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.