April 1, 2003

Chuck Berry
“I know, this almost seems too obvious. But here’s the thing: People think of Berry’s songs and guitar playing as ham fisted and clichéd, but the fact is that it’s only all the bad ’70s and ’80s cover versions of his songs that are tiring to listen to. On his original recordings, Chuck himself played a wonderful blend of jazz and blues chords in a style that was all his own. He was very inventive and playful on those early records, and, at times, he would play some very bizarre stuff, whereas many of his peers would have done simple blues lines. For example, check out the intro to ‘Too Much Monkey Business,’ or songs like ‘Jo Jo Gunne’ and ‘Havana Moon.’ Chuck rocked with many guitars, but most of his prime stuff was done with a ’54 Les Paul Black Beauty with P-90 pickups and a Bigsby vibrato. Later he switched to a Gretsch Roundup and then a Gibson ES-350 with P-90s.”
Go Get! The Great Twenty-Eight [MCA].

Mickey Baker
“A New York City session guy who played on records by black artists, white artists, jazz groups, rock groups, and rockabilly acts, Baker was a super-accomplished musician who wrote books about jazz playing and arranging. He’d often play a rock and roll solo for 11-and-a-half bars, and then come in with a jazz riff for the last half-bar that was so intricate, nobody else could touch him. Baker rocked with a Bigsby-equipped ’54 Les Paul Black Beauty loaded with P-90 pickups.”
Go Get! Joe Clay, Ducktail [Bear Family]; The Coasters, 50 Coastin’ Classics [Rhino]; Mickey & Sylvia, Love is Strange [Bear Family].

Link Wray
“Another obvious choice, but as the old saying goes: ‘What Beethoven said in four notes, Link said in only three!’ Wray’s instrumentals from the ’50s sound like a caveman playing a bone with barbed wire on it. It’s interesting that Wray cited players like Jimmy Bryant as influences, but his deep-poverty upbringing and choice of budget guitars like Supros and Danelectros helped make him unique in his own utterly primitive way. Nobody defines rock and roll guitar more than he does. For gear, Link preferred pawnshop prizes, often relying on just a Danelectro Guitaralin (commonly known as a Longhorn) through a Supro Dual Tone amplifier.”
Go Get! Mr. Guitar [Norton]; Epic Sessions 1958-1961 [Sundazed].

—Deke Dickerson

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