Guitar Aficionado

House Rocker: John Stamos Has Enjoyed a Three-Decade Career Supporting The Beach Boys in More Ways Than One

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This is an excerpt from the all-new November/December 2013 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For the rest of this story, plus features on pre-War Martins, the Healdsburg Guitar Festival and a new photo book called 108 Rock Star Guitars, head to the Guitar Aficionado Online Store.

House Rocker: Best known for his television and Broadway roles, actor John Stamos has also enjoyed a three-decade career supporting the Beach Boys in more ways than one.

By Dan Epstein | Photo by Patrick Hoelck

On Yahoo! Screen’s new online show Losing It with John Stamos, celebrities sit down with the former Full House heartthrob to recall their first sexual encounters, often in hilariously cringe-worthy fashion. But as awkward debuts go, it’s pretty hard to beat the first time Stamos ever shared a stage with the Beach Boys…and Jimmy Page.

The year was 1985, and Stamos—then a 21-year-old actor coming off a breakthrough run on General Hospital and a lead role as a wannabe rock star on the short-lived CBS series Dreams — had been invited to join his all-time-favorite band on drums for a few numbers during their massive Fourth of July concerts in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

“Jeffrey Foskett, the Beach Boys’ guitarist, was the guy who got me in to meet my heroes,” Stamos recalls. “And he was the one who asked them, ‘Can John play ‘Barbara Ann’ and some other songs with us?’ And then, the day before the gig, Jeffrey told me, ‘Jimmy Page is playing guitar!’ ”

Foskett was deputized to run through the songs in advance with the British guitar legend, so he paid a visit to Page’s hotel suite and took Stamos with him. “We went up to Jimmy’s room,” Stamos recalls, “and he immediately offered us a shot of Jack Daniel’s. I barely drank light beer in those days, and it just burned my throat. But it’s Jimmy Page saying, ‘Hey, here’s some Jack,’ so fuck it.

“Then Jeff got all obsessed with Jimmy’s guitar that had a B-Bender on it, because he’d never seen one before. So he and Jimmy’s guitar guy were over in another room playing with it, and I found myself sitting alone with Jimmy Page, just the two of us. There were a couple of acoustic guitars, and he grabbed one and put it in my hands and said, ‘All right—what are we doing?’ I said, ‘Uh, I think you’re playing “Barbara Ann,” right?’ He said, ‘Right. What key?’ I told him it was in F sharp, and he said, ‘I don’t like to solo in F sharp. Why is it in F sharp?’ I was like, ‘I don’t know, man!’ ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ was in E flat, and he didn’t like that key, either. So I’m sitting there, showing Jimmy Page how to play these three-chord songs. I’m, like, 21 years old. I could barely play guitar and had no business teaching him anything!”

The situation became more nerve wracking at the Philadelphia show, where, in addition to performing for an estimated one million viewers, Stamos was tasked with soothing Page after enthusiastic concertgoers near the stage flashed him the “devil horns.” “He said, ‘I think they’re hexing me!’ ” Stamos recalls. “I was like, ‘No, no, it’s a good thing!’ ”

Stamos apparently made it through that trial by fire unscathed—he’s been playing drums and guitar onstage with the Beach Boys semi-regularly for nearly 30 years now. His relationship with Gibson guitars has lasted almost as long, dating back to his days as Jesse Katsopolis on Full House, which ran from 1987 to 1995. “Jeff Franklin, the creator of the show, loved Elvis, loved guitars, and wanted my character to be a musician who had guitars hanging on the wall of his room,” he says.

“I went to every company asking for gear, and Gibson was the only one that said, ‘Take whatever you want!’ It was like time-release advertising for them, because a billion people see that show every day all over the world. Kids are still like, ‘I want a guitar like Uncle Jesse’s!’ They’ve been really generous, so that’s why I’ve been loyal to them.”

Stamos’s gorgeous gold-finish 1990 ES-295 reissue was one of the guitars that he played on the hit show. It made a reappearance on TV this past July during a reunion of Jesse and the Rippers, his Full House character’s band, on an episode of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. For the performance, Stamos donned the guitar (and a well-groomed mullet wig) to play a set that included “Forever,” the Dennis Wilson–penned ballad that he recorded with the Beach Boys in 1992.

“I used to play it a lot live with the Beach Boys,” he says of the ES-295. Stamos’s black 1991 ES-175 has seen considerable stage time with them, as well. “I thought those two guitars were cool, because they looked kind of Elvis-y. But when I started playing more guitar in the Beach Boys show I switched to a cherry-red ES-335 that was made sometime in the Nineties. It was lighter, and it sounded more right for the band. It has a full-body vibe, but it also can cut really nicely. I can get a nice trebly sound out of it that works for the Beach Boys.”

Other favorites in his Gibson collection include a sunburst 1988 ES-347, a Wine Red 2004 ES-175, a Heritage Cherry sunburst 2010 Les Paul Traditional, a newly crafted 1928 L-1 Blues Tribute acoustic, and an ES-355 “Lucille” model signed by both B.B. King and John Lee Hooker. “They just look so cool, so pretty, so womanly,” he says of his guitars. “A guitar is the sexiest thing I’ve had in my hands today!”

Though Stamos is comically self-effacing when it comes to his chops—at one point he insists, “You’ve gotta start this article out by saying I’m the worst guitar player on the planet”—he’s actually a very capable rhythm guitarist. “I’ve always found myself better off making rhythm than melody,” he says. “That’s why I love to play drums, and that’s why I love rhythm guitar. I just love to bash it.” While he’s a huge fan of Keith Richards, his rhythm-guitar idol remains the late Beach Boys guitarist and co-founder Carl Wilson, who passed away in 1998.

This is an excerpt from the all-new November/December 2013 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For the rest of this story, plus features on pre-War Martins, the Healdsburg Guitar Festival and a new photo book called 108 Rock Star Guitars, head to the Guitar Aficionado Online Store.

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