The Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum has created a new exhibit to honor the 25th anniversary of the formation of Saint Blues Guitar Workshop. “St. Blues made a significant impact on the guitar world in that it was one of the original boutique guitar manufacturers, catering to the musicians’ needs of the day where others were not. We are excited about celebrating the 25th Anniversary of such a company and story” said Brian Halley, Saint Blues Director of Sales and Marketing. The exhibit will be featured in the lobby beginning on June 1 through the remainder of 2009 and will move to a permanent space in the museum in 2010. “We are incredibly honored to be part of the museum and hope that people enjoy the exhibit,” said Halley.
The exhibit will feature two separate displays: The Early Years of the founders and The Saint Blues Story. The Early Years will feature background and photos of Tom Keckler, Mike Ladd and the Strings and Things founders who helped to create St. Blues. The Saint Blues Story will feature the guitar designed for Eric Clapton, a guitar designed for Billy Squier as well as other artifacts from the period of 1984 through 1989.
A reception for the public will be held on June 3, 2009 at the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum from 5-7pm. Many of the people involved with St. Blues from the past and present will be in attendance to share stories and memories. This will be followed by a party at the Hard Rock Café from 7-9pm, featuring the music of Jack-O & the Tennessee Tearjerkers.
History and Background
The roots of St. Blues started in the 1960’s, when Tom Keckler (also known as TK) went to work for Mike Ladd’s Guitar City. Mike was well known in the Memphis music scene. He had gone to high school and played with Greg and Duane Allman but was unable to join them in The Allman Joys. However, he was in a band call The Breakers that was so popular at the time that The Yardbirds opened for them when they played Memphis. Mike customized guitars and soon he and TK built a reputation for some of the best custom work in the country. People like Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page were customers of Mike’s. Page liked what they had done so much he asked them to go on tour and tech for him. Many other guitar legends followed over the years. The shop, located across the street from Graceland, ended up building a special guitar for Elvis as a birthday present from his dad. This one-of-a-kind guitar can be seen played by Elvis in his “Elvis, Live from Hawaii” video.
After a long illness, Mike closed Guitar City in 1972. TK moved his custom shop to Strings & Things, the legendary Memphis music store founded by Chris Lovell and Charlie Lawing. In 1978, TK left Memphis to hook up with Tom Anderson and David Schecter turning Schecter Guitar Research from a parts supplier to a guitar company. In 1983 he moved back to Memphis rejoining Chris and Charlie to build custom guitars for Strings and Things. These first generation guitars were called S&T Custom Workshop Guitars. Dealers were wild for the guitars but not for the name. The name was changed to Saint Blues in 1984 and the brand was born.
The first original guitar prototype designed for St. Blues was the Bluesmaster. Its unique shape, vintage appearance and playability created a lot of interest from players. The list of Bluesmaster players includes U2’s Bono on the Rattle and Hum album, Elliot Easton of the Cars, Eric Clapton, Marshall Crenshaw, Jeff Carlisi of .38 Special, Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, Scott Page of Pink Floyd and Toto, Billy Squire, Martin Briley, Elvin Bishop, Joe Walsh and Glenn Frey of the Eagles, Dave Edmunds, Albert King, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and many more.
The guitars were a critical success. However, in 1989, with the dollar at an historic low against the Yen, St. Blues, single sourced by ESP in Japan, was priced out of the market. Without the capital to retool elsewhere, they mothballed the line but continued to build custom guitars.
Interest in the line has never waned, with sales of vintage St. Blues models on eBay going for record prices. In 2004, Vintage Guitar Magazine wrote several articles about these guitars. With Jeff Carlisi singing its praises above all of his other guitars these articles created a new demand. Players and dealers alike wouldn’t let it go. In 2006 St. Blues was reborn by investment from Memphis Ventures and Bryan M. Eagle III with Tom Keckler back at the wheel. Today, every St. Blues guitar is finished and set up in Memphis and will always have its roots in this hallowed ground. St. Blues markets its line of vintage style guitars and basses through over 150 independent dealers around the US and overseas.
About Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum
The Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum’s exhibition about the birth of rock and soul music was created by the Smithsonian Institution. It tells the story of musical pioneers who, for the love of music, overcame racial and socio-economic barriers to create the music that shook the entire world. Born on April 29, 2000, the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum became the first exhibition developed by the Smithsonian Institution with another museum.
The museum offers a comprehensive Memphis music experience from the rural field hollers and sharecroppers of the 1930s, through the explosion of Sun, Stax and Hi Records and Memphis’ musical heyday in the 70s, to its global musical influence. The museum’s digital audio tour guide is packed with over 300 minutes of information including over 100 songs and takes visitors at their own pace through seven galleries featuring 3 audio visual programs, more than 30 instruments, 40 costumes and other musical treasures.