It’s a good thing that guitars, being inanimate and all, can’t read.
And I can only hope that no one mentions what I’m about to write in earshot of Buckshot, my vintage 1967 Gibson J-45. She’s a beautiful old girl, but she can be a bit jealous.
I love her sunburst hue just fine, and wouldn’t want her turning green on me.
But truth is I saw the guitar of my dreams last night while attending an unforgettable show at a fabulous venue, the DPAC, the Durham Performing Arts Center. My compadre, Lenox Rawlings and I made our way down to Durham to catch the 50th Anniversary of Sweetheart of the Rodeo Tour, and anybody who knows me knows just how down my alley that kind of music has always been.
The billed stars were two of the original Byrds, Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman, along with Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives. From the moment I heard McGuinn’s infamous 12-string Rickenbacker, I knew I was at the right place at the right time.
We loved every note of the show, one of the best I’ve seen.
By the end, however, I had concluded there were two more stars that weren’t on the bill and didn’t sing a note.
One was Gram Parsons, a special hero of mine whose inherent knowledge and reverence of country music convinced the Byrds in the first place to travel to Nashville and record a country album.
Gram’s rocky ride through life, tragically, ended in a low-budget hotel at Joshua Tree in September of 1973, at the tender age of 26. So he was there in spirit only last night, but his presence was pervasive.
As I written before, the Gram Parsons story is the great biopic yet to be done. I wrote a song that could serve as the theme, titled the Kid From Waycross, so hopefully somebody will get around to the project in time to make me rich and famous.
Joined the Byrds for Sweetheart of the Rodeo,
Was hanging around with the Stones in the south of France
Next thing you know,
And for the Kid
That was a long, long way from Waycross.
There have been two biographies of Gram that I know of. The first, Hickory Wind, written by Ben Fong-Torres in 1991, was not bad. The second, Twenty Thousand Roads, written by David N. Meyer in 2008, was much better.
Want to see the Kid in all his splendor?
Check out the cover,
Of the Flying Burrito Brothers,
Gilded Palace of Sin,
The Kid From Waycross.
I heartily recommend Twenty Thousand Roads for anyone interested in how that meld between country music and rock came down in the late 1960s (Sweetheart of the Rodeo was released in 1968) and early 1970s. That was along the same time the Band was in full swing and the Grateful Dead was putting out two of my favorite albums of all time, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty.
I was late teens and early 20s.
I was single.
I was living in Chapel Hill.
And that was the soundtrack of those best of all possible days.
The other star was Marty Stuart’s bender guitar, which, like Buckshot, has a name. Marty calls him Clarence, in honor of the original owner, the inestimable Clarence White.
Clarence, like Gram, died way too young. He was only 29 in 1973 when a drunk driver slammed into him while he was loading an amplifier in the car following a show by The Kentucky Colonels, featuring Clarence and his brothers Roland and Eric.
I was never lucky enough to see Clarence White play, but those who did swear he was as good as it gets. His recordings bear that out. Thankfully Andy Griffith was prescient enough to capture the talents of Clarence and Roland on the Andy Griffth Show, the greatest show in the history of television.
And Gram wrote about him in the song, In My Hour of Darkness.
Another young man safely strummed his silver-stringed guitar
And he played for people everywhere, some say he was a star
But he was just a country boy, his simple songs confess,
And the music he had in him, so very few possess.
Clarence left behind a wife, two kids and one of the most famous guitars in history. What made Clarence, the bender guitar, so famous, was the amazing sound that came from the modifications made by Clarence, the guitarist, and a friend named Gene Parsons.
They were striving for a steel-guitar sound from an electric guitar, and accomplished that with mechanism that raised the B-string a whole step when downward pressure was applied to the strap. Marty bought Clarence, the bender guitar, from Clarence White’s widow, and last night those of us at DPAC had the great pleasure of hearing what he sounds like in the hands of a real guitar god.
Dozens of people had told me I just had to see Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives live, and all of them were right. Two people I’ve always considered the personification of music are David Hildago (of Los Lobos) and Buddy Miller. After last night, I’ve added Marty Stuart to that list.
And on the list of greatest guitars, I’ve finally seen one I might even trade Buckshot in for.
But let’s keep that just to ourselves.