Date: 27 Nov 2015
Happy Birthday Jimi Hendrix
Date: 17 Sep 2014
Date: 08 Jul 2014
Happy birthday to Mary Ford, the singer/guitarist married to Les Paul. She would have been 90 years old today. Born Colleen Iris Summers in El Monte CA, she sang with the Sunshine Girls on CBS's Hollywood Barn Dance and acted on the All-Star Western Theatre during the mid forties. Through Gene Autry she met and fell in love with Lester Polfuss aka Les Paul playing great music together. He first renamed her Marilou while playing in Waukesha just before their car accident in Oklahoma. She nursed him back to health in Hollywood as he finished up his New Sound recordings for Capitol Records. They were married with little Stevie Miller's folks attending too. Soon Lester grabbed a phone book and the name Ford popped up making them Les Paul and Mary Ford! After recording How High the Moon in Jackson Heights NY, their stellar career began together in 1951.
The Gibson company asked Les to endorse their new solid body guitar and with his additions, the new Goldtop Les Paul guitar hit the market. Their chart topping records like How High the Moon in 1953 with multi track layered guitar and vocal parts mesmerized the world! As a kid I watched their hit TV show too. While living with Les in 1975, I had the great pleasure to speak with her a few times. My first volume of the Les Paul Legacy covers their stellar career in depth with all the magazine articles and wonderful photos. Mary's truly amazing voice and superb guitar playing made all of our lives richer... and launched a million ships!
Happy Birthday Mary. We love you!
words by Robb Lawrence
Date: 25 Jun 2014
For over 50 years, Jeff Beck has been rocking the world's concert stages. "With Jeff, it's all in the hands," Eric Clapton once put it. June 24 marks the guitarist's 70th birthday.
In 1965, Jeff Beck took over Eric Clapton's role as lead guitarist of the Yardbirds. Two years later, he had been squeezed out of the band, founding his own Jeff Beck Group, which featured Rod Stewart and Ron Wood, the latter of whom would later play guitar with the Rolling Stones. The list of legendary musicians with which Beck has played and recorded has grown ever since. Along the way, though, he never stuck to a single formation or even a single approach.
Jeff Beck is regarded as a maverick, as one of the most experimental guitarists in popular music. A lover of new sounds and genres, he's known for his wild mix of blues and jazz rock, of funk, ballads and hard rock.
The now 70-year-old guitarist plays without a pick, striking the strings with his fingers - often just his thumb. The vibrato bar is almost like a seventh string for Beck, who can conjure entire melodies from after striking a single note.
"I love it when someone hears my music but has no idea what kind of an instrument I play. That's the biggest compliment for me," he said.
Tough act to follow
Jeff Beck was born in 1944 in Surrey, England, where his mother pushed him to play piano and join the church choir. But when he discovered the blues via Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy at age 14, he knew he wanted to play guitar. He started building his own instruments before receiving a real guitar from his father as a present. Even during his years as a student at London's Wimbledon Art College, he was already in demand as a studio musician.
It was during that period that he got to know the guitarist and founder of Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page. They hung out often and played music together. It was Jimmy Page who introduced his friend to the Yardbirds, the band Beck joined in March 1965.
The newcomer to the blues rock group was one of the first guitarists to experiment with various effects, ushering in a highly successful period for the Yardbirds. Songs like "Over Under Sideways Down" and "Heart Full of Soul" hit the US charts and made Jeff Beck famous across the Atlantic.
With Rod Stewart and Ron Wood
At the end of 1966, the Yardbirds also brought Jimmy page into the band. That meant two exceptional players but two strong egos for the group. After a brief stint with two "lead guitarists," Jeff Beck announced he was leaving the band. Soon afterward, his first solo single, "Hi-Ho Silver Lining," made it into Britain's Top 20.
Singing backup on the track is a still unknown and very young Rod Stewart. Beck got to know him in a pub, where they forged plans for a band together. The debut album by the band they founded, the Jeff Beck Group, is considered among the most influential recordings of the late 1960s. Titled "Trust," it showcases Rod Stewart's raw, bluesy voice and Jeff Beck's idiosyncratic guitar style.
Beck is touring in Europe in July
Love of experimentation
After a few shake-ups in the band's lineup, Jeff Beck broke up the group in 1972, focusing on a solo career supported by a host of musicians. As a lifelong individualist, Beck seems to feel cramped playing for long in any fixed formation.
After embarking on his solo career, he developed an increasing interest in jazz rock, drawing heavily on the genre in 1975 for what became his most successful album. Titled "Blow by Blow," it featured the hit "Cause We've Ended as Lovers."
Further solo albums followed, and Jeff Beck received multiple Grammy Awards in the category Best Instrumental Album. In 2009, he was inducted into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame. Tributes from fellow musicians have poured in by way of requests to join them on stage. Beck has played with David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger, Tina Turner and Eric Clapton - to name a few.
Now, the star performer is celebrating his 70th birthday (24.06.2014) - and was in the midst of a world tour with new songs when, on his birthday, he called the rest of the tour off due to health reasons.
Still, after decades in the business, he remains as much a fan of experimentation as ever and will continue his search for the right sound. That can be powerful and aggressive at times, or lyrical and unbelievably tender on other tracks. His inimitable way of blending blues, rock and jazz continues to excite audiences - as does his solo work, heavy on the whammy bar.
"I don't worry about any rules," Beck once said of his work. "In fact, if I don't break the rules at least 10 times in a given song, then I'm not doing a good job."
Date: 24 Jan 2014
Posted on January 23, 2014 at 8:14 am.
2014 represents the 60th anniversary of the Fender Stratocaster, and how better to welcome this milestone than with a blockbuster party at the Fender Showcase to kick off this year’s NAMM Show?
Ballroom E on the third floor of the Anaheim Convention Center was chock full of dealer representatives, media and superstar artists to celebrate the world’s greatest guitar.
The festivities began with a cocktail party, where everyone in attendance perused the breathtaking displays featuring not only the Stratocaster itself, but also Fender amps, Fender acoustics guitars, Fender audio, Squier’s gems and the unique offerings of the Fender Custom Shop.
But it was the Strat that stole the show once Fender Senior Vice President of Marketing Richard McDonald took the stage to address the crowd.
Flanked by two original 1954 Stratocasters —one of which was loaned by two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Stephen Stills — McDonald talked about the way the model has transcended time and style.
From the Beach Boys to Bob Dylan to Jimi Hendrix to Kurt Cobain to John Mayer, the Stratocaster has played an integral part in the way popular music has evolved throughout the years.
To mark the Strat’s significance with a giant highlighter, McDonald wondered aloud how it was that the two highest-grossing guitars to be sold at auction were Stratocasters (those would be Dylan’s Sunburst Strat he played at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival and Eric Clapton’s trademark “Blackie”).
Up next was Fender CEO Larry Thomas, who made a point to thank all the visionary artists in attendance. There was former Eagles guitarist Don Felder, the Cars’ Elliot Easton, Jim Root of Slipknot and Stone Sour, bassist extraordinaire Marcus Miller, Cheap Trick bassist Tom Petersson, Sean Hurley of Mayer’s band and Mana’s Sergio Vallin, amongst many others. Leo Fender’s wife Phyllis was also in attendance, offering to share Leo stories for those interested.
With so many luminaries in attendance, it was also an appropriate time to officially announce the debut of the 60th Anniversary 1954 American Vintage Stratocaster, which honors the Strat’s very first model in a limited-edition run of only 1,954 pieces.
In addition, the Fender Custom Shop booth held one of the only 100 tribute versions of the Nile Rodgers “Hitmaker,” a guitar that was singularly responsible for countless No. 1 hits (the most recent of which is Daft Punk’s summer anthem “Get Lucky”).
But Fender also kept an eye to the future, with the display of the brand-new TriplePlay Stratocaster HSS, Deluxe Stratocaster HSS Plus Top with iOS Connectivity, and American Deluxe Strat Plus and Deluxe Strat Plus HSS.
Each of those models use state-of-the-art technology to call to mind classic Strat players while looking towards the horizon
At the end of the night, it was tough to clear out the Fender Showcase, as many guests wanted to stick around and marvel at not only the new and exciting gear, but also the classic and vintage looks that were scattered throughout the room.
Watch our video recap of the night below.
Other notable moments included:
- The great Eddie Van Halen stopped by to chat with several product managers and other artists, including guitarist Paul Sidoti, Petersson and Root.
- The studious professors of the Fender Vaporizer demo video mingled around the ballroom. No word on whether they ran their tests on unsuspecting musicians.
- Hurley, drummer Matt Sorum and Easton spent a lot of time in the Fender Custom Shop booth, noting the exclusive guitars on display.
- Miller testing out the new Fender Rumble bass amps.
- Root passed one of the new signature basses of Mastodon’s Troy Sanders, and said that he absolutely had to have one.
Date: 13 Sep 2013
The Arctic Monkeys move towards the sinister side of rock seemed to begin back in 2009 with the release of Humbug. Dark lyrical themes and brooding beats entered into the British pub-rock band’s lexicon, and the hand of co-producer Josh Homme was obviously hovering over the album like an ever-watching Methuselah.
Now, with Arctic Monkeys’ fifth studio album AM set to hit shelves on Sept. 9 via Domino Records, it seems that the quartet has found a way to recall the helter-skelter rhythms from their early releases while keeping an air of mystery.
In addition, frontman Alex Turner has been very vocal about the R&B and hip-hop artists that have influenced AM.
“We took a Dr. Dre beat from like 2001, gave it like an Ike Turner Beatles bowl cut and then set it off galloping along on a Stratocaster into a liquid live show,” he recently told NME when explaining the album’s direction.
The idea was to make the new tracks “sound less like four lads playing in a room this time,” Turner noted. “Essentially, that’s what it is, but if you can find a way to manipulate the instruments or the sounds to the point where it sounds a bit like a hip-hop beat that’d be boss in your car, then I think there’s something quite cool about that.”
Hints of the Monkeys’ continued direction came in February 2012, when they somewhat surprisingly dropped the hard-hitting “R U Mine?” The song immediately blew up the radio airwaves and became a highlight of their live performances, showcased in full when they closed with it on Coachella’s Main Stage that year.
“R U Mine?” hits the listener in the chest like a Mike Tyson jab, with drummer Matt Helders’ aggressive attack on his kit daring everyone to turn their headphones up a notch or two at their own risk. Helders’ falsetto accents Turner’s unforgettable voice throughout, as well.
“Arabella” features the crashing cymbals and electric-shock guitar strokes that could fit perfectly in their own version of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.”
The guys channel the Velvet Underground with the sexy “Mad Sounds,” complete with Turner turning in a sultry croon over his background singers’ “Ooh la la las.” It’s understated, but will definitely make you want to grab your partner tight and circle slowly around the dance floor.
It’s no coincidence that the album title is quite similar to the Velvet Underground’s 1985 compilation VU.
“I actually stole it from the Velvet Underground; I’ll just confess that now and get it out of the way. The ‘VU’ record, obviously,” Turner said to the London Evening Standard. “Did we cop out? Yeah! [Something] about it feels like this record is exactly where we should be right now. So it felt right to just initial it.”
Arctic Monkeys also tabbed Homme for some guest vocals, most notably on “One for the Road.” The inclusion of the Queens of the Stone Age frontman also lends a desert rock vibe to AM.
“It’s a really cool, sexy after-midnight record,” Homme told NME.
As for the hip hop Turner’s talked about, perhaps “heavy hop” is a better term for what Arctic Monkeys have with their latest effort. Helders and bassist Nick O’Malley lay down a thumping floor that recalls some of hip hop’s hits from a decade ago, but Turner and fellow guitarist Jamie Cook bring a bombast that calls to mind metal heavyweights.
AM might not be Dr. Dre reinvented, but as Turner has previously suggested, this album certainly sounds evilly “boss.”
Date: 04 May 2013
The Fender Custom Shop is both pleased and wistful to announce that one of its most revered employees, “pickup artist” Abigail Ybarra, is retiring after more than 50 years in the Fender family. In celebration, Fender arranged for multiple Grammy Award-winning band Los Lobos to play at her private retirement party with dozens of her coworkers earlier today.
Ybarra came to Fender in 1956 and in 1958 began hand-winding and hand-building guitar pickups for the fledgling Southern California musical instrument company (pickups convert string vibrations into electric signals, creating the “voice” of an electric guitar). Ybarra’s hand-wound pickups have been included in Fender’s most popular instruments from the late-’50s to today, and were most likely found on instruments played by legends such as Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly, Stevie Ray Vaughan and countless others. Her pickups have become highly desirable and sought after by artists and collectors alike.
“Abby is one of the many individuals, like George Fullerton, Freddie Tavares and Forrest White, who have set our course as a company and leader in our industry,” said Mike Eldred, Fender Custom Shop Marketing Director. “She has literally ‘set the tone’ for Fender, and we will continue to carry on her legacy in the Fender Custom Shop.”
Over the past three years, Fender Custom Shop Pickup Specialist Josefina Campos has been apprenticing under Ybarra, mastering the techniques that only a half-century of experience can create. Campos, who has been with Fender since 1991, is more than prepared to take the torch from Ybarra’s legendary hands.
“Josefina has been part of the Fender Custom Shop for many years now, and she has spent a good portion of her time winding great-sounding pickups and apprenticing with one of the best pickup builders in the world,” added Eldred. “We are grateful to add her to an extraordinary group of Master Builders, and excited to watch her take her place in Fender’s rich history.”
Campos-wound pickups are already in great demand, and the Fender Custom Shop is planning to include them in select limited instruments and in custom-ordered Master Built models.
Date: 08 Mar 2013
Written by cmauck
by Steve Hochman
The first sound on this set of previously unreleased Hendrix recordings — the solo, straightforward and grounded Stratocaster licks that introduce the song “Earth Blues” — belies the turmoil that surrounded the musician when the session took place in mid-December, 1969. In the liner notes, album co-producer John McDermott recounts a time of business conflicts, a recent drug-charge trial (acquitted) and the recent defection of his Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell among the hurdles to Hendrix’s progress. And that in itself was daunting, as he wrestled with his own artistic ambitions, seemingly at a crossroads and burdened with expectations, self-imposed and otherwise, on a level few had ever experienced.
But here, with his Band of Gypsys — his old Army pal Billy Cox on bass and cheerful funk master Buddy Miles on drums — he seems to have found sanctuary. People, Hell & Angels, featuring ten 1969 recordings plus two from 1968, showcases a Hendrix revisiting his roots, reacquainting himself with some of the simple joys of music. There’s blues, of course, driven by his innate expressiveness both as a guitarist and singer. And in two full-on soul-funk workouts there are echoes of his days on the Chitlin’ circuit with the Isley Brothers and King Curtis.
Throughout he employs much of his familiar bag of tricks — octaved lead runs, butterfly flurries of hammer-on trills, chunky chording, wah-wah excursions and so on — but all with an offhanded ease, nothing sounding forced or intended as a “statement.” This, in many moments, is Hendrix at his most relaxed, most natural.
Which isn’t to say mellow. On the contrary, “Earth Blues” and the 1968 “Somewhere” from a session with Stephen Stills on bass rather than Cox, start the album off in pure power-trio mode. The former is a very compelling contrast to the version heard on the second posthumous album Rainbow Bridge, which featured multiple overdubs (including the Ronettes’ backing vocals). The latter, a relic of the Electric Ladyland sessions, also provides a solid alternative to two released versions (one from 1975’s controversial Crash Landing, on which Allen Douglas saved only Hendrix’s part and added new backing). This version shows Stills and Miles as a dynamic rhythm section in support of the leader.
And “Hear My Train A Comin’,” perhaps the most known Hendrix title on this collection, is one of the first recordings he made with Cox and Miles, a classically soaring Jimi blues exploration and a tone that’s extended on the next track, “Bleeding Heart.”
It’s with “Izabella” and “Easy Blues,” though, that we get hints of a “new” Jimi Hendrix. Recorded right after Woodstock, with Mitchell still in the fold with Cox, but crucially supplemented by two percussionists and — gasp! — rhythm guitarist Larry Lee, these expand on the Experience experiments. The irresistible “Izabella” sounds like a coulda-been hit, while instrumental “Easy Blues” heads almost into jazz territory.
The biggest surprises might be the two funk numbers. “Let Me Love You” reunited Hendrix with singer-saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood and a soul-power band, clearly having a blast inaugurating a new Ampex board at the Record Plant. “Mojo Man,” though, is something more. Old Harlem pal Albert Allen takes the lead vocals as Hendrix exuberantly leads a horn-driven band (credits, apparently, lost save for piano, manned by legendary, if erratic, New Orleans figure James Booker) into regions of soul, both solid and psychedelic, building on James Brown with as much personal character as Sly Stone was doing at the same time.
And while seeing the title “Crash Landing” among the songs may make some Hendrix fans cringe, rightfully given that prominent ‘70s misjudgment of the album which bore its name, this serves as a rehabilitation. As McDermott’s notes state, it was a song fraught with difficulties as Hendrix couldn’t quite get what he wanted out of another new line-up variation (Cox, with drummer Rocky Isaac, two percussionists and an “unknown” organist). And this version, as much as anything on the album, is more an idea being tested out than a complete thought, so to speak. But it’s also not just a throwaway by any means.
Credit to the team behind this — McDermott with the guitarist’s sister Janie Hendrix and Electric Ladyland engineer Eddie Kramer — for getting the best out of these sessions without messing with them. Very little fiddling was done beyond merely brightening and strengthening the sound qualities. It continues the recent string of well-presented, thoughtfully assembled sets — including 2010’s Valley of Neptune and 2011’s live Winterland box set — which have not just lived up to but enhanced this singular legacy.
“We’re fortunate to have Eddie Kramer,” McDermott said in an interview with Fender.com. “That’s all it needs. You don’t have to do anything to it. That’s what we’ve tried to do, and people really like what we do. They like Jimi!”
Overall, he says, this showcases Hendrix’s burgeoning visions as a producer, seeking new combinations and forms of expression.
“This isn’t a ‘lost album’ or a mystery,” McDermott said. “But Jimi working as an artist and producer and giving a signal of what the future might have been.”
Perhaps. It might be a stretch, though, to say that there are any real revelations here, any epiphanies. Still, maybe there is something, even in one track that could be deemed a throwaway, the tossed-off Hendrix-Cox-Miles jam titled “Villanova Junction Blues,” all 1:48 of it, which closes the album. It’s epiphany is merely that Hendrix, at this point in time, with so much extraneous noise in his life, could sound so natural, so at ease.
Date: 02 Jan 2013
Learning to play a musical instrument offers a lot of benefits. We personally believe that if there's one thing you should learn in your lifetime, it's how to play an instrument. Here are 5 reasons why:
1. Playing A Musical Instrument Makes You Smarter
Many studies have been conducted on the effects of music to the brain. Scientists say that children who are exposed to music, or those who play an instrument, do better in school than those who don't. Recent research suggests exposure to music may benefit a child's reading age, IQ and the development of certain parts of the brain. Adults can benefit from learning to play an instrument too because it helps the mind to be alert and remain active eventually helping to sharpen the memory.
2. It Teaches Discipline
Learning to play an instrument is like learning to speak another language and it can be challenging at times. One of the qualities musicians possess is discipline. You have to be disciplined in order to master playing your instrument. You have to set time each day to practice, practice and practice some more.
3. Playing A Musical Instrument Relieves Stress
We all have days when we are so stressed out and we just want to take a break from it all. Have you ever noticed that when you hear soft, soothing music you feel more relaxed? Playing an instrument can do that and more, especially if you're the one playing. Music is one of life's simple joys; it helps calm the mind.
4. Sense of Achievement
If you're a beginner learning to play your first piece, it can be frustrating. But once you've mastered it, the satisfaction you'll feel is priceless. Never mind if it's just a simple piece, believe me you'll never forget the first piece you've mastered. You are one more step closer to achieving your goal and that is certainly something to be proud of.
5. Playing A Musical Instrument is Fun
Sure it can be a lot of hard work but there is no denying playing an instrument is fun. Once you get better at it, opportunities will arise for you to share your newly learned skill with your family and friends. Who knows, you may also consider playing professionally in the future. Playing a musical instrument opens up a lot of good possibilities that will surely enrich your life.
Date: 18 Nov 2012
By Jeff Owens
The guitar world is full of Fender guitars made famous (or infamous, here and there) by the greats who played them—Eric Clapton’s “Blackie” Stratocaster comes to mind, as do Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Number One” Stratocaster, David Gilmour’s “Black Strat,” James Burton’s paisley and flame-finished Telecasters, and many others.
Similarly and no less reverently, you’ll also hear of certain Fender basses made famous (or, again, infamous) by the greats who played them. Here are five examples, all put to such remarkable use—even historic, in some instances—that the basses themselves have become as noteworthy as their owners.
The Funk Machine
Jamerson and his 1962 “Funk Machine” Precision Bass.
The world’s most famous Fender bass is undoubtedly the “Funk Machine”—the Precision Bass played by the great Motown house bassist James Jamerson (1936-1983).
As the label’s top session bassist from 1959 to the early 1970s, Jamerson transformed the role of electric bass and lent his immensely influential skills to more hit records than perhaps any other bass player in history. Largely uncredited during his lifetime for his towering contribution to popular music, the many hits fueled by his propulsive, musically adventurous bass work remain beloved by millions as each generation discovers and re-discovers the magic of Motown.
Jamerson began his Motown career in 1959 playing upright bass, but recorded most of his work on a stock 1962 Precision Bass that he bought after his first Precision, a gift from fellow bassist Horace “Chili” Ruth, was stolen. Jamerson’s new Precision, which was soon nicknamed the Funk Machine, had a three-color sunburst finish, tortoiseshell pickguard, chrome bridge and pickup covers, and La Bella heavy-gauge flat-wound bass strings that he is said to have never changed. Jamerson typically left the volume and tone controls full up, and he sometimes tucked a piece of foam under the bridge cover to lightly mute the strings. He played by plucking the strings using only his right index finger while resting his right middle and ring fingers on the chrome pickup cover, thus earning his right index finger its own nickname, “the Hook.”
Thus, when you hear “You Can’t Hurry Love” by the Supremes, “I Was Made to Love Her” and “For Once in My Life” by Stevie Wonder, “My Girl” by the Temptations, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye, “Going to a Go-Go” by the Miracles and so many others, you’re hearing the Funk Machine.
The Funk Machine was reported to have unusually high action. Several players who knew Jamerson remarked that the string height on his bass made the instrument virtually impossible to play, although Jamerson himself is said to have believed it improved the tone and discouraged overplaying.
The instrument was stolen only days before Jamerson’s death at age 47 in August 1983. Its whereabouts remain unknown.
The Bass of Doom
Pastorius onstage with his “Bass of Doom” 1962 Jazz Bass.
Like the Funk Machine, the “Bass of Doom” was also stolen shortly before the untimely death of its most famous owner. Its whereabouts remained unknown to all but the thief for two decades before the instrument resurfaced in New York in 2007, not far from where it vanished one afternoon in 1986.
The Bass of Doom was the fretless 1962 Jazz Bass with which enigmatic virtuoso Jaco Pastorius (1951-1987) soared to untold heights of bass mastery. Pastorius exploded onto the international music scene in 1976 with his eponymous solo debut. Jaco Pastorius is still considered one of the greatest electric bass albums—if not the greatest electric bass album—ever recorded, and his subsequent work with Weather Report and Joni Mitchell, in addition to other solo work and many guest appearances, bequeathed to the world a highly influential bass legacy. Through all of this, the Bass of Doom was the bass with which he re-defined the possibilities of the instrument and the role of the electric bassist.
Allegedly nicknamed by Pastorius himself, the instrument began life as a stock 1962 Jazz Bass, which he bought in Florida in the early 1970s for $90. A 1984 Guitar Player magazine article noted that the frets were already gone from the bass when Pastorius bought it, but Pastorius also claimed to have removed the frets himself with a butter knife, filling the slots and missing chunks with “plastic wood” and covering the fingerboard with several coats of marine epoxy to resist the substantial wear induced by round-wound strings. Thus “customized,” it became the only fretless instrument Pastorius ever recorded with (he also had a fretted early-’60s Jazz).
Pastorius could be volatile as well as virtuoso, however, and he’d all but destroyed the instrument by the mid 1980s. Shortly after luthiers miraculously refurbished the Bass of Doom in 1986 and returned it to a delighted Pastorius, it vanished—stolen when he reportedly left it briefly unattended on a New York park bench one afternoon. Despite offering a hefty reward, Pastorius never saw the instrument again, and the great but troubled bassist himself lost his life less than a year later, in September 1987.
The Bass of Doom remained missing for two decades until it was identified in a small New York music shop in 2007. The shop’s owner reportedly paid $400 for it to the stranger who brought it in. A protracted legal battle then ensued over ownership, and two years passed with little progress made until another famous bassist stepped in. Metallica’s Robert Trujillo, a longtime Jaco Pastorius fan and a friend of the family, basically bought the bass on behalf of the Pastorius family and has since provided for its safekeeping.
Entwistle played his “Frankenstein” Precision Bass when the Who appeared in The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus in 1968 (above); the bass was sold at auction in 2003 (below) after Entwistle’s death in 2002.
Who bassist John Entwistle (1944-2002) played a lot of basses in his career, but few if any of them were as unusual as his infamous “Frankenstein” Precision Bass, which was his main stage and studio instrument from mid 1967 to 1971—a period that encompassed classic Who material including Tommy, Live at Leeds and Who’s Next. So when you hear quintessential Who tracks such as “Pinball Wizard” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” you’re hearing Frankenstein.
Entwistle assembled the monster himself in San Francisco on a day off during the Who’s summer 1967 U.S. tour. Consisting of the remains of several basses, it had a 1965 Precision body in three-color sunburst, a maple neck and pickups/circuitry from two “dead” 1966 “slab” Precisions (special limited-edition versions with no body contours sent to England in 1966), a pickguard from yet another Precision, tuners from two other Precisions, and a chrome pickup cover from a Jazz Bass.
“I used this baby from 1967 onwards through Tommy and all the tours up to Quadrophenia,” Entwistle once said in an interview. “Two hours with a Phillips screwdriver and a soldering iron and I was ranting around my hotel room screaming, “It’s alive, it’s alive!”
Entwistle retired Frankenstein from onstage work in the mid 1970s, at which point he had it refinished from sunburst to the salmon pink hue often referred to in the U.K. as Fiesta Red (although this differed notably from Fender’s U.S. Fiesta Red finish). Nonetheless, he noted in an April 1994 interview, “I have about 35 Precisions, all with different colors and from different eras, but I always go back to Frankenstein.”
Many of Entwistle’s belongings were auctioned off after his death in June 2002, including his voluminous instrument collection. Frankenstein went on the block at Sotheby’s in London in May 2003. Auction estimates ranged from £5,000 to £7,000 (up to $11,300 at the time), but the bass sold for a staggering £62,400 ($100,400)—nearly ten times its expected price—to an anonymous U.S. bidder.
An indelible moment in Precision Bass history came during a concert by the Clash on Sept. 21, 1979, at New York’s Palladium concert hall, when bassist Paul Simonon, angered by staff treatment of the audience, smashed his Precision to pieces onstage. Other than Simonon’s own decorative touches—including a paint-streaked pickguard, lower-bout skull-and-crossbones sticker and upper-horn “Pressure” inscription, there was nothing particularly special about the instrument—it was a fairly standard Precision model and was easily replaced, especially given the Clash’s high-profile status at the time as the “only band that matters.” But it wound up being immortalized.
Simonon and his just-about-to-be-destroyed Precision in “the greatest rock ‘n’ roll photograph of all time” (above); he briefly lent the splintered remains to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Ohio for display in 2009 (below).
Indeed, Simonon’s moment of fury might’ve been quickly forgotten had it not been for U.K. photographer Pennie Smith, who was standing offstage and who happened to catch him in her lens mid frenzy. The resulting photo was later used for the cover of what many consider the Clash’s greatest album, 1979 magnum opus London Calling (with a title track highlighting Simonon playing what is surely one of the most apocalyptic Precision riffs of all time). So famous is the image that, more than 20 years, Q magazine deemed it the greatest rock ‘n’ roll photograph of all time.
That night in New York at the Palladium, Simonon carried on with his backup Precision, but it wasn’t quite the same, as he noted in 2010 when recalling that evening:
“There was a bass I had once before that was really great, and I had a spare one that was sort of much lighter,” he said. “And the good one, unfortunately, I sort of smashed it up—I was sort of annoyed at the bouncers at the Palladium in, I think it was 1979, (because they) wouldn’t let the audience stand up out of their chairs. So that frustrated me to the point that I destroyed this bass guitar. Unfortunately, you always sort of, well, tend to destroy things you love in temper. Anyway, I learned from that lesson and, subsequently, the rest of the tour, I had to play the really light bass, and it just didn’t sound the same.”
To be clear, though, Simonon’s rage was aimed at for the venue staff, not the instrument that bore the brunt of his dissatisfaction. “I wasn’t taking it out on the bass guitar, ’cause there was nothing wrong with it,” he said. “It was a great guitar.”
Simonon kept the splintered Precision, and in fact still has it (he briefly lent the still-wrecked bass to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Ohio for display in 2009). It almost didn’t work out that way, though—the night of the incident, one of his band mates would’ve successfully absconded with one of the fragments had Simonon not caught him red handed.
“In fact, (Joe) Strummer took one of them and was about to walk off with it,” he said. “And I just had to grab it back, (saying) “I think that belongs to me.”
West Ham United F.C.
Harris with his “West Ham” Precision Bass onstage in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2011 (above); the 1987-1997 style West Ham United F.C. crest that appears on the bass’s lower bout (below).
The Brits do love their football, and Iron Maiden founder, bassist and chief songwriter Steve Harris is certainly no exception. Since boyhood, he’s been an avid fan of West Ham United, a top-tier London pro football club; he was even scouted for the team and invited to train before his muse took hold.
Although a serious footballer with professional aspirations during youth, Harris eventually realized that his true calling lay elsewhere.
Around the time he founded Iron Maiden in late 1975, Harris acquired the heavy mid-’70s Precision that would remain with him throughout his prolific career to date.
The bass has changed colors several times. It was white when Harris got it and refinished in matte black by the time Maiden hit London’s Kingsway Studios to record eponymous 1980 debut album Iron Maiden. It thereafter appeared in one of its more recognized guises—a sparkling royal blue finish combined with a chromed mirror metal pickguard (this is the version that Fender issued in 2009 as the Steve Harris Precision Bass).
Since the early 1990s, however, the bass is even more beloved by Harris and by legions of Iron Maiden fans worldwide as the “West Ham” Precision. Around 1991, Harris declared his love for West Ham United football anew and for all to see by having his number-one bass re-finished in elegant pearl white with blue-and-black pinstriping and, most notably, the West Ham United F.C. crest in blue and black on the lower bout. The mirrored metal pickguard remained in place, as it does today.
Harris has played the bass on every Iron Maiden album to date, and on 2012 debut solo album British Lion. And his support for West Ham United F.C. has never wavered. In fact, just as West Ham United fans are fond of the expression “Up the Irons” as a cheer for their team (one of the club’s nicknames is the Irons), Maiden fans have adopted it as a cheer for the band, too.