly popular among musicians. Mick Taylor had one, as well as Kieth Richards, Eric Clapton, and Jimmy Page.

The Gibson SG is a guitar produced in response to lowered sales of the Les Paul in the early 60s. Taylor used it in the 1969, 1970 and 1971 tours. SG stands for “Solid Guitar”. The neck joint was moved to grant easier access to the upper frets. The entire neck and heel were made smaller for fast playing. The SG is still an extremely popular guitar today.

The Gibson ES-355 was among Gibson’s best thin line semi-acoustic guitars. It was manufactured from 1958 to 1982. It is a variation of the ES-335, which is still in production today. The headstock had a split-diamond inlay, as opposed to the smaller crown inlay on the ES-335. It also had a maple neck, as opposed to mahogany on the 335. Taylor used it in the recording of Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St.

mick taylor

In 1969, Taylor travelled with the Rolling Stones to California to headline at the Altamont Speedway music festival. Approximately 300,000 were in attendance. Also at the festival were Jefferson Airplane, Santana, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The Grateful Dead were scheduled to perform as well, but things took a turn for the worse and they declined to play. The Hells Angels, a badass biker gang with an all-for-one, one-for-all attitude, were contracted as security for the event. The Hells Angels already had a relationship with the Grateful Dead and Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, and though they were more about drugs and money than “peace and love”, they were heavily involved in the hippie counterculture of the 60’s.

Tensions were rising at the Altamont festival – Mick Jagger was punched by a crowd member on his way into the show, and Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane had a beer bottle broken over his head by a Hells Angel. During the Stones’ set, members of the crowd tried to climb up onstage. Among them was an 18 year old black man named Meredith Hunter. Hunter was punched in the head and chased back into the crowd by a Hells Angel. He was high on drugs and enraged, and returned to the front of the crowd intending to cause trouble and possibly kill someone. He pulled a revolver out of his jacket, and a Hells Angel approached him from the side, parried his gun, and stabbed him five times in the back. A group of Hells Angels was quick to respond, attacking him with pool cues and stomping him to death. For some reason, they subsequently dragged his body onto the stage, making the band aware of his death. The Stones stopped playing and left the concert immediately

It is possible that this life just wasn’t what Mick Taylor had in mind. The Rolling Stones were a very in your face band who introduced a new phenomenon in England, embracing the life of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. It is also mentioned that he argued a lot with the rest of the band, and was disappointed in the amount of song writing credit he got on the albums he was on. Whatever his reasons were, he left the band in 1974. He went on to work on his solo career, returning to his roots in blues, jazz, and Latin. Most notably he recorded the album Mick Taylor in 1979, produced by Columbia Records. He is still alive today and has played at a handful of reunion concerts with the Rolling Stones, as well as being on the re-release of Exile on Main St. in 2010.

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Dick Dale: King of the Surf Guitar

Dick Dale, Empire Guitar, Empire Guitars, rhode island vintage guitars, vintage guitars

The Amps Behind the Sound

With a style that influenced greats like Hendrix and Van Halen, he’s been called the “Father of Heavy Metal” by Guitar Player Magazine. The “breakneck” speed of his Dick Dale’s surf guitar, his single trademark staccato picking technique, as well as his incredible showmanship are considered the precursors to heavy metal. And what Dale did for electric amplification technology was phenomenal. Dale and Leo Fender collaborated to produce custom-made amps capable of producing distorted “thick, clearly defined tones” at previously undreamed of volumes. The first ever 100-watt guitar amp was the result of a Fender-Dale collaboration. “Leo Fender kept giving Dale amps, and Dale kept blowing them up” – 49, to be exact – and they would actually catch on fire! When Dale played the famed Rendezvous Ballroom, it was often to crowds of 4000 screaming fans. He needed volume to compete with the roar of the crowd. As a result, his music became incredibly dynamic and loud.


Dale Blew Audiences Away with Volume and Style

Beyond the practical reasons for his unprecedented volume, there were artistic reasons for pushing the limits of his equipment.  Dale wanted his music to reflect surfing sounds, – i.e. the fast scales and reverb that created a “wet” sound and became a staple of surf music. He also had a unique playing style that made him a true original.  Dale was a left handed guitarist who was initially forced to play a right handed model. When he switched to a lefty model, he didn’t restring the guitar. He essentially played the guitar “upside down and backwards”–  changing the chords in his head, then transposing the chords to his hands to create a sound never heard before — often playing by reaching over the fretboard rather than wrapping his fingers from underneath.


A Surfer-Dude with Lebanese Roots

Anyone remember the Majarjan? A Lebanese nightspot in Boston? Dick Dale frequently performed there “while relatives belly-danced”.  Despite his California surfer image, Dale was born in Lebanon in the 1930’s. He and his family moved to California in ’54 where he leaned to surf and became interested in music. The first instruments he learned to play were drums, ukulele, and trumpet. The guitar followed. Dale’s Lebanese heritage and his interest in Arabic music played a huge role in his development of surf rock. Trabaki drumming, learned from his uncle, greatly influenced his rapid alternating pick techniques, his percussive, heavy bending style. Today, Dale is a master at a long list of instruments including the acoustic, electronic, bass and Spanish guitars.

Dick Dale, Empire Guitar, Empire Guitars, rhode island vintage guitars, vintage guitars

The Fender Stratocaster that Made Waves

Fender amps provided the volume, but Dale’s Fender Stratocaster and Fender reverb provided the magic. Surf guitar sound was enhanced by Dale’s creation: The Fender Tank Reverb. The story behind the Fender reverb is that “as Dale sang in his shows, he realized that he didn’t have a vibrato in his voice and he didn’t like the straight flat dry sound. To sustain his vocal notes, he turned to an old Hammond organ and found a reverb unit which he showed to Leo Fender. Together, they came up with the Fender Tank Reverb.” When Dale plugged a Sure Dynamic Birdcage Microphone into it and sang, his voice took on a rich, full sound. Dale then plugged his  vintage Fender Stratocaster into the Reverb Tank to sustain his guitar notes – and the rest is history. Dale’s trademark sound was born. Dale got his percussive, heavy bending” style using extremely heavy gauge string sets (16p, 18p, 20p, 38w, 48w, 58w) – much heavier that the sets made for standard tuned electric guitars which were ne heavier than 13-56.


The Signature Model

Dale is truly a Fender legend, and a lover of Fender Vintage Guitars. Fender continues to make surf guitars worthy of Dale’s name. The signature model – “the Dick Dale Custom Shop Stratocaster” was fitted with Custom Shop 54” pickups and designed to recreate the sound of the first “Strats”. With this model, Dick used a reverb unit with the signal split between two Fender Dual Showman amps. Today, Dale is still shaping surf rock sound with his left-handed six-string Signature Malibu SCE Acoustic-Electric Guitar. The Fender Dick Dale Limited Edition Malibu CE Acoustic-Electric is modeled after Dale’s Signature Malibu.


Let’s Go Trippin’

Often regarded as the first surf rock song, “Let’s Go Trippin” started something big. But surf rock’s national popularity was somewhat short lived, because something even BIGGER took the U.S. by storm. By 1964, the British Invasion began to take over the charts. The 4 guys with the funny haircuts now had crowds screaming for more. But surf guitar has held its own. In 1987, Dale appeared in the movie “Back to the Beach” playing surf guitar and performing “Pipeline” with Stevie Ray Vaughn. Later, Quentin Tarentino’s film, “Pulp Fiction” earned Dale a new audience with his epic instrumental “Misirlou”. His now classic “Misirlou” became widely used in a variety of venues. For example, in their 2005 album, the Black Eyed Peas’ “Pump It” sampled Dale’s “Misirlou”.  The song is also featured in Playstation’s Guitar Hero II, and in the Wii video game, “Rayman Raving Rabbids”, as well as in the film Space Jam, and more. And it almost goes without saying that his distorted surf sound influenced bands like the “Butthole Surfers”.

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