Email Specials from December 2008

Friday 12/5/2008 ~ The Outsiders


I love the Pittsburgh Guitars Email Special! And the internet!

A few months ago I mentioned an album by a Cleveland band called The Outsiders. Here's a link to that email. I rambled through approximately forty-seven topics that day... and one of them concerned odd album covers, including the Outsiders final album, "Happening Live!" (Which wasn't.) (Well, it was happening, it just wasn't really live.) (Just like many concerts you go to these days...) (Which reminds me of something else. I'll have to remember to get to that later.) (OK, now where was I?) (Oh, yeah... The Outsiders.)

Anyhow, I mentioned The Outsiders. Then, two weeks ago, I got an email from Bill Bruno, the lead guitarist in the band! I know!!! I was thrilled!!!! Especially since he liked the Email Special, and wasn't mad that I was amused by the album cover, which pictures TWO guys holding basses. (Here's the cover.)

It turns out that Bill quit the band shortly before the album was made. And the guy on the left, with his back to the camera is Frank, the band's road manager... just filling in as an extra body in the photo. (And apparently there was an extra bass laying around...)

Here's the cover of the band's first album. Bill is on the bottom right. Personnel changes were an issue with the band, especially with drummers, and the smudgy wall next to Bill is where a previous drummer was airbrushed out of the picture, and off the album cover. The smudged out drummer was replaced by a guy you may have heard of: Jimmy Fox. Jimmy then quit a few months later to form his own band, The James Gang.

Here are some youtube videos:

The Outsiders with Jimmy Fox on drums on "Hullabaloo" (March 21, 1966)

The Outsiders with Jimmy's replacement (drummer #4) on Dick Clark's "Where The Action Is" (May 18, 1966)

Jimmy Fox with The James Gang, a few years later. (Joe Walsh on guitar.)


Here's a photo from Bill's personal collection. It's The Outsiders from early 1966, when they were on tour opening for Paul Revere & The Raiders. You can see The Raiders drum set in the center. (And their Vox AC-100 amp!) On that song the bass player is doing a harmonica solo, so Bill is covering on bass. You can see Bill's Gretsch Country Gentleman behind him, leaning against his amp. That's the guitar he's using in the "Hullabaloo" video clip above. You can tell that this is an early photo because Tom King, bandleader, rhythm guitarist and the guy who wrote "Time Won't Let Me," still has his Conway Twitty haircut. Once the band started climbing the charts, he switched to a more contemporary look. Note the difference in this picture a few months later.

In the on-stage photo, and in the new-haircut photo, Tom is playing his Fender Jaguar, the same guitar he's using on "Hullabaloo." (On the "Where The Action Is" clip above, Bill is using Tom's Jaguar and Tom appears to be playing a broom.)

Other interesting photo tidbits: It's hard to see, but it appears that the bass player (Mert Madsen, by the way) was using an Ampeg B-15. It's right behind Tom's legs. And both Tom and Bill are using Fender Bandmaster amps. The Bandmaster Cabinet has two twelve inch speakers and was designed to be set up horizontally. But most bands, like The Outsiders in this photo, turned the cabinets sideways, so the top speaker would be higher and be easier to hear. That's why the head sticks out over the edge of the cabinet... it wasn't meant to be set up that way.

And, of course, the most interesting thing is that, despite those cool, loud amps, everyone is singing through a Shure Vocalmaster PA system! That's a Vocalmaster column on the far left. A band today would be happy to use those same guitars and amps, but that Vocalmaster PA wouldn't even work as a monitor system. (Oh yeah, notice that in 1966 there weren't any monitors.)


1966 was the big year for The Outsiders. They skyrocketed to the the top, and then eventually back down. Their big hit single, "Time Won't Let Me," (recorded in late 1965) was released in early 1966, and made it to #5 in the charts. Their first album, also called "Time Won't Let Me," was released in May 1966. They had a second charting single, up to #15, with a cover of an Isley Brothers' tune, "Respectable" in the summer of 1966. Their second album was released in September 1966; their third in January 1967. And by then... it was pretty much over.

Bill joined in early 1966 and was there for all three albums and non-stop touring. He, the original bass player, and drummer #12 all quit before the fake "live" album in 1967. He's a very nice guy and has fond memories of the Outsiders' one year in the spotlight. He says, "Music has sure come a long way. It was very innocent back then."

It's been fun emailing with him, and I'm happy that he's willing to share his old photos with us.


See you soon,


PS: The lead singer of The Outsiders, Sonny Geraci, moved to California after the band broke up. A few years later he had hit with his new band, Climax, called "Precious and Few." Here's a youtube video.

PPS: Speaking of "live" music, I was very impressed with an MTV show this week. I know what you're thinking, "What does MTV have to do with music?" Especially live music? Well, you're kinda right. I remember I actually wasted an hour of my life a few months ago watching the Music Video Awards Show, which featured lots of lip-syncing rap acts.

But this weekend I had a chance to see last month's MTV Europe Music Awards, filmed in Liverpool, England. And what a refreshing change it was. Yes, there were still backing tracks in use, but the acts all sang live. And in some instances, like Kid Rock and Duffy, the entire band was live! It was nice to see. (Although certain performers who are not very good singers were at a disadvantage...) (I don't want to name names...) (Kayne West)

I hope this trend--more rock, more real singing--works its way to our country.

My reason for tuning in was to see our favorite ex-guitar teacher, Korel. His band, The Goo Goo Dolls, were off for the weekend, and he flew to England to back up Katy "I Kissed A Girl" Perry and play in the show's house band. See? If you hang around at Pittsburgh Guitars, like Korel did, that kind of thing could happen to you!

And who did Korel meet backstage? Paul McCartney! Yep, two left-handed, bass-playing, guitar-playing, keyboard-playing, singing, guys standing right next to each other! Except... wait a minute, Korel ALSO plays sax! So... who's the more talented guy now? OK, maybe it's still Paul. But we're proud of Korel anyway!


PPPS: With regard to the Pittsburgh Guitars Theme Song Contest, I know I said it would be over by now, but we received four more entries just in the last week. Ah... musicians... they take it slow. (Feel free to use that for a bumpersticker.) I figure I should wait until the CDs stop coming before ending the contest...

PPPPS: This email is already a bit long, but I just realized how The Outsiders affected my life! (Besides me playing "Time Won't Let Me" a hundred times in different bands...)

When I was in college I was asked to join a 1950s parody band called "Zit Blemish & The Hot Rods." (Me on drums.) (Yeah, I didn't care much for the band name... but it was successful.) When we moved to New York I became good friends with the band's guitarist, Mitch Weissman. A year or so later Mitch got a job playing Paul McCartney in a Broadway show called "Beatlemania!" And I started buying Beatle-ish instruments for the show. As I traveled around buying and selling guitars for "Beatlemania!" I realized how much I liked guitars... and I decided to open my own store, Pittsburgh Guitars. So, me joining that band ultimately led to 30 years of Pittsburgh Guitars.

And how did I get in the band? They had a gig booked at Carnegie-Mellon University and their original drummer told them that he couldn't do the gig because he was a tremendous Jimmy Fox fan and The James Gang were playing in town that night. They hired me for the gig, liked me better, and I got the job. So Pittsburgh Guitars eventually came to be because of the drummer from The Outsiders! It's funny how life works out!

PPPPPS: Customer of the week: Augustana

Friday 12/12/2008 ~ The Baldwin Virginian


Last night I saw a Macy's Christmas ad featuring the usual Macy's celebrities, Martha Stewart, Jessica Simpson, the guy with the funny hair... And the ad's tag line was that famous Christmas quote, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." It reminded me of two things: my favorite Christmas movie ever, "Miracle on 34th Street" and Jim Burns.

The "Yes, Virginia..." quote is from a September 20, 1897 New York Sun newspaper editorial. The writer, Francis Church, was responding to an actual letter, from an actual little girl, actually named Virginia.

While the newspaper quote is not directly connected to "Miracle On 34th Street," the movie IS about believing in Santa Claus. And I can't watch that film without getting emotional... it's such a cute movie. I'd watch it again right now!

But getting back to Jim Burns...

Jim was a British guitar manufacturer. After designing instruments for other manufacturers during the 1950s, he founded his own company, "Burns, London, Ltd," in 1960. And his guitars were a hit. For some reason, in the early 1960s high tariffs were placed on musical instruments imported into England. I don't know anything about international financial dealings, so I'm not sure if these extra charges were added by the US on the way out of our country, or by the UK on the way into their country... But the end result is that Gibson and Fender guitars were extremely expensive in England during that time. When the British music scene exploded in the early 1960s, Burns was in the right place at the right time.
Jim designed some interesting guitars, with unusual body shapes and unique volume, tone, and blend controls. One cool model was the Burns Bison, with large curved horns. Here's a magazine ad from 1962. His instruments were used by many famous British bands, including The Shadows. Here are The Shadows, all using Burns guitars.

In 1963 Burns struck a deal with the Ampeg amp company for US distribution. It seemed like a good plan for both parties. Ampeg was a successful US amp company who wanted to expand their line to include guitars and basses. And Burns needed help getting his instruments to this large new market. In retrospect you would think that early 1964, when The Beatles hit the US, would have been the perfect time to sell guitars! But alas, it was not to be.

Why the failure? There are a variety of reasons. For one thing, the Burns models were big and heavy, and odd looking. But more importantly, from a marketing standpoint, the USA Baby Boomers were looking to emulate the British Invasion bands. And as soon as they made any money, the British Invasion bands bought the instruments they always wanted but couldn't afford: American guitars! So when kids across America turned on the Ed Sullivan Show, they saw British bands using Gibson, Fender, Rickenbacker and Gretsch guitars. The Burns/Ampeg deal fell apart in late 1964.

Then in 1965, another USA company came calling.

The Baldwin Piano company saw the big cash being spent on guitars, and they wanted to get in on the deal. They approached Leo Fender, but were easily out-bid by CBS. Baldwin then learned that for a fraction of the Fender price they could buy Burns, London. And in September, 1965, they did!

Did this change the likelihood of an American kid-on-the-street wanting a Burns/Baldwin guitar? Ah... er.... no. Baldwin put a lot of time and money into their new instrument line, but it never proved profitable. By 1967, things were obviously not going well, and by 1970 all Burns/Baldwin production stopped. (And did this change the likelihood of Baldwin wanting to be in the guitar biz? No, again! In 1967 Baldwin bought Gretsch guitars. And if you've been reading these emails for the last few years, you know where that went!)

In our thirty years at Pittsburgh Guitars, we've seen a handful of pre-1963 Burns guitars. We've had one-hands-worth of Burns/Ampeg guitars. And we've sold a number of Burns/Baldwin guitars. BUT one model has always fascinated me. As I mentioned above, Jim Burns designed some odd instruments... and the one that I'm most entertained by is the fabulous "Virginian"!

It's hard to properly describe, so here's a picture of John with one. I'm not sure what Burns was going for, but with a name like "Virginian" I guess he was shooting for electric country music players! Burns designed this guitar in mid-1965 right before he sold the company, so a few were sold under the Burns name. Most, though, are Burns/Baldwin Virginians.

Here's John with another one, also from 1965. Note the fancy scroll headstock.

In 1966, Baldwin made some cost-cutting moves, and they redesigned the expensive-to-carve Burns headstock scroll. Here's a mid-1966 Baldwin Virginian, with the newer, modified headstock.

Now, if you're making an acoustic guitar with two pickups, three knobs and a toggle switch, where do you go from there? Well, in 1967 Baldwin decided to add a vibrato!

Here's John with a 1967 Baldwin Virginian, with vibrato.
What the heck, here he is with three of them.

The Burns/Baldwin Virginian is a nice guitar. It's easy to play and actually sounds good. And with two pickups and a vibrato it's an eye-catcher. It certainly makes me smile! Jim Burns never made it big in the USA, and he didn't retire a millionaire. But he does deserve a chapter in the history of electric guitars.

And when I heard the "Yes, Virginia," I thought, "Burns, Virginian."


See You soon,


PS: Hey, speaking of Christmas: My band, The Flashcats only plays once a year, at Christmastime. This year's show is NEXT Saturday, December 20th, at The Rex. Showtime is 8PM. Stop by, and see if we remember the songs from last year!
-The Flashcats
-The Rex Theater
-Saturday, December 20th
-8 PM

PPS: Hey, speaking of Christmas: I said we'd have the Pittsburgh Guitars Theme Song ready for Christmas. First of all, thank you, thank you, thank you, to all who submitted songs! We have one picked out. (It's actually a combination of two entries.) BUT the store has been so busy for Christmas that there simply won't be time to get a final recording done before the holidays. The debut of the Pittsburgh Guitars Theme Song will have to wait until after Christmas.


PPPS: Hey, speaking of Christmas: The store has been jumpin'! I'm glad to see that guitars are still on everyone's wish list! But even if it's busy when you get here, stop in sometime over the next few weeks. Christmas is my favorite time of year, and it's the perfect time to say hello to old friends. It'll be good to see ya.


PPPPS: Customer of the week: Newton Faulkner

Friday 12/19/2008 ~ Merry Christmas!


Wow, you blink and another year has gone by! Maybe they go so fast because we're having such a good time!
This will be the last email special for 2008. Sure, this month has one more Friday (the 26th), but we'll all be recovering from Christmas celebrating. (Egg Nog headaches?) (Besides, lots of folks come by that day with Christmas cash... and we need to set them up with the guitar that will change their life in `09!)


To celebrate the last Email Special of 2008 I told everyone to grab their favorite guitar from the wall and pose for one last picture.

Here's John with a 1963 Fender Jaguar.
Here's Scott with a new Custom Shop Hofner 500/1 Bass.
Here's Mark with a 2007 Gibson `57 Reissue Les Paul.
Here's Betsy with a new Martin 000-28.
And here's me, with a 1978 Gibson ES-345. (The first used 345 we've seen in five years!)

I've had a great time rambling on about guitars for the last eight years. And through these Email Specials we've met lots of cool people from all around the world. After the holiday break we'll be back.... with more guitar stories... and more pictures of John! Have a Merry Christmas!



See you soon,

PS: When I realized that this was the last letter of the year, I decided to look back at 2008. So I started re-reading the Email Specials in the Archives here at It was fun!
There's a lot of info there! And some odd photos!

PPS: Last night Jim, Dave & I got together to see if we could remember The Flashcats songs for tomorrow night's show. (Cindy and the horn section will be winging it.) It turns out that once stuff is permanently etched in your memory, it's easy to recall. As long as you let it flow, and don't actually TRY to remember!

As I was drumming I thought back to the early years of Pittsburgh Guitars. The band income helped support the store in those days. And The Flashcats were a valuable testing ground for potential store inventory items. A small shop can't carry every brand. So before adding something new to the store, I would often try it out "in the field" (or in some bar in Uniontown). The advantage of this was that Pittsburgh Guitars ended up with products that I was proud to sell... stuff that I knew would come through for you on-stage. We've carried that philosophy through to today. At Pittsburgh Guitars we don't sell anything that we're not proud of. (It's sort of odd to talk about store policy like this, especially since it's kind of an unspoken, subconscious thing... but it crossed my mind last night, as I was not trying to remember the drums to "Midnight Hour"!)

The Flashcats
(still using a Sabine Tuner from 1985)
Saturday, Dec 20th
The Rex Theater

PPPS: Speaking of The Flashcats, this is the 28th year in a row that we recorded a Christmas Record for the Fan Club. This year, for the first time, it's available as a free download. You can do that here.


PPPPS: Hey, it was nice hangin' with ya this year.

PPPPPS: Customer of the week: Wunderbare Katze

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