By Marco den Ouden
What struck me in the many suggestions for this topic was the number of interesting stories that came out. Stories about player’s personal relationship with their guitars – not merely an instrument, but virtual friend, confidante, even as a sensuous lover. Some mythical tales, and some true ones about guitars with a real history behind them. Some of the songs had introductions to them that told another story or added depth to the story.
George Harrison was very much into eastern mysticism and While My Guitar Gently Weeps was inspired by his reading of the I Ching. The guitar forms a counterpoint to the world he sees. “With every mistake we must surely be learning, still my guitar gently weeps.” The Beatles version (one of four versions nominated) leads off our playlist.
George’s song is a philosophical one, but the title captures one of the instrument’s great appeals. It is brilliant at capturing emotions. Its ability to “weep”, to wring out a sound evoking pathos, sorrow and sadness led to its wide use in the blues. And like many blues greats, BB King developed a personal relationship with his guitar. He called her Lucille and tells the story in a 10-minute tribute. He even talks to her.
The guitar crosses all genres of music and country star John Denver tells of the impact of This Old Guitar his grandma gave him, a 1910 Gibson. The clip linked in the playlist tells a bit of backstory that adds to the beauty of the song.
But it’s not just pathos the guitar evokes. Mark Knopfler and Chet Atkins tell us that they like to “scatter a little bit of happiness around. If people keep a-grinnin' I figure I'm a-winnin' my good old yakety sound.” Yakety Axe! Oh yeah! Some fine guitar picking finishes off this number.
The Runaways tell us that the guitar is a sensuous thing. This all female band treats the guitar as a lover, a lover named Johnny Guitar. “My fingers roll his body making him scream,” they sing. “Hot hands on his wet neck, I’m a hunter, he’s my gun.” And Lita Ford shows that the ladies can grind that axe as well as any man.
My wife is fond of Starbucks coffee, so I sometimes cock an ear and tell her, “I think I hear a Starbucks with your name on it calling.” Guy Clark tells the story of a, shall we say haunted, guitar? It’s about a guitar with his name on it! Not just any guitar, but The Guitar!
How are guitars made? Mark Knopfler sings about a real life artisan, John Monteleone, who made a guitar for him and called with periodic updates as it was being made. “The chisels are calling,” Monteleone would tell him. “My finger plane's working gentle persuasion. I bend to the wood and I coax it to sing.”
What if a guitar could talk? What would it tell you? Stillwater tells us about a guitar named Mindbender, a guitar that literally tells us that “My Daddy was a Gibson, my Mama was a Fender.”
When I was a teenager in the 1960s, the British invasion created a whole new interest in guitars and rock bands. Garage bands abounded. I played drums in one and my brother played rhythm guitar (and occasional lead) in another. Frank Zappa tells about this memorable time for many. For him the setting was Joe’s Garage! That song brought back so many memories, even to “his mama was screaming, ‘turn it down’!” My mom’s favourite refrain!
Chase Rice starts the video for Three Chords and the Truth with a call to his manager recalling how much his first guitar meant to him. He wants to pass that on by giving a guitar as a gift to an underprivileged kid. The video ends with him doing just that. An inspiring story indeed.
Today the internet has created sensations almost overnight. Justin Bieber, Psy, and others. Dave Carroll and his brother Don who record as Sons of Maxwell made it big (17,738,587 Youtube views and counting) when his guitar was badly handled by United Airlines on a flight from Halifax to Nebraska for a gig. His $3,500 Taylor guitar was badly damaged and the company stonewalled him on compensation. So they wrote a song about it – United Breaks Guitars. Four days after the video was released, United’s share price dropped 10%. Two more videos followed and Dave Carroll launched a second career as a public speaker about customer service.
We follow up with stories about two famous guitars. Eric Bibb tells how he came to own the guitar of legendary bluesman Booker White in Booker’s Guitar. It is a possession he treats with great reverence. And John Lees and his band Barclay James Harvest tells how he came to play the last guitar John Lennon used on the Beatles last live show. The Beatles broke up the day after the BJH recording session but Lees remembers the awe he felt using John’s guitar.
Which brings me to the final selection. I was torn between The Beatles version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps and a cover played as a tribute when George Harrison was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. So I made the list 14 songs long to accommodate both and to bookend it. The players included Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood, Billy Preston and a few others. The number finished with an amazing guitar solo from fellow inductee Prince. A fitting end to songs about guitars.
The Wonderfully Weeping A-List Playlist:
The Beatles – While My Guitar Gently Weeps
BB King – Lucille (10-min version)
John Denver – This Old Guitar
Mark Knopfler and Chet Atkins – Yakety Axe
The Runaways – Johnny Guitar
Guy Clark – The Guitar
Mark Knopfler – Monteleone
Stillwater – Mind Bender
Frank Zappa – Joe's Garage
Chase Rice – Three Chords & The Truth
Sons of Maxwell – United Breaks Guitars
Eric Bibb – Booker's Guitar
Barclay James Harvest – John Lennon's Guitar
Prince, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood, Billy Preston & co – While My Guitar Gently Weeps
The BB+ and More B-List:
BB King – My Lucille
Will Hoge – Guitar or a Gun
Jeff Beck – Guitar Shop
The Moody Blues – Blue Guitar
Skyhooks – 1976 Guitar
Wynona Judd – Girls With Guitars
Darrell Scott – The Hummingbird
The Nightwatchman – Black Spartacus Heart Attack Machine
Duane Eddy & the Rebelettes – Dance With the Guitar Man
Brad Paisley & Keith Urban – Start a Band `
Buddy Guy – Born to Play Guitar
Prince – Guitar
Bernard Butler – Not Alone
Pompeo Stillo & The Companions – He Was a Guitar Player and Now Plays Machine Gun
Reba McEntire – Pink Guitar
Bellamy Brothers – Inside of My Guitar
Albert King – I Love Lucy
Pete Drake – I'm Just a Guitar (And Everybody Pick on Me)
Richard Thompson – Guitar Heroes
Chris Spedding – Guitar Jamboree
Jackie Leven – One Man One Guitar
Lee Hazlewood – The Old Man and His Guitar
Aquaturbia – El Hombre de la Guittarra
Seasick Steve – Diddley Bow
JJ Cale – Guitar Man
Dire Straits – Sultans of Swing
Bryan Adams – Summer of '69
Guru's Wildcard Pick:
Powder Blues - Hear That Guitar Ring:
I saw this Vancouver band at a downtown night club years ago and Tom Lavin is a flashy guitarist to watch, so here's also a live version:
Bonus Dug-Up Wildcard Novelty Pick (or Indeed Shovel):
These playlists were inspired by readers' song nominations from last week's topic: Don't fret about the riff: it's songs about guitars. The next topic will launch on Thursday at 1pm UK time.
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Fancy a turn behind the pumps at The Song Bar? Care to choose a playlist from songs nominated and write something about it? Then feel free to contact The Song Bar here, or try the usual email address.