Email Specials from October 2009

Friday 10/2/2009 ~ The strangest thing that ever happened to me....

 

I went to a Pirates baseball game last week. It was a close one for the Pirates... they only lost 47 to 3...

During the game I had plenty of time to chat with my friends. And at one point during the conversation, my friend Linda started to describe an occurrence that she dubbed "The funniest thing that ever happened in my life."

It made me think. Not the story... the concept.

So much of our lives consist of repetition. Sure, every day is different. But generally we do a lot of the same things over and over. And it's easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day stuff.

I think it's important, now and then, to stop and appreciate what we've got... to appreciate how good things are. And taking a moment or two to reminisce about some of life's adventures reminds us that life can be fun. And it should be. There may be tough times, but there are highlights, too. Moments and memories to cherish. (That last sentence sounds like a 1950s song!)

Take a second right now and think about the funniest thing that ever happened to you. OK....... are you smiling? Good. Let's all do that more often.

I won't try to describe Linda's "funniest thing" because it's a long story and involves people we don't know. For that matter, when I think about the funniest thing that ever happened to me, it too involves a long story. But I can tell you the weirdest thing that ever happened to me. It's kinda funny now... now that I look back.

In the early 1980s I had a band called The Flashcats. We used to perform a song called "Big Ten Inch Record," by Bull Moose Jackson. One night in a bar in know, Bull Moose is still alive and working in the cafeteria at Howard University." I said, "Why, thank you for your offer! I'll have a Bacardi and Coke." The next day I looked up Howard University (and I'm not sure how, since this was before the internet!). I called the cafeteria and asked for him. And there he was! I invited Bull Moose to Pittsburgh to sing with The Flashcats.

One thing led to another... we did a 45 ("Get Off The Table, Mable, The Two Dollars Is For The Beer")... an album (Moosemania!)... and lots of shows. We got radio airplay; were mentioned in magazines around the country; and Moose's career was revived. And I became Moose's manager. In 1985, I got a call inviting Bull Moose to sing at Carnegie Hall in New York, and then tour Europe with The Johnny Otis Band. So Moose and I hopped a plane for NYC.

The next day we went to Carnegie Hall for an afternoon rehearsal. It went well, and as we walked out the stage door after rehearsal, I asked Moose what he'd like to do until show time. He turned and said, "Let's go up to the Apollo! I played there a lot in the early `50s." The Apollo, famous for launching the careers of artists like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday and James Brown, is a legendary music venue on 125th Street in downtown Harlem. Now as a young kid from the South Hills of Pittsburgh, I hadn't spent a lot of time in Harlem. None, as a matter of fact. And I was a little concerned that I might be the only... ah... er... guitar-store-owner... there. Moose could see the hesitation in my eyes. (It was mainly "fear." But I was disguising it as "hesitation.") He said, "Oh, don't worry. They know me there." I wasn't particularly reassured. Bull Moose was 67 going on 80, and he had a hard enough time taking care of himself. I questioned the influence he would have in Harlem. But I hailed a cab... and we headed north... to certain death.

The cab took us further and further uptown, turned right on 125st Street, drove half-way down the block and pulled over. I got out first, and as I was helping Moose out of the car, I noticed a guy sitting on the ground, against the front of a shoe store. I wasn't sure what to expect. But the guy looked up, and the first thing he said was, "Bull Moose Jackson! I haven't seen you in 30 years!!"

Of course, my original hesitation was unnecessary. We met nice people and got a wonderful tour of the Apollo. And we even had a drink at a bar around the corner. (Where I was definitely the only guitar-store-owner!) And everyone was super friendly. A hour later we got a cab back to downtown. (Although it was an unmarked cab, and the driver had a baseball bat sticking under the front seat...)

But that guy looking up and calling out Bull Moose's name was the strangest thing that has ever happened to me.

And I smile about it now.

 

See you soon,
Carl

 

PS: Weird things happen around the guitar store all of the time. For example, in the Email Special on December 12, 2008 I mentioned an unusual guitar made by the Baldwin Company: the Baldwin Virginian. (They were actually made in England by the Burns Company... but Baldwin bought Burns and had the guitars shipped to Cincinnati for distribution.) The Baldwin Virginian is an usual guitar, to say the least, and over the years I accidentally started to collect them. Without noticing, I ended up with six of them. Here's John with all six. Now, of course, as we all know, it's foolish to have more than five of any one model... so about a year ago I listed one of them in the "Inventory" section of our web site, www.pittsburghguitars.com. Since it's such a strange model, it didn't surprise me that few people were interested. But that's OK, the other five Virginians didn't mind if it stayed with them. Then yesterday, someone sent an email saying they wanted to buy it. I thought, "How nice! It will finally sell." But before I could even write back to him, someone ELSE called and wanted to buy it. I had a guitar on our web site for a YEAR with no interest, and in the space of a half-hour, two different people contacted me wanting to buy it. It's not that big of a deal... but it is weird.

PPS: I sold it to the first guy. He was first.

PPPS: Even though we told him it was sold, the second guy asked a lot of questions about the finish checking on the guitar. ("Finish checks" are cracks in the outer clear coat.) When I called the first guy to get his credit card info, I said, "Now, you saw the finish checking in the photo, didn't you?" He said, "Oh yeah! They're all like that! If you have a Baldwin Virginian without finish checks, it's been refinished!" It turns out that he used to work for Baldwin and adjusted the guitars before they were shipped out. He said that Burns in London started using a new type of polyester finish on those guitars, and on the trip to the USA they all cracked. He said they had no choice but to sell them brand new that way. So they all have finish checks, and they have since 1965. And that's what I love about this biz! You learn something new every day!!

PPPPS: Some of the funniest times I've ever had in my life have been with this goofy Halloween Show, "Night Of The Singing Dead." We don't have the sense to repeat anything, so we write a new show every year. And of course, we use the newest, deadest celebrities. This year's show features Farrah Fawcett, Mary Travers, Ed McMahon and, of course, Michael Jackson. And a dozen more! (Plus, we're keeping an eye on Dennis Hopper!) Tickets are selling fast. I can't guarantee that all of the props will work, but it will be funny!

"Night Of The Singing Dead, Part 17"
Starring Larry Richert, Steve Hansen, Carol Lee Espy, Maggie Stewart, Deanna Dean, Monty & Zeke from Y108 and many more.
- Friday Oct 30th & Saturday Oct 31
- Rex Theater
- 8 PM
- Tickets available now, at Pittsburgh Guitars, The Rex Theater, and Dave's Music Mine
Info: 412-431-0700

PPPPPS: Customer of the Week: Adam Marsland

Friday 10/9/2009 ~ The Fender No-caster

 

I did something unusual this week: I read a newspaper. And what a pleasant surprise it was! There were so many articles, on so many different topics!!

I used to read the newspaper every day... before this whole internet thing started. But now that I spend fourteen hours a day online, I tend to get my news from CNN.com, Yahoo.com, and the other national and internationally based web sites. This gives me a good rundown of what's going on in the world, but since they all report on the same set of "significant" worldwide stories, the actual number of different topics that I read about on a daily basis can be somewhat limited.

Sure, there are of millions stories on the internet... and you can easily waste hours just surfing... but moving from one internet page to another requires a conscious decision to follow topics that immediately appear interesting. So it's likely that the articles you come across aren't quite as random as the ones you might see by just opening a newspaper page. And it's also likely that the internet news stories will be short and superficial, rather than the in-depth reporting you'd see in a newspaper.

Of course, now that it's 2009, we can't live without the internet... And because of it, newspapers around the world are closing down. I think we're going to miss them when they're gone. It was an enjoyable blast-from-the-past reading the Post-Gazette this week.

 

Speaking of reading things on the internet... I saw something really funny this week. And by "really funny" I mean really wrong. And by "really wrong" I mean very, very wrong on two levels. First, because it's just plain incorrect... and second, because it was on wikipedia, the go-to reference site for many people.

First a little history...

Leo Fender started to mass-produce his famous, ground-breaking electric guitar, now known and loved as the "Telecaster," in mid-October, 1950. Shipments to dealers started in mid-November, 1950. However, Leo's original name for the instrument was the "Fender Broadcaster."

Production started slow, but by January 1951 the guitar started to make waves in the music industry. As musicians began to use the Broadcaster in public, other manufacturers started to notice. Gibson noticed, and they started to work on their own solid-body electric, which would debut as the "Gibson Les Paul" over a year later, in May 1952. And Gretsch noticed, and said, "Hey! What the?!?!?!?! We're already using that name!!"

Although their spelling was different, Gretsch was already using the name "Broadkaster" on their drum sets. And they had been using it for years! (This was before the internet.... so, how could Leo have known!) Here's a catalog picture of a Gretsch Broadkaster drum set.

On February 20, 1951 Gretsch sent Fender a Telegram, insisting that they immediately stop using the Broadcaster name. Leo realized the error of his ways, and on February 21 he sent a letter to his salesmen telling them that "Broadcaster" was being dropped... and asked if they had any suggestions for a new name.

But, out in the factory he already had hundreds of "Fender Broadcaster" decals. And Leo was a frugal man. He didn't want to stop production to wait for a new name and new decals. So on February 23, 1951, he told his workers to get some scissors and cut the word "Broadcaster" off of all of the decals. The headstock decal on instruments made after February 23 merely said "Fender."

A week later Leo decided to re-name the guitar the "Telecaster" and that name was introduced to the world in magazine ads shortly thereafter. But it would still take some time to have the new decals made, and Leo still didn't want to waste the old ones. So for the next six months, the snipped-off Broadcaster decals were used. Finally, in early September, 1951, the first "Fender Telecaster" decals appeared.

Here's a Fender headstock decal from one of the approximately 250 Fender "Broadcasters" that were produced between October 1950 and February 23, 1951.

Here's a Fender headstock from one of the approximately 480 "Telecasters" made from February 23, 1951 to early September 1951. It just says "Fender."

Here's a Fender headstock from a 1951 "Telecaster" made in October 1951.

 

Now one of the fun things I enjoy about the vintage guitar biz is the after-the-fact nicknames that develop. And when old guitars started to become "vintage" guitars, someone thought of a cute name for those instruments made with the snipped off decals. Since they weren't "Broadcasters" and didn't yet have the "Telecaster" decal, they became known as "No-casters."

It's a funny name and I always get a kick out of it.

So... last week someone suggested I check out the term "Nocaster" on wikipedia. And it read:
"The headstock is smaller and a different shape to that of the Stratocaster and other Fender guitars, this is because the original batch with "Broadcaster" written on were re-cut to save on manufacturing waste, and so the traditional Telecaster style headstock was born."

 

And since it was on the internet, it had to be true, right? Nope. The Fender Broadcaster, Nocaster, and Telecaster headstock shapes were all the same size. No wood was injured during these decal changes! The larger Stratocaster headstock was developed by Leo years later.

 

The wikipedia entry for "Nocaster" has since been corrected... so I guess everything on the internet is correct NOW. Or is it?

 

See you soon,
Carl

 

PS: One of my favorite guitars of all time is my 1952 Telecaster. It gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling every time I play it. It has ten-thousand miles on it, like me, but it still plays like a dream. I appreciate it for both its beauty as an instrument and its place in electric guitar history. Here are pictures of my `52 Tele.

PPS: On a different topic, namely acoustic guitars, we are very happy selling Yamaha acoustics. And to help celebrate their 40th Anniversary year, Yamaha is now offering a free Guitar Care System with any Yamaha guitar purchase. The kit includes Polish, Cleaner, Fretboard Conditioner, Lubricant, and a Polish Cloth. This is a "while-supplies-last" thing, but they sent us a bunch of the kits, so we'll be good for the next couple of months. It's a nice package and will keep your new Yamaha acoustic bright and shiny!

PPPS: Speaking of Yamaha, they apparently like us too. In a few weeks they are flying John to Japan and China, to check out the Yamaha factories there. He already knows how to use chopsticks, and yesterday he converted some cash to Yen, in case he finds any rare Japanese Beatle records. We told him to watch out for the Fugu, but he says he's gonna try it anyway! (Fugu on wikipedia.)

PPPPS: The Halloween Show is going to be a blast... But I might be working on props all next week. I'll apologize now for the Email Special being late...or missing.

"Night Of The Singing Dead, Part 17"
Starring Larry Richert, Steve Hansen, Carol Lee Espy, Maggie Stewart, Deanna Dean, Monty & Zeke from Y108 and many more.
- Friday Oct 30th & Saturday Oct 31
- Rex Theater
- 8 PM
- Tickets available now, at Pittsburgh Guitars, The Rex Theater, and Dave's Music Mine
Info, or to charge tickets: 412-431-0700

PPPPPS: Customer of the Week: Tom Russell

Friday 10/16/2009 ~ Dancing, Billy Preston, and PA Columns

 

I won't have time for an email special this week... I have to organize the props for 29 songs we'll be playing in the upcoming Halloween Show. ("Night Of The Singing Dead, #17"!!)

Since every year the show features the latest newly deceased celebrities, we are of course, doing Michael Jackson... (four different versions of him, I believe)... and because of that I've been watching his famous Motown TV appearance... the one that many people feel is his definitive moment. Motown's 25th Anniversary TV Special.

Now, I don't know anything about dance...but from a layman's perspective, if you analyze the movements he's doing, they appear to be a lot of loose ankle pivots, some high right-leg kicks, and some running-in-place... not particularly earthshaking. To me, it's only his introduction of the "moon-walk" that justifies this performance's legendary status. And the moon-walk is pretty cool.

I only mention all of this because while doing research for one of the songs in our Halloween show, I stumbled across this video. It's Billy Preston singing with the Ray Charles Band on the Ed Sullivan Show, December 3, 1967. The entire song is only 1:45, so Billy doesn't get a chance to do too much dancing... but THOSE are some loose legs!!

(Also note that, unlike Michael Jackson, Billy is actually singing live instead of lip syncing.)

Billy had quite a life... he started out as a child prodigy, and was doing professional gigs by the age of ten. Here he is at eleven-years-old, with Nat King Cole. By the early 1960s he was touring England and Europe. In 1962 he met and became friends with the not-yet-famous Beatles.

In early 1969, as the Beatles were working on songs that would eventually become the "Let It Be" album, they found themselves constantly bickering. (Maybe it was the heroin...) Paul suggested that if they brought another musician into the sessions they'd be less likely to argue. He remembered their old friend Billy Preston, and invited Billy to rehearse and record with them. Because of this, Billy played with The Beatles during their last-ever live performance, on January 30, 1969, on the roof of their London office building. Here is some video.

Here's a still shot of the rooftop show, from behind the band. Two things about it are particularly amusing to me. First they are using a small Vox PA column, laying on its side, as their monitor. It's at the feet of the standing-up cameraman at the top of the photo. (They used two of these cabinets for playback in the Abbey Road Studios. Not in the control room, of course... but out in the studio, where the amps and drums were.) Here at Pittsburgh Guitars we use two of those Vox Columns as speakers for our radio. It's hard to imagine using one of those as a monitor... and they didn't even tilt it back so it was aimed up at their heads! They couldn't have heard much, especially considering that for guitar amps they were using 100-watt Fender Twin Reverbs! Which brings us to the second interesting thing...

Almost five years earlier, at The Beatles first American show in February 1964, Rickenbacker was right on top of things... giving new Rickenbacker guitars to both John and George. But it wasn't until late-1968 that Fender finally jumped on the bandwagon, and sent an assortment of Fender products to the band. Although Fender sent some nice stuff, including several Twin Reverbs, a Bassman amp, a six-string bass, and a Rosewood Telecaster, they also sent an item from their new, doomed-to-failure, Solid State line: a Fender PA. I'll talk about Fender's early foray into solid state amp production in a future email... but suffice it to say, it wasn't pretty. But the Beatles did find a use for the speaker cabinets from the Fender PA: they used them to broadcast the sound of the band down to the street. If you look back at the photo, you can see a Fender PA Column leaning against the railing at the edge of the roof.

Here's Sam with a Fender PA Column, just like the ones The Beatles used at their last live performance, on the Apple Headquarters rooftop.

And here's Sam with a Vox PA Column (plugged into our satellite radio) just like the one The Beatles used as a monitor. (The Beatles took off the chrome tilt-back legs, so they could lay it on its side.)

 

OK, now I've got to get back to those props!!

Does anyone an old football helmet they don't want? How about a white suit? How about a light-weight two person couch? How about a karate outfit?

 

See you soon,
Carl

 

PS: Speaking of Vox again: They just announced a special rebate on their fabulous VT Series amps. If you buy a VT15, VT30 or VT50 amp, you'll get a $50 rebate from Vox! And the 100-watt VT-100 has a $100 rebate!! Considering how reasonably priced these amps are to begin with, this rebate is significant. The rebate starts today. Vox makes our favorite amps. Stop in and try one.

PPS: John the new guy is on his way to Japan, to visit the Yamaha factory!

PPPS: Billy Preston after The Beatles. "Will It Go Round In Circles" "Nothing From Nothing"

PPPPS:
"Night Of The Singing Dead, Part 17"
Starring Larry Richert, Steve Hansen, Carol Lee Espy, Maggie Stewart, Deanna Dean, Monty & Zeke from Y108 and many more.
- Friday Oct 30th & Saturday Oct 31
- Rex Theater
- 8 PM
- Tickets available now, at Pittsburgh Guitars, The Rex Theater, and Dave's Music Mine
Info, or to charge tickets: 412-431-0700

PPPPPS: Customer of the Week: The Travis Larson Band

Friday 10/23/2009 ~ Peaches & Herb - The Internet and The Box

 

Two days ago we were rehearsing for the Halloween Show... and one of the tunes was "Reunited" by Peaches and Herb. (I know it's kind of a corny song... but it works well in the hopefully highly-comedic bit we have planned...) When the song ended, I said, "Hey, we used to do a Peaches & Herb song in my first band, back in the late 1960s. I can't recall the title, but I remember that it was a slow song, because we only knew three!"

Betsy then said, "I thought Peaches and Herb were from the disco era?"

And I said, "Well, 'Shake Your Groove Thing' and 'Reunited' were. But I'm sure I used to play some other, older song..."

Then Rich said, "Betsy, get our your iPhone and look it up on the internet!"

And I said, "I'll race ya!"

And I jumped out from behind the drums and ran around the corner to my shelves full of records. As she was typing "wikipedia" on her phone, I grabbed the cardboard 45 box, labeled "P - Q - R" and started shuffling through the "P" section. Before she was done scrolling down the wikipedia page, I was holding up the record, "For Your Love" (Date Records #2-1563) by Peaches and Herb. (With a green label.) (Yeah, it sounds weird, but even before I pulled that record out I remembered that it had a green label.) Here's the 45.

It was a very strange experience. A cardboard box vs. the internet.

I'm not sure what to make of it. Flipping through the "P" section of the box brought back a flood of memories. But the wikipedia page told us that since 1967 there has been only one "Herb" and six different "Peaches."

The "P" section had fabulous 45s by Wilson Pickett ("Midnight Hour"), The Parliments ("I Wanna Testify"), Poco ("You Better Think Twice"), and even obscure bands like People ("I Love You"). But wikipedia explained that "Peaches" on "For Your Love" was Francine Barker, and the "Peaches" on "Reunited" was Linda Greene.

I guess it's cool to have both the box and the internet. But we might be the last generation to have both.

 

John's still in Japan, but he'll be back Monday with lots of good stories! For example, the night he arrived the rest of his group went to bed, but John decided to explore the city of Osaka. He wandered down an alley, and went into a small bar. Sitting at the bar was the band Megadeath. He started having beers with them, and in walked Marilyn Manson. So, in the first couple of hours in Japan he was already hanging out and drinking with famous American musicians... and Marilyn Manson.

Stop in next week and he'll show you how to use chopsticks!

 

See you soon,
Carl

 

PS: Also in the "P - Q - R" box: "World Without Love," "I Go To Pieces," "Nobody I Know," "I Don't Want To See You Again," and "Woman" by Peter & Gordon. And, since he just passed away, new to the Halloween Show this year will be: "& Gordon"!

PPS: Next Friday I'll be at The Rex building props (ah! Foamcore!) so I may miss the email special. But I promise to do some long-winded guitar stories next month!

PPPS:
"Night Of The Singing Dead, Part 17"
Starring Larry Richert, Steve Hansen, Carol Lee Espy, Sarah Marince, Maggie Stewart, Deanna Dean, Monty & Zeke from Y108 and many more!
(and added today: Soupy Sales!)
- Friday Oct 30th & Saturday Oct 31
- Rex Theater
- 8 PM
- Tickets available now, at Pittsburgh Guitars, The Rex Theater, and Dave's Music Mine
Info, or to charge tickets: 412-431-0700

PPPPS: Customer of the Week: Hallelujah The Hills


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