Bobby Karl always likes finding new places to party, but it somehow seemed fitting to launch this year’s round of schmoozathons at an old favorite, The Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum.
Thursday evening, Dec. 14, the Hall hosted a preview party for its latest exhibit, “American Sound and Beauty: Guitars From the Bachman-Gretsch Collection.” As always, the food was great, and the invited guests were an A-list crowd.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of Gretsch Guitars. The exhibit spotlights its most historic and iconic guitars. The company has also manufactured drums, amplifiers, guitar strings, pickups and other musical stuff.
The Hall’s CEO, Kyle Young, greeted the crowd in the Rotunda. “If you like guitars as much as we do, you’re in the right place,” he said. “These are great guitars, but they are also works of art.
“This is unlike anything we have ever undertaken…..This exhibit provides a window into the history of American guitar making.”
Kyle explained that Canada’s Randy Bachman — of The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive rock fame – was so obsessed with Gretsch guitars that he collected more than 300 of them. The 75 instruments exhibited are drawn from that extraordinary collection.
Fred Gretsch, who is of the fifth generation of the guitar family, noted that instruments from Randy’s collection were borrowed to use as prototypes for the new Gretsch guitars after the family reacquired the company in 1984. Baldwin had bought Gretsch in 1967 and later phased out the brand. Temporarily, as it turned out.
“The guitars we ship today have a unique Gretsch sound,” said Fred. He noted that artist endorsements have been important to the line. The most important of these was Country Music Hall of Fame member Chet Atkins. When George Harrison played one of Chet’s “Country Gentleman” Gretsch guitars on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, sales skyrocketed. He also played a Chet Gretsch in The Beatles movie Help!
Other significant Gretsch players have included Neil Young, Steve Stills, Bo Diddley, Brian Setzer of The Stray Cats, Eddie Cochran, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top and Michael Nesmith of The Monkees. (The company’s drums have been endorsed by Charlie Watts of The Rolling Stones, plus many jazz greats.)
“Duane’s creative guitar innovations have led to his well-deserved induction into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” said Kyle in introducing “The King of Twang,” Duane Eddy. The rocking Gretsch master and longtime Nashvillian got a rousing ovation from the crowd.
“Gretsch guitars have been a part of my life since 1957,” Duane recalled. “I bought it [and]….the guitar seemed to change my luck. A few months later, I made my first record, ‘Movin’ and Groovin.’ In March 1958, I cut ‘Rebel Rouser.’ It became a hit that summer.”
That record began a string of smashes that made Duane Eddy the most successful instrumentalist in rock history. He made the pop charts in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s and won an instrumental Grammy Award in 1986 for “Peter Gunn,” a collaboration with Art of Noise.
“I’ve been with Gretsch Guitars for 59 years. I realized, ‘I’m getting old!’
“I ended up selling a lot of records and probably a lot of Gretsch guitars. That guitar has taken me all over the world. But the best thing is the friends it has made me. It’s been a great life. And I give the credit to that Gretsch Guitar.”
Grand Ole Opry star and multiple country hitster Steve Wariner recalled the music store in his hometown of Noblesville, Indiana, and how he gazed at its wall of Gretsch guitars.
“Some people dream in color and some dream in black-and- white,” he reminisced. “I dream in Gretsch.”
He favored the crowd with his instrumental performances of “Windy and Warm” and “Copper Kettle.” Steve was dazzling with his dexterity on the strings.
“You must be a guitar geek to write a song about a guitar,” he said introducing “6120,” an instrumental he wrote to salute an iconic Chet Atkins model Gretsch. Yeah, that’s a geek. And it was great..
We shared a cocktail table with Walter & Christie Carter. Their lovely Carter Vintage Guitars emporium sponsored the exhibit, which Kyle graciously pointed out. I was grateful that knowledgeable Walter was next to me to illuminate Gretsch history, instrumental titles, technology and other things that are over my head.
My A-list table also included Walter’s fellow Tarheels David Conrad and Chris Horsnell. Guitar celebs Steve Gibson and Jerry Douglas were hovering nearby.
The cocktail-party nibbles included winter citrus salad with grapefruit, corn grits, croutons, pickled onions, red-leaf lettuce and endive. Serving platters were piled with cheeses, crostini and antipasto fare such as marinated artichoke hearts, pickled cauliflower buds, olives, roasted red peppers, prosciutto, salami and ham roll-ups. Roast-beef-and-swiss pressed sandwiches on toast quarters were accented with speared dill-pickle slices and cherry tomatoes.
Butch Spyridon, Jerry & Ernie Williams, Chase Cole, Seab Tuck, George Gruhn (how generous of the Carters to have a competitor there), Michael McCall, Michael Gray, Barry Mazor, Jimmy Carter, and Fender CEO Andy Mooney worked the room.
“Tonight, we fulfilled another dream,” concluded Kyle Young about the new exhibit. This is the largest collection of stringed instruments ever exhibited at the Hall.
The Country Music Hall of Fame is now one of the 10 most-visited history museums in the United States.