If you don't recognize the term "country guitar blowout," don't worry about it. I just made it up. I use it to describe a fairly limited group of records in which the song lyrics mention famed country guitar players and each time a particular guitarist is named we hear an imitation of his style.
These things are great fun and highly educational to boot. If you've never been able to tell Billy Byrd from Jerry Byrd, a careful study of the tunes below should remedy that situation. But why take my word for it when you can give 'em a listen and see for yourself?
Ted Brooks - The Hot Guitar Too bad the John D. And Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation wasn't in the business of giving out their so-called "genius grants" in 1951 because Ted Brooks surely would've been awarded one for giving life to the concept of the country guitar blowout. Brooks, a Birmingham guitarist, wrote this extraordinarily clever song and released it on the Bama label. Though the guitar imitations were not as flawlessly executed as those in Eddie Hill's 1952 version, he more than made up for it with the inspired lyrics.
Eddie Hill - The Hot Guitar The genre got a nice kick in the pants in July 1952 when Eddie Hill recorded his version of Brooks' song for the Mercury label. The updated version benefited greatly both from Hill's more exuberant vocal style and especially from the Nashville ringers on hand for the session: Chet Atkins and Hank Garland. In addition to reeling off imitations of their legendary contemporaries like Merle Travis and Les Paul, they also aped their own styles!
Thumbs Carllile (with the Bill Wimberly Band) - Springfield Guitar Social Thumbs Carllile was a supremely skilled guitarist whose fame never equaled his talent. Springfield Guitar Social was released on the Starday label in 1958. After a few decades in Nashville and on the road, Thumbs retired to Decatur, Georgia and made frequent local appearances, including a series of performances on Sagebrush Boogie, a country & western radio show on WRFG, where host David Chamberlain has been holding down the DJ chair for an astonishing 24 years! David informs me that Thumbs told him that the steel player on this song is Gene Crownover, onetime steel guitarist for Bob Wills' Texas Playboys. Thumbs died in 1987 and is buried in Decatur Cemetery, about a mile or two from where I reside. On the right is a photo of his tombstone. For some priceless footage of Thumbs in action in 1966, see Debbie's February 23 post.
More country guitar blowouts after the jump.
Tiny Murphy & His Bar 69 Boys - Hot Steel As the title indicates, this one concentrates on saluting various steel players, including Jerry Byrd, Noel Boggs and Speedy West.
Phil Baugh - Country Guitar As guitar scholar Deke Dickerson wrote in his liner notes for the Phil Baugh reissue on Sundazed, guitarist Baugh and vocalist Vern Stovall featured "a number in their act where Baugh would imitate famous guitar players. This medley of impersonations would eventually be known as "Country Guitar." Stovall reports that by the time they actually recorded the song, Baugh had worked up imitations of 30-plus guitar players, and they had to whittle it down to the seven actually featured in the (recorded) song!" The record got as far up the charts as #16 before it stalled in June, 1965 making it the most commercially successful of the records featured in this post.
Below, Phil can be seen playing like a maniac as he performs Country Guitar live.
Phil Baugh - Country Guitar II In the early 70's Baugh and Stovall teamed up again for an album called Country Guitar II, built around the 45 (pictured on the left) that served as a sequel to their initial effort.
Black Brothers - The Black Brothers At Guitar Haven The Black Brothers are steel player Bobby Black and his lead guitar playing Brother Larry. Bobby, a steel guitar addict beginning in his early teens, played the steel in numerous country bands throughout the 1950's. When the crowds started drying up on the country scene, he and his brother formed a rock and roll band around 1965 called The Green Beans and all the band members dyed their hair green! The Green Beans are pictured on the right. Too bad it's not a color photo. By the early 70's, Bobby Black had landed a gig playing steel guitar for Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. Bobby and Larry teamed up for the recording of The Black Brothers At Guitar Haven, recorded in 1978 and released on an LP on the Steel Guitar Record Club label.
Dave & Deke Combo - Deke's Hot Guitar In 1996, the Dave & Deke Combo revived the guitar imitation tradition on their second album with this irresistible tribute to pickers like Merle Travis, Joe Maphis and Scotty Moore among others.
Betty Cody - On Treasure Island / Silver Bells Before we wrap up this tribute to the tribute payers, here's one more. It doesn't quite fit the mold established above, but is "must listening" anyhow. In 1954, RCA sent a bunch of its stars out on a barnstorming roadshow that visited 14 cities. The live program was recorded at the Robinson Memorial Auditorium in Little Rock and subsequently released on a 10" record, from which this track was harvested. Betty Cody, following her version of I Want To Be A Cowboy's Sweetheart, stayed at the mic long enough to do a mind-blowing vocal impression of Bud Isaacs playing On Treasure Island on his steel guitar. She then cut loose with an even more amazing vocal impression of a banjo player going nuts on the song Silver Bells. Really, this must be heard to be believed. And the MC we hear encouraging Betty's efforts is none other than Eddie Hill, the vocalist heard on the cover version of The Hot Guitar in 1952!
Also worth noting is the fact that Bill Kirchen's live performances have been known to include a version of Hot Rod Lincoln that is known for incorporating imitations of a couple dozen or so guitar legends. The crowd pleasing number pays homage to rock & roll and soul players, as well as an impressive number of country artists. Here is breezing through an amazing live version all by himself from the 2004 Philadelphia Folk Festival.
NOTE: On 4/12, this post was edited with regard to the Eddie Hill version of The Hot Guitar. I originally indicated that the guitarists on the session were Chet Atkins (correct) and Grady Martin (incorrect). My source was notes from Bear Family's Eddie Hill disc The Hot Guitar, released in 2007, which indicate that Atkins and Garland are the guitarists. I botched it when putting the post together, though, and wrote Grady Martin instead of Hank Garland. Thanks to Listener Pete for the correction.