Fri 3/3/2006 ~ "You Are My Sunshine"
I found myself humming a song
as I was folding my socks yesterday. (Well, actually, I was taking
them out of the dryer in a big clump and throwing them in a drawer...)
(I mean, they're just socks... It's not like they're sheets...)
(OK, OK, I don't fold the sheets either...) (Hey, I fold the
towels, though! `Cause that's the only way to get them to fit
in the bathroom closet...)
Getting back to the song, it
was "You Are My Sunshine," by Governor Jimmie Davis.
I know that's a strange choice for a head-banging rocker like
myself... but my Mother used to sing it to me when I was a baby,
and every now and then I find it popping into my head... (Note:
if you're going to sing to your baby, pick something good, because
50 years from now they'll be stuck with it.)
As I was humming along with my
subconscious it occurred to me that although "You Are My
Sunshine" sounds like a happy-go-lucky song, it really isn't.
My Mother generally repeated the chorus, which sounds nice:
You are my sunshine, my only
You make me happy when skies are grey
You'll never know dear, how much I love you
Please don't take my sunshine away
Occasionally she'd sing the first
The other night dear, as I
I dreamed I held you in my arms
When I awoke, dear, I was mistaken
And I hung my head and cried
But she never got to the next
verse, where the song takes a nasty turn:
I'll always love you and make
If you will only say the same
But if you leave me to love another
You'll regret it all some day
Finally the song gets plain depressing:
You told me once dear, you
really loved me
And no one else dear, could come between
But now you've left me and love another
You have shattered all my dreams
All of this made me wonder about
other songs that sound happy but are really sad. I guess "Help"
by The Beatles falls into that category. It certainly has a bright
up-tempo feel, but I recall reading that when John Lennon wrote
it it was slower... and he seriously meant "Help me."
Hey, I just thought of a giant
group of songs that fall into this category: Any sad song played
on a banjo! After all, no matter what the topic, it's just gonna
sound happy on a banjo!
Let's have a banjo email special!
As you may know, we have the biggest banjo selection of any store
around! In fact, considering Pittsburgh is often thought of as
a "blues town," you're probably wondering why we sell
so many banjos... Well, we keep them in stock because they just
make me happy! This is your chance! You can't feel sad or depressed
if there's a banjo nearby!
See you soon,
PS: I wonder if any other famous
songs were written by politicians? Although, I seem to remember
that, though Governor Jimmie Davis wrote a lot of other songs,
he BOUGHT "You Are My Sunshine" from the original writer...
PPS: New in the store this week:
* The Gretsch Country Gentleman 12-String that I mentioned last
week is here. It sounds wonderful!
* We just got a batch of new Hofner electric-acoustics that look
and sound great!
* The new Fender 60th Anniversary stuff is starting to arrive.
Seventeen boxes of Fender just just showed up today. Give us
a call to find out if we have the new silver Strat. (We'll have
the boxes open by this afternoon.)
PPPS: I'll bet someone somewhere
played the blues on a banjo...
PPPPS: Customer web site:
Fri 3/10/2006 ~ TV Commercial
I was on the set of a TV commercial
yesterday. It was for Duquesne Light and featured a 12-year-old
kid playing guitar in his bedroom. The experience was quite interesting.
First of all, it took twenty
people four hours to shoot a scene that will eventually only
last five seconds within a thirty second commercial. (I'll bet
there's a mathematical equation in that sentence somewhere...)
Second of all, they were using
a new High Definition camera. Wow, was it sharp! And I don't
mean "sharp" as in: "Man, you look sharp in those
chinos!" I mean "sharp" as in: "I sure don't
wanna look at someone and see every pore in their face!"
In this case, the kid was young and he looked fine. But when
High Definition becomes standard I'm not certain we'll want to
see older people, like our favorite movie stars, in that much
detail. The High Definition images seem even sharper than real
life. The close-ups are gonna be scary on the big screen...
(Sometimes it doesn't bother
me that my eyesight isn't as good as when I was younger. I think
most of my friends look better slightly out of focus!)
The director told me that they
were going to take this footage, put it in their editing computer
and make it look like the entire scene was in a bubble. I didn't
quite understand... but I think it's gonna be artsy.
Also, the production company
had a big truck full of stands and lighting equipment... which
I thought was really cool. But during a break, one of the lighting
guys told me about these new LCD lights that are becoming available.
They are tiny, inexpensive and super bright. (It's the same technology
that's used in a couple of billboards around town.) He said that
two days ago they were filming a scene, and he was holding one
of these up with one hand, and he could feel himself becoming
But, the other side of this story:
The guitar the kid used in the commercial was a Fender Stratocaster,
an instrument that has barely changed since it was invented in
1954. And the song he was playing along to was Led Zeppelin's
"Communication Breakdown," a recording that has not
changed at all since 1968.
So... The video cameras are getting
better... maybe too good... Computer editing has more and more
exotic potential... And lighting technology will be changing
rapidly, soon... But despite scientific advances all around us,
the Fender Stratocaster, with it's 52 year-old design, is still
the king of electric guitars. And Rock & Roll... well, I
believe it's here to stay.
See you soon,
PS: Lots of folks wrote in about
last week's email. Apparently "You Are My Sunshine"
was sung by a lot of mothers to a lot of babies. It is a really
cute song... for the first verse. And, in answer to my question
last week, Yes, folks have played the blues on the banjo!
PPS: New this week: More "Hello
Kitty" Strats! Some really nice Hofner acoustics with pickups!!
The new Gretsch G5120, similar to a Gretsch G6120 but 1/3 the
PPPS: Customer Web Site:
Fri 3/17/2006 ~ Neco Case, Tenor Banjos,
This week someone wrote to ask
about a girl guitarist, Neco Case, who they saw on Jay Leno.
Neco plays a four string, skinny neck, Gibson electric guitar...
and the emailer asked that question I hear so often: "What
the heck is that?" I replied, as I do so often, "It
all started back in the 1800s..."
Of course, I'm kidding. It really
started around 1769.... That's the earliest record of banjo-usage
in the US of A. (Although, we probably weren't the "US of
A" then...) (Just "A", I guess...)
The banjo is considered by many
people to be the only true American instrument, and throughout
the 1800s the banjo became more and more popular. (One explanation
for this trend: The TV hadn't been invented yet... So, it was
like, "Well, Martha, do you want to sit here in our log
cabin and read a book by candlelight, or do you wanna go down
to the meetin' hall and watch a guy play the banjo?")
As more folks took up the banjo
it evolved technologically... frets were added in the mid 1850s,
and steel strings instead of gut strings came into use in 1857.
By 1900 there were 200 companies making banjos in the USA (yeah!...by
then "US" fer sure...). The S.S. Stewart Company alone
made over 25,000 banjos between 1878 and 1904. That's a lot when
you consider there were only 26,000 people in the country then!
(I should mention that Christian
Frederick Martin had been making guitars, our favorite instrument,
since 1833. Orville Gibson started his shop in 1894. But the
guitar simply didn't capture the public's interest like the banjo.)
In 1900, banjos had 5 strings
and were typically played finger-style. But in 1907, much to
the annoyance of their parents, the kids started playing new,
wild styles of music, like "jazz" and "the tango."
And the kids wanted to be loud! In order to do more power-chord
strumming, (picture Pete Townsend's great grandfather...), they
removed the short 5th string from their banjos and started using
a pick. And, to make it easier for more potential players, the
new four string banjos were tuned CGDA, similar to a mandolin
or a violin. This radical new model was called the Tenor Banjo,
and when "ragtime" music hit in 1908 the Tenor Banjo
quickly became more popular than the 5-string.
It's hard now to imagine a time
when the banjo was more popular than the guitar, but that was
certainly the case in the early 1900s. And it lasted until the
mid-1920s. By 1927, though, the times they were a changin' and
it became obvious that interest in the banjo was fading fast.
That year both Gibson and Martin decided to offer a guitar alternative
for the Tenor Banjo player: the Tenor Guitar.
Here's a picture
of a 1931 Martin C-1T.
And here's a picture
of a 1932 Gibson T-00.
I'm not sure what
company manufactured this one.
In the old days, guitar instructors, music schools and even individual
stores would have instruments made with their name on them. This
may have been made by the Harmony Company.
Even as late as the 1950s manufacturers
offered Tenor Guitars. Right now, in the back of the store, we
have our Gretsch guitar collection on display. Here's a 1955 Gretsch Tenor Duo Jet that John pulled
out of the display case:
By the 1960's, Tenor Guitars
were not big sellers, but Gibson would custom-make any guitar
from their line as a Tenor model. Here's a 1961 Gibson ES-150 as the Tenor ETS-150.
Daryl Hall from
Hall & Oates owns a very rare ES-330 Tenor, the ETS-330.
Here's Neco Case, mentioned back
in paragraph one. She plays a Gibson SG Tenor.
Nowadays, Tenor Banjo players
are few and far between, and Tenor Guitar players even rarer.
But the Tenor Guitar is a really cool, jangly instrument. If
you ever see one, give it a try. None of the ones pictured here
are for sale, but if you're in the neighborhood stop in and we'll
show you the three tenor chords we know.
See you soon,
PS: Customer web site:
Fri 3/24/2006 ~ Stephen Colbert Plays Guitar
Last night at 11:30 I turned
on one of my favorite shows, The Colbert Report. (Actually, I
didn't even have to switch channels, since I had just watched
one of my other favorite shows, The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.)
Stephen Colbert's show is a bit inconsistent... some shows are
so-so... but some are really funny... and some are brilliant.
Considering it's mostly a one-man show and is on four nights
a week, taken in it's entirety it's quite impressive.
Last night I was even more impressed
because he opened the show playing guitar! Admittedly, it was
a simple song ("This Land Is Your Land") with simple
chords... but he obviously can play. And even though I already
thought he was a bright and funny guy, I now have an even higher
opinion of him. Finding out that someone you thought you knew
also plays guitar is a pleasant and impressive surprise.
Suppose, for example, you were
having a business meeting this morning with a long-time co-worker;
and there, in the boardroom, perhaps from a party the night before,
someone inadvertently left a guitar. And suppose your co-worker
casually picked up the guitar and started to play. Wouldn't you
think, "Hmmm, I now have even more respect for this person...
After all, they not only have the skills and ability to do their
regular job well, they also have a secret musical talent. They
play guitar. They are even MORE of a human being!"
I never realized it before, but
being able to play guitar is like having your kitchen remodeled...
Just as a newer kitchen adds value to your house, playing guitar
adds value to YOU.
Since you're on the Pittsburgh
Guitars Email Special List, you probably already play guitar.
Don't forget to casually use this ability in a non-musical situation.
Surprising someone with this unexpected specialized expertise
will make them appreciate you even more!
And take a moment today to encourage
someone else to play. Maybe not the guy in the next cubicle...
`cause you don't want the boss to see him hosting a sing-along
at the company picnic and then he'd get the promotion instead
of you... But maybe a younger brother or sister, or one of your
kids. After all, years from now when they grow up to be an astronaut
and they're on the Tonight Show talking about walking on Mars,
think how much MORE impressed the audience will be when it turns
out that they ALSO play guitar!
See you soon,
PS: Last week I mentioned that
the Tenor Guitar was developed so that Tenor Banjo players could
pick up the guitar. I didn't mention how the guitar was tuned,
but it's just like the Tenor Banjo: CGDA
PPPS: Speaking of the Comedy
Central, did you see South Park this week? Wow!
PPPPS: Customer web site:
Fri 3/31/2006 ~ Guitars I Wish I had Back
I've been working on the taxes...
and one of the things I do is review all of the guitar sales
for the year. When I check the list this time each year I invariably
see a guitar or two (or three) (or five) that I wish I hadn't
sold. Obviously I can't keep them all, but as I've said before,
guitars have personalities (like people) and some feel really
good (like some people). Some you just want to be around, and
hold, and strum... (like....) So when you find a guitar you really
like, it seems a shame to see it go.
Sure, over these many many (many)
years, I've held on to a lot of guitars. (I was a bit shocked
when I saw how many Tenor guitars...) (See the
email special from 3/17...) (By the way, weren't the pictures
cute?) (Mark refused to have his taken. Something about the camera
stealing his soul...)
But, I still think back to the
guitars I WISH I would have kept...
* There was a really cool sunburst
1977 Les Paul Deluxe that came through the store in 1982... It
had the most weather checking I've ever seen on a guitar... the
entire top was covered in finish cracks. The sunburst had yellowed
nicely and the guitar looked like it had a million gigs on it.
And it was stunningly beautiful! I still dream about it. I sold
it to someone local, so it may still be in Pittsburgh.
* Then around 1990 I was in Nashville
and bought a 1978 Telecaster with a bullet hole in it. (I don't
know if it was the result of a really bad bar fight, or just
a rehearsal gone wrong...) (Or maybe a relationship gone wrong...)
It was a nice clean shot, smooth and round on the front, wide
and splintered on the back, right through the wide part of the
body behind the bridge. I figured it would be a fun conversation
piece to have on the wall here, and it was. And someone bought
it. I had considered keeping it, but it was that odd brown color
that Fender was using in the late 1970s, and at the time I disliked
the color. Since then I've grown fond of Fender's wackier colors,
and that bullet-hole Tele was so neat... I sure wish I would
have kept that guitar.
* Even this year there was a
Martin D-35 that came though the store that had a magical feeling
to it. I wanted to hold onto it, but I thought about it too long
and someone bought it.
I guess the moral of this story
is: if you find a guitar that speaks to you, one that makes you
happy, one that you can relate to... you should keep it. (And
the same applies to people, too!)
See you soon,
PS: Speaking of guitars from
the past, 33 years ago I bought a Hofner Bass from Dave Rusnak
for $100. Then a couple of years later I lent it to a friend
of mine, Mitch
Weissman, so he could use it to audition for the Beatlemania
show on Broadway. Mitch very deservedly got the gig, and he used
the bass for the entire Broadway run of the show. And my subsequent
involvement procuring instruments for the Beatlemania show ultimately
lead to the start of Pittsburgh Guitars. Here's more of the story.
Thinking back, I'm not sure if Mitch ever actually BOUGHT it
from me...but years later, when the show closed, Mitch sold the
bass. Well, YESTERDAY a guy came into the store with that exact
bass! He's going to trade it in on a new Hofner Bass. And I'm
gonna keep it this time.
PPS: This week's customer web site:
Slim Forsythe and the Parklane Drifters!