Giants of rock bid farewell to father of all guitar heroes
Tributes pour in for Bert Weedon, the British musician whose tutorials inspired a generation
Prolific writer and commentator John Walsh contributes columns to the paper as well as writing features, interviews and restaurant reviews. He has been editor of The Independent Magazine, literary editor of the Sunday Times and features editor of the London Evening Standard.
Saturday 21 April 2012
The world's most unlikely guitar hero, Bert Weedon, is dead. The author of Play In A Day, which introduced successive generations of British rock stars to their ideal instrument, died peacefully at his home in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, aged 91. Since the news broke, tributes have flooded in from crusty axe-wielders across the nation, saying how much he, and his teaching manual, influenced their careers.
Musical giants who started on the road to rock divinity by studying Weedon's teaching methods include Keith Richards, Sir Paul McCartney, Pete Townshend, Brian May and Eric Clapton, who once said: "I'd never have felt the urge to press on without the tips and encouragement that Play in a Day gave me." Clapton added that he'd "never met a player of any consequence" who hadn't learnt from the book and its sequels.
Weedon was, for a period, a guitar star in his own right. An early British owner of an electric guitar, he imported a heavy, custom-built model in the late 1940s. It cost him £40. A decade later he was performing on stage, squeezing twangy licks in the style of Duane Eddy from his beautiful white, semi-acoustic Hofner. In 1959, his "Guitar Boogie Shuffle" was the first-ever British guitar-instrumental Top 10 hit and was enough to send him on tour – aged 40 – with the younger bands and singers of the first wave of British pop.
He was, it must be said, a fantastically uncool presence in the age of Billy Fury, Adam Faith and the young, hair-gelled Cliff Richard. Where they smouldered, Weedon grinned like an enthusiastic teacher (which was exactly what he was.) He had wavy hair, a serious moustache and a silly name. But he could play up a storm. As a session musician, he provided the super-confident intros, power chords and solos behind dozens of early British rockers, from Tommy Steele to Joe Brown of the Bruvvers. Brown said of him: "He was a lovely man and a great inspiration to many British guitar players, including myself, in the early days."
Weedon was classically trained, and originally played for jazz and light-orchestral bands under Ted Heath and Mantovani. His solo style owed more to 1950s jazz guitarists than to blues musicians who were the forerunners of rock. It can be heard at its most characteristic in "Apache," the instrumental by Jerry Lordan. Weedon made the original recording in 1960, but it went unreleased. Months later, The Shadows heard Lordan himself play it, recorded a version and had a massive hit. After this frustrating brush with fame, Weedon was eclipsed by the rise of groovy Sixties youth, in the form of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Kinks and The Who. He was simply too old, too straight to be bankable.
The truth was that everybody dug Bert Weedon, at least when it came to finding their way round a fretboard, arranging their fingers into a D-chord triangle, making a bar with their index finger and learning to strum.
However wildly rock history panned out, Herbert Maurice William Weedon was its unlikely godfather.
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