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Guitar Royalty

Bucky Pizzarelli stops by OK Guitars for a little talking' and picking'. Yes, that's me in the background trying to figure out what chords he's playing.

Bucky Pizzarelli stops by OK Guitars for a little talkin’ and pickin’. Yes, that’s me in the background trying to figure out what chords he’s playing.

There are a lot of perks to actually running a brick and mortar guitar shop. Yeah, there’s rent and insurance and security and all kinds of headaches that go hand in hand with retail shops. Not so fun stuff like the drunks from the local bar who show up to be entertained, marauding bands of 5 to 10 year olds who have somehow gotten away from their parents and dogs with giant wagging tails that put every guitar on a floor stand in great danger. Then there is the fun stuff. There are the instruments that walk in the door-a 63 335, a mint 70 Strat, a 1913 F-4 mandolin and quite a few others. And then, there are the guitarists who walk in the door.

Today I had a visit from the venerable Bucky Pizzarelli, a jazz legend at the age of 89. He played with everybody-Benny Goodman, Les Paul, Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show Band, Tal Farlow and tons of others in his 70 plus years of performing. He played for the Nixons, the Reagans and the Clintons. His children are well known musicians as well and he had his daughter, also a guitarist, with him. While generally associated with a seven string guitar, I asked him to make do with a couple of six strings.

He was drawn to a beat up black Gibson L-47 from the forties and played that for a while and then I brought out a big Gibson arch top from 1952 and he immediately said “Super 400” and he was right, of course. He enjoyed that one and commented on how big it is. “This thing is huge”, he said and proceeded to play chords that I, even after 50 years of playing, didn’t recognize. It was effortless. He talked about the guitars he had around the house. “I’ve got a six string Danelectro bass somewhere-I think it’s in the attic…I haven’t seen that one for a while.” He pointed to a 60 Tremolux and said “I had one of those too, way back. Single twelve inch, right?” Right again. Then he played an early 50’s J-45 commenting about how loud it was. “Don’t need an amp with this one”, he said with a big smile on his face.

Then he asked me to play something. Yikes. I’m kind of a hack player but I know what I know. Our mutual friend George Potts, who arranged for Bucky to come by, was at the shop and he and I sang and played a few Beatles tunes. My playing was adequate at best and George’s was better but Bucky commented (favorably) on our harmony and seemed to enjoy the impromptu (and totally unrehearsed) performance. All in all, he was a wonderful and gracious guest and I was thrilled to have him visit.

Yeah, there are a lot of little hassles that go along with having a shop but they are all overshadowed when someone like Bucky walks in the door. He reminds me that there is a lifetime joy in doing what you love. I hope to be playing when I hit 90. His pal and neighbor Les played until he died at 94. Maybe the guitar is the reason these guys live so long. and so well.

2 Responses to “Guitar Royalty”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, great story! Always fun and inspirational to meet an old pro! And, puts what’s important (the music!) into perspective!

  2. Rob says:

    This is a great shop story. Great photo. A YouTube video of him playing that 400 would be stellar.

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