Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Some Thoughts on Paul Yandell

I first heard Paul Yandell on an old Louvin Brothers LP, Satan Is Real, that belonged to my uncle Leon. My two favorite tracks  were There’s a Higher Power and The River of Jordan, both featuring great thumbpickin’ by Paul. 

Uncle Leon also had a copy of Chet Atkins’ WorkshopAs a child, I would listen to those records for hours on end. I didn’t know who the Louvins’ guitar player was, but I assumed it was Chet. I was wrong.

As time went on, I got deeper into guitar, and my heroes were Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed. By the early 1970’s, studio musicians were listed in the liner notes of albums. I saw the name “Paul Yandell” on my Chet and Jerry albums, and somewhere along the way, I discovered that he was the guitarist on those Louvin Brothers records, as well. I had found another guitar hero.

Paul with the Louvin Brothers, c. 1958.

Paul with Jerry Reed, c. 1971.

Paul with Chet Atkins, 1979.

I first met Paul about 1980, when he and Chet played a Christmas concert at our local community college. After the show, everyone else headed for Chet, but I went straight for Paul. I introduced myself, and told him how much I loved his playing. He looked at me kind of strange. (I think he thought that I mistook him for Chet.) Then I mentioned the Louvins and Jerry Reed, and his expression changed. He said something like “Awww, I can’t listen to those old records. My playing was pretty bad.” I told him I thought it was great, and asked if we could trade thumbpicks. He seemed hesitant, but reached into his pocket and fished out a well-worn pick. “This one’s about had it, so you can have it,” he said as he gave it to me. I offered him one of mine, but he looked it over and said, “Nah, I don’t like those,” and handed it back. (I still have the one he gave me.)

Two treasures: Paul's white thumbpick from around 1980, and a red one, from the last year of his life. He said "You should try these out, they're pretty good." (It was worn out, too.)

By the early ‘90s, I had developed a friendship with Paul, and he wrote an introduction for my book “The Guitar Style of Jerry Reed.” After that, whenever I needed background information on a tune or a record, Paul was there. In the late ‘90s, I wrote “The Jerry Reed Collection” and “The Chet Atkins Collection.” The next logical step was “The Paul Yandell Collection”, and I am honored that Paul allowed me to transcribe his original tunes for posterity. 

The AGW Collection Series

Paul was tough. The last several years of his life were not easy, but even as his health deteriorated, he would send me new original tunes to include in AGW. One of the last times we visited him and his wife Marie at their home, Paul was camped out on the couch, playing me one tune after another, occasionally pointing out a lick that I should learn. He played a great Reed-style pull-off lick and said, “You need to put that in your Lick of the Week.” (I did, the very next week.)

Paul and I talked guitar a lot, but we also talked about life. Or, rather, he talked- I listened and learned. I never imagined that one of my heroes would one day become a mentor, and one of my closest friends. 

Paul and Craig with Jerry Reed's Baldwin guitar.

I treasure Paul’s friendship, and I miss him every day. As I told him not long before he passed, “I will always remember.” 

Paul Yandell, September 6, 1935 - November 21, 2011.

Visit Paul Yandell's website.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

My first guitar

When I was just a small boy, my Dad bought a used Harmony Hollywood archtop guitar and a little tweed Silvertone amp at the barber shop for $50. (In those days, a lot of commerce was conducted in barber shops.) It was gold with a big black wedge down the middle, and just looked cool.

A near mint vintage Harmony H-37 Hollywood archtop electric guitar, c. late 1950's.

He didn't have a case for it, so it hung at the ready by its strap (a piece of braided rope, actually) on a nail behind the kitchen door.

There was always music at our house, and Pop played and sang almost every night after work, mostly country and gospel songs- Ernest Tubb, Bob Wills, the Louvin Brothers. Mom would harmonize with him occasionally on an old hymn or When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again. So, playing guitar was a natural thing to do. Didn't everybody?

Pop taught me my first chord, a two finger G like Grandpa Jones played (thumb on 6th string, 3rd fret, and first finger on 1st string, 3rd fret). Once I had that mastered, he showed me C and D7, and I was off.

When I was about nine years old, Pop thought it would be good for me to have guitar lessons. He enrolled me in a twelve week program (not to be confused with a twelve step program) at Mr. Bob Jones' music store- and I got to use the Harmony! Mr. Jones taught me how to read chord diagrams, introduced me to the mysteries of the Em and Am chords, and showed me how to fingerpick with my thumb and first finger. Before long, I had learned easy versions of Freight Train and another tune in Am, although he neglected to tell me the name. (I found out later it was Windy and Warm.)

The Harmony as it is today.

When I was around thirteen, I decided I wanted to refinish the guitar. So, my Mom and I stripped it down and varnished everything, including the fingerboard and frets. I saved my money and bought some replacement tuning machines, because a couple of the buttons had crumbled on the originals, and I had to tune those strings with pliers. I was also tired of the bridge slipping around, with the resultant tuning problems. So, after I installed a new set of Black Diamond strings from the drugstore and got the bridge positioned just right, I permanently marked the spot on the top with my Dad's pocket knife. I had a custom guitar.

The old Harmony was my only guitar for a few years, and I put a lot of miles on it. I even had a custom road case- I carefully wrapped the guitar in an old quilt and then put it in a plastic laundry bag.

Like all of us, it has some battle scars... like the time the strap broke. The Harmony crashed to the floor and hit right on the lower bout. The cord and the jack were pushed up inside the guitar and the side was split. But, nothing that a little Elmer's Wood Glue and Plastic Wood filler wouldn't fix.

It's been through several incarnations, as an acoustic electric (it has one of those great DeArmond gold foil pickups), an acoustic, an acoustic electric again, a "banjotar"(five strings tuned in banjo tuning), and a high string.  Eventually, I gave it back to my Dad when he needed a second guitar. Pop is gone now, so my Mom gave it back to me a few years ago. I've returned it to how it was right after we refinished it. I even found a case for it- a battered old 1960's Gretsch hardshell that the music store was going to toss in the dumpster.

I still have the amp too, a Silvertone Model 1331.

A few years back, I recorded a Lick of the Week video with the old Harmony, and even tried to play a couple of my Dad's licks. I think of him every time I play it.

Those pieces of tape on the side of the neck? Position markers with the name of the chord at that fret, in his handwriting- his idea, of course. 

And just to show that the Harmony isn't a one trick pony, here's a clip from a cover of K.T. Tunstall's Feel It All, with Emily Hunt on vocals.