Monday, April 5, 2010

It Came a Long Way from St. Louis: A Great Photograph of Chuck Berry and his Guitar

I just received an 8 by 10 original of this photo by U.S. Mail.  Thank you Busseybootleger!  It's a great picture that becomes even better when you look at the real thing.  You're first drawn to the face, of course, and the sweep of the hands.  But it doesn't take long to find the guitar, all battered and bruised.  This guy really was and is the Father of Rock and Roll.  Think how much a second generation rocker might pay for an old beauty like this, with it's battle scars and scratches.  And has there ever been a less elegant, more beautiful use of duct tape?  I saw the big yellow strip when I went to Blueberry Hill, but I hadn't seen the nuance-- the bits of blue and black above the lower f hole.  The gold plating on the pickups is practically gone.  I don't know if that's a scratch going from the center of one knob to through a knobless knob and on down to the bottom, or is just some hanging debris?  (I'll have to check other photos.)  The photograph also brings out the color.  You'll see it described as wine red below.  I always thought of it as brown but it's not at all brown. 

There were a lot of guitars in between ("Tools, you know?  Deductible!")  but two are supreme in Chuck Berry's performance career.  The first is the big blond Gibson enshrined at Blueberry Hill.  You can tell that was a well loved, well cared for guitar.  It's in nearly perfect shape.  And then there's this one, which I have seen several times over the decades, also well loved and well cared for, but probably played a lot more times than the blond, which seemed to be retired from condert use within 7 or 8 years.  Chuck Berry's son describes this one as purchased in the late 1970s.  He would know-- but I know I saw him play one a lot like it in Monterey in 1974.  (Can't make that one any bigger.  I hope to get to the source of it one day.  I was standing next to that right foot!)

Ah!  News flash.  I just poked around the and found the following comment from CBII:

"I can remember 2 of the "Wine Red" 355's. The one you guys have seen him playing is a 1978 and the other a 1972. This footage has to be with the 72. That guitar is still in the inventory but has been retired due to the neck having a crack in it. I guess it could be fixed and put back in service but the 78 is the better sounding guitar." 

Read it HERE.

So I probably saw the '72 in '74 and the '78 in '89, '98, and '09!) Anyone interested should check out the Chuck Berry website and read what CBII has written about Chuck Berry's guitars over the years.  He gives this one special praise for it's sound.

 At any rate, thank you Doug.  If I make it to Blueberry HIll again, I will line up with this one and hope!

And wouldn't you like to see "the inventory"!?!?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter,
You are very welcome, and thank you for the story. My friend Paul who is a lead guitar player came along with me to last September's Blueberry Hill Show. He started chuckling when he saw the metal conduit brace added to the famous Gibson. He said "Thats a 4 or 5 thousand dollar guitar and there's that conduit brace screwed to it!! Well we all know the brace is there for a reason, and the duct tape and the caution tape and the scratches. And all that, plus who the guitar is owned and operated by make it the Worlds Most Famous Gibson ES355, worth millions of dollars many times over. In the distant future I hope it stays in St. Louis. I hope it never leaves the Family. And I hope we will still hear it many years to come with CBII, CBIII and so on.......
CB Forum ID - Busseybootlegger