Bert Weedon: Musician whose 'Play in a Day' manuals inspired generations of guitarists

He persuaded his father to buy him his first guitar, for 15 shillings in London’s Petticoat Lane market

Bert Weedon could only claim one Top 10 hit in his career but his influence could be heard on countless No 1s, not least through his best-selling guitar manuals. Already an established star when rock'n'roll arrived in the UK, he was named as an inspiration by many of the biggest names in British rock and pop music.

He made regular appearances on television, and a string of solo singles made him the most famous guitarist in the country; he was perfectly placed to take advantage of the birth of rock'n'roll. He regularly played on hits by such luminaries of the time as Tommy Steele, Adam Faith, Billy Fury, Alma Cogan, Dickie Valentine and Frankie Vaughan, as well as backing big names from the US, including Frank Sinatra,Judy Garland, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Bennett and Nat "King" Cole.

He published his first Play In A Day book in 1957; they went on to sell in their millions, with musicians of the calibre of Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney and Brian May among the guitarists who learned to play guitar from them. May once referred to Weedon as the "Guitar Wizard" and "a legend", while in a 1970s interview Clapton said: "I wouldn't have felt the urge to press on without the tips and encouragement that Bert's book Play in a Day gives you. I've never met a player of any consequence who doesn't say the same thing."

In an interview he gave the Independent in 1997, Weedon concurred. "Hardly a day goes by without someone telling me they've bought the book or had someone buy it for them," he said. "People come up to me after shows and at social functions – even in supermarkets and petrol stations."

The introduction to Play in a Day claims that "this book will enable the reader to play the guitar up to a standard suitable for playing in a jazz, skiffle, or dance combination". It ends with some advice to new performers about the perils of playing too loudly, and in 1997 Weedon said he had been horrified by the guitar-destroying antics of the likes of Jimi Hendrix and the Who's Pete Townshend. "I can't understand why anyone should want to smash a cup and saucer, let alone a guitar," he told Russell Newmark.

Along with tips on proper care for your guitar, Play in a Day also carried a final warning about the importance of regular practice: "Nature did not fashion our fingers for guitar-playing specifically, but nature has given us a mind to think with, willpower, patience and determination."

Herbert Maurice William Weedon was born in East London in 1920, the son of a Tube driver, an amateur singer with a collection of hillbilly records. He picked up his first – battered – guitar at the age of 12, which he convinced his father to buy for him in London's Petticoat Lane market for 15 shillings (75p). Initially he learned classical guitar, a grounding he said had equipped him to adapt to a range of musical styles, from jazz to dance music.

He formed his first bands in the 1940s – the Blue Cumberland Rhythm Boys and Bert Weedon and His Harlem Hotshots – although, as he recalled, the guitar was hardly the ubiquitous instrument it is now: "The only time you saw a guitar was in the hands of a cowboy in a western film singing 'Home on the Range'." He graduated to a semi-professional Dixieland jazz group, Harry Gold's Pieces of Eight, and performed with the violinist Stephane Grappelli and pianist George Shearing in the early '40s, and went on to work with Ted Heath, Mantovani and The Squadronnaires, before becoming a featured soloist for four years with the BBC Show Band programme. He could be heard almost every day on the BBC Light Programme.

He became the first British guitarist to have a solo record in the Hit Parade with "Guitar Boogie Shuffle" in 1959. He charted the same year with "Nashville Boogie" and the following year with "Big Beat Boogie" and "Twelfth Street Rag", as well as the original UK version of "Apache". The instrumental was written by the British songwriter Jerry Lordan, and Weedon's version, recorded early in 1960, remained unreleased until the Shadows' version came out; theirs stayed at No 1 for five weeks, while Weedon's still did well, reaching No 24. The Shadows later immortalised Weedon in their song "Mr Guitar".

In 1976 Weedon became the first solo guitar player to go to No1 on the Official Top 40 album charts, with 22 Golden Guitar Greats. He continued to play live and release records and was a stalwart member of the showbusiness charity group the Grand Order of Water Rats.

While the Shadows paid tribute, Sir Paul McCartney also revealed that both he and George Harrison used Weedon's manuals to learn the chords D and A, while fellow-Beatle John Lennon also freely confessed to learning the guitar from Play in a Day. Even more contemporary artists are unashamed to admit their debt. The Cure wrote a short instrumental, The Weedy Burtons, which featured as a hidden track on their debut album Three Imaginary Boys in 1979.

In 1997 Weedon was still obsessed with the guitar. "[It] has been my life," he said, "to play it, to study it, to write books on it and to get other people to play it. I like to think that I've helped in some way to make the guitar the most popular instrument in the world."

Herbert Maurice William Weedon, guitarist and teacher: born London 10 May 1920; OBE 2001; married firstly, secondly Margaret (two sons); died Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire 20 April 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the iWatch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own