Friday, January 31, 2014

Garrett Mason's Firebird Strat

G. Mason
In August of 2007, I was on the hunt for a Fender Thinline Telecaster. I couldn't find one anywhere. So while I was at Buckleys (remember Buckleys?) in Halifax I asked one of the sales people if they knew where I could find one.  They had a friend. He was a local guitar player and had just gotten one but wasn't going to keep it. They gave me a phone number.  It turned out to be blues artist Garrett Mason. My wife and I were big fans of his so it was great fun to go over to his house and have a look at the Fender. It was a black and white one MIM with a blonde neck. The perfect guitar I thought at the time. I had a Fender USA Strat with me and after talking to Garrett for a few minutes and trying out the Telecaster I asked if he might want to trade. He didn't think so but was always interested in looking. The neck on my Strat was too skinny for him - and for me actually. He said he had discovered that in the end it was "all about the neck" and I have to agree with him. We had a great visit with him, got to look at some of his guitar and amp projects, and I bought the Telecaster with no haggling.

I later decided the neck on it was not a good radius for me and I traded it for a very nice Epiphone Sheridan II with a case. That later got sold. I ran into Garrett a few times in Halifax and he played some gigs near me on the South Shore. He always remembers us. We were very impressed with what a nice person he is, a straight arrow for sure. I saw this Strat with Firebird pickups on Kijiji and inquired. The person selling it said that he thought it was designed by Garrett Mason and built by Tom Abriel for Garrett. Abriel is a terrific guitar and amp tech and later I bought a whack of Guitar Player mags from him -some of them from the early 1980's with the acetate recordings still in them.

The Firebird Strat certainly felt like something Garrett would have played. He verified that it indeed was one of his instruments. The body is an authentic relic, the reverse Fender neck is wide and very comfortable. The wiring is perfection inside it. The pickguard is custom made for it with only a volume knob (where a tone knob should be - Mason likes the volume knob out of the way) and a tone knob. The neck and middle pickups are wired out of phase and it is has a great tone in that position but the middle and bridge pickup together are where it plays the blues.

The only thing missing is Garrett's fingernail file that he usually has sticking out of the pickguard near the  bridge!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Bill Schnare's Samick SAT450 Artist

This Samick Artist Series SAT 450 made in 1997 was Bill Schnare's. These guitars are one of the best copies of the Gibson ES335 and are hard to find now. Bill was the lead guitarist for the Great Scots, a Nova Scotia band that made it in the early 1960's. They were just kids from Nova Scotia when they first heard their record on a car radio in Los Angeles.   Bill was my first guitar teacher and an amazing player, personality, and teacher.  

Bill Schare's bio for his guitar teaching software program "Guitar Mentor":
Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At age 15, was arranging music for professional bands in Halifax. At 17, was teaching music and playing sax with Halifax band, “The Shadows.” My first music students were members of the band known as “April Wine.” (I still maintain contact with original member, David Henman.) Also at 17, arrived in New York with Nova Scotia band “The Great Scots.” Recorded several songs in New York with Columbia records. Then recorded in Hollywood, California for Triumph records. Dick Delvy, the “Wipe Out” drummer, produced a dozen records for “The Great Scots.” In Hollywood, studied, taught composed and arranged when not performing. “The Great Scots” performed for more than 100,000 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Also, performed with “Dave Clark 5" at Carousel Theater, and with “Loving Spoonful.” Appeared on US TV shows, Shindig - Where The Action Is - Hallibaloo - 9th Street West - Shiveree - Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. The Great Scots” became the 2nd band in Canada to receive the "Q Rock Award" for outstanding achievements in the pioneering of Rock and Roll music in Canada. Author of book, “What The Guitar Gods Don’t Want You To Know.” The information within the “Guitar Mentor” teaching software program is the resut of my life-study of music, as related to the Guitar.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Rand Coffman and Chuck Berry, 1974

This Epiphone Casino originally purchased in Newfoundland was made in Korea in 1995 and is really not much like the Gibson ES355 that Chuck Berry favored. It is a similar color and shape but that's about it. The battered ES355 that he brought to Guam in 1974 was obviously a very old friend. Berry was 47. Normally he traveled with a less expensive ES335 but for some reason he brought his better guitar. Berry traveled around on the "oldies circuit" alone in that period, just himself and a guitar. He would get a pickup band that knew his tunes, do the gig, no encore, and move on. Bruce Springsteen and Steve Miller performed the backup band function early in their careers. This time a local Guam band called "Friends" would back him up. No rehearsal, no discussion, just hit the stage, do the old tunes, and go to the airport. "Friends" was a very tight group and I think Berry actually appreciated it.

His concert on Guam was on August 17, 1974, Rand Coffman's 27th birthday. Rand produced the concert through a project he created called "Youth Incorporated" and a grant from the American Bicentennial Commission. I was the photographer-cinematographer for the Chuck Berry gig and Frank McGuire shot stills for the local paper.  I don't know what happened to the 16mm color footage I shot.  I was 27 and taking a break from graduate art school at Florida State University. I've been close friends with Rand since high school, some 50 years now. He still lives in Guam, has a radio program called "The Edge of Heaven" about phenomena, renovates yachts, teaches gifted children, and lot's of other interesting things.

Chuck thought I laughed a little too much. He was probably right. Mr. Berry on the other hand, was not very funny.   We picked him up at the airport in a Rolls Royce. The one and only time I've ever been in a Rolls. It belonged to somebody's uncle.  Why was he doing a concert in the George Washington High School stadium such a very long way from St. Louis? I got the feeling he might not have known how far it was to Guam and when he finally got there a bunch of scruffy hippies picked him up in a Rolls. He wasn't too cheerful. To top it off it rained at the concert and he went on early but played anyway.  He did a very good set and got a standing ovation which seemed to cheer him up. Before he could get off,  a bunch of kids jumped up on the stage and started singing and dancing around him. He started laughing. Laughing like a regular guy not a star. He took the microphone, pointed at the audience still applauding, and yelled "you're all my children!"  And we are.

Rand Coffman (left) and I on safari, 1965.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Stephen Danko and The Allman Brothers

I recently bought this Agile AL2000 from Rondo Music in New Hampshire not because it reminded me of Duane Allman's tobacco burst Les Paul but because the Agile had a very wide neck, 1 3/4 inches at the nut. I had gotten a custom Strat neck made by a luthier in Vancouver that was that wide and really like it. The only Fender now made with a neck that wide is the very expensive Stevie Ray Vaughn (more about him and his brother Jimmy later) model. So the very inexpensive Agile with that wide neck was a good deal. After you play that size neck everything else seems like a toy. Rondo seems to be the only one producing these that aren't custom made. The P90 pickups were made by Russell Sasnett of Seattle and they are great.

Stephen Danko and Duane Allman went to Seabreeze High School in Daytona Beach, class of '64. Gregg Allman was in my class of '65.  I knew Duane a little better because we had a mutual friend who had his own apartment and we would hang out there. Stephen Danko died on July 26, 2008. Prostate cancer. He was a fantastic visual artist and a close friend to me for over 35 years. We studied photography together at the University of Florida with Jerry Uelsmann and John Lindstrom and then went to graduate school together at Florida State University and studied with Robert Fichter.  Stephen was a painter, photographer, art collector, and a very funny, kind person,

He knew the Allmans when they were all growing up in Daytona Beach together. He told me that one of their tricks as kids would be that one of them would get around behind you and kneel down and the other one would confront you and push you over the kneeling one. They were quite a team even as kids.
Allman Joys, circa 1965.
The last time I talked to the Allmans was at a concert they gave in Gainesville, Fla. promoting their first album. Danko took me to the concert and told me I had to hear them now (we had heard them plenty as "The Allman Joys" in Daytona at various clubs and events like our senior prom (above). They were "our band". He said I wouldn't believe the sound they had now - they had two drummers. He was right. Stephen briefly thought he might tour with them as their photographer. We all hung out after the concert and they had completely changed into very warm hippies - just like all of us had then.

Stephen Danko, Newton's Daughter,  1974.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Fred Endsley and Neil Young

I know this story is true, I've told it before. Fred Endsley died on April 5, 1999. Esophageal cancer. He was just 49.  I traded a Telecaster and a MusicMan Sterling AX40 for this "Graffiti Yellow" Stratocaster because it looked like the one Fred played in his band "The Dadistics" in Chicago. Fred was a terrific artist and musician and a great friend to me for 25 years. I went up to Cody, Wyoming, to help him in his last days. Very rough time. 
A month later in May I was in Washington, DC. to get a Smithsonian/ComputerWorld medal for the work our Web group (Martin Diekoff, Steven Swimmer, Jance Kash, Marty Harris's group) at the Getty Center. The night before the ceremony on the Mall I had dinner with a mutual friend of Fred's and myself. I was trying to remember the music Fred and I listened to a lot and my friend reminded me that it was Neil Young. Fred and I must have listen to "Tonight's the Night" about a million times - "Bruce Berry was a working man, he used to drive that Econoline van."

 I have vague belief in the Bardo - the 49 day period where a soul is in limbo and you can give the departed advice and console them as they choose to move on or be reincarnated. Often you ask for a sign that the person has moved on. The whole exercise is a good way to deal with your grief whether it has any a reality to it or not. So that next morning I was standing on the Mall in D.C. with the "My Name Is" sticker on my jacket with a hundred other people in suits for the award ceremony. They call your name and you step up and they put the medal around your neck.  

I was feeling kind of silly about the whole thing when a shaggy guy in an old brown jacket and sandels with socks stepped in front of me. He looked familiar, sort like how Fred might have dressed for the occasion. Remarkably he turned into Neil Young. I was a little shaken. It really was Neil Young standing with his back to me. I touched the sleeve of his jacket. He turned around and I stuck out my hand. All I could think to say was "thank you". He smiled, shook my hand and said "your welcome" and turned back around.

 Later when we were assembling for a group picture his wife Pegi came and stood next to me and read my name tag, probably to make sure I wasn't some nut.  We said "Hi".  She was getting an award too for the their Bridge School Web Outreach program for children with severe speech and physical and impairments. I snapped his picture as he was taking her picture. I wish I could have explained to them what had just happened. Fred was doing fine.

Fred Endsley, circa 1980.

Darryl Vance and Blues Radio


One of the great honors of my life was to be included as a performer on artist and designer Darryl Vance's blues radio program on KZSU (Stanford) 3-Way Blues Caravan with  Smitty Ray Barlow (Vance)  and Bones d'Ivory (Fred Perry). My character was Howell Norfolk  intrepid Millennium Reporter from the Millennium Capital of the World, Los Angeles, California.

From Darryl Vance: "The Plywood Lounge" made its debut on September 30th, 2002. Prior to this program, Smitty Ray Barlow was a host of "Soul Heaven" on KZSU. This program, billed as a "gourmet Soul showcase" featured the underplayed and overlooked aspects of Soul Music from Memphis, Muscle Shoals, Jackson, and around the world. "The 3-Way Blues Caravan" began airing in July, 1998 on KZSU. Maintaining its rigid stance of "no focus, no emphasis", The 3-Way is able to play blues and blues-oriented material from the entire spectrum of recorded music. The show, sometimes co-hosted by the beloved Bones d'Ivory, includes blues news, a live music calendar, interviews, and and of course, "The Howell Norfolk Millennium Report". Since 1996, Mr. Norfolk provides random updates on the people and phenomena that shape and are being shaped by the new century. The program traces its roots back to "The Smitty Ray Barlow Show", which aired from 1995-98 on Geronimo Radio, a cable fm station in Marin County, California. During its heyday, it was Marin's only blues radio program.



I really can't think of anything I've ever been involved with in the United States that had more authenticity than actually being a part of an American blues radio show.  

Brian Eno, 1997.

I've often used this Ibanez TCM50 for ambient sounds. It is strung with all unwound steel strings.

Margaret MacLean of the Getty Conservation Institute and I hosted a meeting of Stewart Brand's Long Now Foundation board, librarians, and the Internet Archive at the Getty Center to discuss the problems of digital preservation. The meeting and subsequent publication was called "Time and Bits: Managing Digital Continuity".  Brian Eno attended as a board member of the Long Now Foundation ("longnow" was his expression.)  It was very interesting to talk to him about his career as a musician and producer and hear great stories about riding around with David Bowie in a car in order to listen to a recent studio mix to make sure the sound "worked". He was not altogether convinced that digital was in any way better than analog. The irony for me was that I had bought my first CD player in order to listen to his ambient recordings like "Music for Airports" without any vinyl scratches or pops.

Eno - "There is a backlash going on. I notice it a lot among musicians.  The music world has bifurcated into two completely separate camps that have hardly anything to do with each other. It's computer based music and the rest. There are very few people working in the cross-over area in-between. One of the problems is that when digital material corrupts it corrupts absolutely.  We've been used to analog materials that deteriorate rather gracefully. You know a tape played over and over again does lose high frequencies but you can still tell what the music is, you can still hear the song.

What has happened with some of my earliest digital recordings is that they have become completely silent.  There's nothing there at all. A lot of people are finding that they prefer the type of deterioration that occurs with atoms to the type of deterioration that occurs with bits. The backlash is partly realizing that this problem exists."

I still have a few copies of "Time and Bits".  Getty Publications has stopped re-printing it.

ZZ Top, Afterburner, 1985

Billy Gibbon's sister worked at the High Museum in Atlanta in 1985 and I worked at the Atlanta College of Art next door. When I found out she was Billy's sister I asked her to get my copy of Afterburner signed at the concert they were doing in Atlanta. I told her I was removing the CD from the case because I couldn't bear to be without it while I was getting the autograph. She told Billy that and he said "smart move."  We had seats in the fourth row.

Danny Ferrington KFT-2 Acoustic/Electric

When I lived in Santa Monica around 1997 I met Danny Ferrington at a crafts fair.  It was funny because I couldn't image it was actually "The"  Danny Ferrington I was talking to and told him so. He got a big laugh out of that and showed me a guitar he was making for Donovan.  I could never afford one of his custom guitars but kept a look out for one he did with  Kramer. At long last in June of 2010, I found a Ferrington KFT II (T for Tele shape) with a case. After Kramer folded,  Danny Ferrington produced them under his own label for awhile so it has a Ferrington logo and label in it with no mention of Kramer. 

I also found a copy of "Ferrington Guitars",
 an elegant book produced in 1992 that includes a CD of a lot of Ferrington players like David Lindley, Elvis Costello, Ry Cooder, J.D. Souther, J.J. Cale, Albert Lee, Henry Kaiser, David Hidalgo, and others. The book also has guitars he made for Kurt Cobain, Linda Ronstadt, Pete Townsend, Emmylou Harris, Crystal Gale, Richard Thomson, and many others. So you can see why shooting the breeze with Ferrington was a little daunting. 

I recently contacted Ferrington on his Facebook site:

         Ben Howell Davis
Danny - I met you years ago at craft fair in Santa Monica. I finally got a Ferrington KFT-II (after Kramer I guess) and am wondering  if a standard Strat or Tele neck would fit it properly.
  • Hey, congrats on the guitar, yea I'm sure you could do it might be some size issues, screw hole won't be same, just have to be careful with the scales, I'm sure they are different, but a good guitar repairman could do it, all the best, DANNY
  • This month fancy cover story on me in fretboard journal, check it out

  • Thanks so much for the reply. I have always been a big fan and have your book as well. I was never crazy about the headstock on the KFT-II and thought I might switch out the neck - but after I wrote you I played it for awhile and it is a great neck..and it says FERRINGTON on it - what more could I ask for???

  • Aw!
It is a very nice guitar. The natural finish has mellowed over time and it sounds just as good unplugged as plugged.