OF GUITARS, GREEKS,
And All That Jazz
If you came here without first reading "The Red Guitar, George Harrison's and Mine " then this page won't have half the impact it's meant to have..... so it's ok to click on the link, read it first and then come back here....... I'll wait ....
NASHVILLE, TN April 15, 2009 .....
Reunited so to speak after 44 years. The Greek sailor hat is doing double duty here. First and foremost in honoring Epaminodas "Epi" Stathopoulo (1893 - 1943) At age 17, "Epi" started making instruments with his father Anastasios at the "House Of Stathopoulo" in New York. He created the Epiphone Company. in Long Island City after his father passed away. Epiphone archtop guitars from the 1920's & 30's were as good as it gets. And speaking of Good Greeks, the little girl in the photo near the headstock of the guitar, is none other than Anne "Annaki" Orologas Spooner, my bride of 30 years. She likes to listen to me noodle around on the guitar.
The Greek hat or any hat for that matter is also doing duty to cover up what used to be up there. Just look at the 45 year old photo below and you will see what I mean. And by all means take notice of the guitar.......
THE PALM TERRACE : Riverhead, NY Summer of 1964
I Was Just 17 .... You Know What I Mean.......
Seventeen ? So whadda are you doing playing in a nightclub kid? ..... Nothin' I wasn't doing two years earlier, as that's when I started playing in bars. I was tall for my age. When the cops came in to check, I was usually up on stage and just turned and faced the drummer. When I had to show ID, I used "Butchie's, my big brother's Draft card and answered to his given name of Walter. One time Mrs. Moreno, the club owner at the Palm Terrace called to me and I didn't answer..... she came up to me and said Walter are you allright? I've been calling to you. I told her I didn't hear her.
I was 15, when I got my 1961 Gibson NEW LES PAUL Standard model in Cherry Red with it's wild and crazy sideways vibrola that never did much more than knock the guitar out of tune. As you know now from reading The Red Guitar page it was my first real good guitar.
A LITTLE MORE HISTORY ABOUT EPIPHONE GUITARS
AN EARLY APPEARANCE BY RHUBARB RED* & ALL THAT JAZZ
Epi Stathopoulo, was always on the forefront of music. He was the first instrument maker to embrace Jazz music and led the industry away from mandolin and banjo production and into making guitars. At the age of twenty-four Epi obtained his first of many patents that would change fretted instrument construction forever. The extension truss rod design, the first pick-up with individual pole pieces, and the Tonexpressor - the precursor to the modern day "wah-wah" pedal - were all Epiphone innovations. But perhaps the greatest contribution to guitar making came in 1941 while Les Paul was experimenting in the Epiphone factory. These experiments led to the Les Paul * "Log" and the first solid-body electric guitar.
* Lester Polfus aka Les Paul's first stage name was Rhubarb Red
LES PAUL circa 1961
That Is Not "The Log" In His Hands, But A Rare NEW Les Paul Model, These guitars with Les' name on them were only made from 1961-62. After 1962 it became known as The SG
Main Room Of Les Paul's Home Studio circa 1962
OUT IN LES' DRIVEWAY IN NEW JERSEY circa 1962
After an all night jam session are Lto R: Sandy DeVito, who taught guitar in our store and also played at our wedding , Mystery Guy # 1, LESTER The Happy Host Himself, Mystery Guy #2 (Sandy who is a cousin to Danny DeVito, said one or both of the mystery guys worked for the Pentagon and were interested in some electric gizmo Les had invented. Next is Sophocles Pappas, a famous Greek Classical guitarist holding the sheet music and last the late great guitarist Charlie Byrd who introduced the Bossa Nova to America and played at our Music Hall in Fla. I showed this pic to Les when I met him here in Nashville twenty years ago and he said ."WOW ... WHERE THE HELL DID YOU GET THAT ONE. LOOKS LIKE WE WERE HAVING SOME FUN !"
..... all that jazz
Epi's vision of the future of music and guitar, as well as the importance of his work could be seen by, and in, those who chose to play an Epiphone. Musicians who themselves were visionaries. George Van Eps *, Harry Volpe, Howard Roberts, Joe Pass and other Jazz players would make music history with an Epiphone guitar, as would Blues legend, John Lee Hooker. And the Beatles, who recorded Paperback Writer, Ticket to Ride, and the most recorded song ever written, Yesterday, with Epiphone guitars they purchased in 1964.
He was the absolute master of chord melody playing. George came up with the 7 string guitar idea (Which I also play BTW) and had one built at the Epiphone factory in Long Island City back 1938. Twenty Years later I got his landmark Mellow Guitar record and was never quite the same. It was an ear opener.
Clearwater Guitar Gallery September 1980 Taken just after we hosted an in store workshop & concert.
Back : Anne Spooner, Bob Benedetto, Front : Bucky and John Pizzarrelli and yours truly Both Bucky and I ordered seven strings from Bob that day.
NINE MONTHS LATER ........WORTH THE WAIT & MORE
Summer of 1981 My first day in my shop with my just completed Benedetto 7 String. It watched Bob build it in the back of our store over the course of 9 months along with one just like it that he made for Bucky Pizzarelli, who when it came to selecting the color said "You can't go wrong with a sunburst." By the way, although I had been listening to him on many pop ( Three Suns, Connie Francis etc) and rock recordings ( Dion & The Belmonts) done in NYC in the '50's, I was unaware of who the guitarist was. I first heard the name Bucky Pizzarelli, when he did a concert in the 1970's at Carnegie Hall with none other than guess who? Les Paul !
Almost magically George Van Eps the guitar players, guitar player but otherwise unknown, appears for the first time on the cover of Guitar Player Magazine that month. You can improvise, but you can't make this stuff up !
EPIPHONE TIMELINE & SOME SPOONER GUITAR HISTORY TOO !
The Epiphone story starts in Greece and continues to Nashville, Tennessee USA as a division of Gibson Musical Instruments.
1863 Anastasios Stathopoulos is born in Sparta, Greece. His father Nicolas Stathopoulos is a lumber merchant.
1873 Anastasios builds his first instruments (according to Epiphone literature of the 1930s).
1877 The Stathopoulos family moves to Smyrna in Asiatic Turkey.
1893 Epimanondas (Epi), named after a military hero in ancient Greek history, is born to Anastasios and his wife Marianthe. By this time Anastasios has established a large instrument factory in Smyrna making violins, mandolins, lutes and traditional Greek lioutos.
1903 Persecuted by the Turks, Anastasios moves his family, which now includes sons Alex and Orpheus (Orphie) and daughter Alkminie (Minnie), to New York City. In the immigration process, the final s is dropped from the family name. Labels on Anastasios' instruments say A. Stathopoulo. Another son, Frixo, and a daughter, Elly, are born in New York.
1915 Anastasios dies, leaving Epi in charge. Although the Epiphone brand name is still a few years in the future, the modern Epiphone company begins in 1915 when Epi takes over the family business. Brother Orphie is second in command. Frixo and Minnie will also eventually become active in the company.
1917 Epi begins labeling instruments with the House of Stathopoulo brand. The era of the tenor banjo is beginning, and Epi is granted his first patent for banjo construction.
1923 Epi combines his name with phone, the Greek word for sound and begins using Epiphone as a brand name on banjos. He registers the Epiphone brand name in 1924.
1925 The House of Stathopoulo buys the Favoran banjo company in Long Island City (in Queens, just across the East River from Manhattan) and begins making the Epiphone Recording line of banjos.
1928 The House of Stathopoulo officially becomes the Epiphone Banjo Co. By this time the ornate Epiphone Recording banjos are among the most highly respected of any maker. Epiphone also introduces a Recording line of guitars, most of them with carved tops.
1931 Epiphone introduces a full line of f-hole archtop guitars, 12 models in all, including tenors. The top models; De Luxe, Broadway and Triumph will be familiar Epi model names for the next 40 years. Through the 1930s Epiphone becomes one of the premier guitar companies, and the name is changed in 1935 to Epiphone Inc. Epiphone and its rival Gibson engage in fierce battles of one-upsmanship, highlighted by Epiphone's super-wide Emperor guitar in 1935 and Epiphone's adjustable-pole pickup in
1937. Among the notable Epi players are Tony Mottola with the George Hall band, Dick McDonough with Benny Goodman, Allan Reuss with Benny Goodman and Jack Teagardens and George Van Eps with Ray Noble.
1943 Epi Stathopoulo dies of leukemia, leaving Orphie in charge as president and Frixo as vice president. The brothers feud and Frixo sells his stock in 1948. The company falls on hard times in the postwar years, and by the mid-'50s is making few instruments, mostly upright basses and the Harry Volpe student model guitar.
1953 Epiphone ceases production and former Epiphone employes start the Guild Guitar Co. Another high quality guitar maker is born.
1957 Gibson's parent company, Chicago Musical Instrument, buys Epiphone for $20,000. The purpose is to acquire Epiphone's bass production equipment, but CMI makes Epiphone a division of Gibson and revives the Epiphone name on guitars. A full line of newly designed acoustics and electrics is unveiled in 1958. Epiphone production is moved into Gibson's factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in
1960. Longtime Epi endorser Al Caiola gets his own model in 1963 and plays it on his hit records of the themes from Bonanza and The Magnificent Seven.
1961 Epi arrives in country music when Ernest Tubb outfits his entire Texas Troubadours band with Epiphones. Marshall Grant plays his upright Epi bass in Johnny Cash's band, and Grady Martin plays his Broadway on numerous Nashville sessions.
also in December of 1961 : I see a red New Les Paul Model for the first time in Irv Rosen's, Patchogue Music Store window and GO ABSOLUTELY NUTS! Grandma Spooner puts the guitar in lay-away for me, Irv sells the one in the window and orders me another one from Gibson and lo and behold it's a step up from the display guitar. It arrives with PAF Humbuckers rather than P-90s
1962 : In March I Take Delivery On My New CHERRY RED, LES PAUL STANDARD. I use it that week on a gig with "THE ISLANDERS " at Center Moriches High School . DOUG PERCOCO also has his brand new SUNBURST FENDER STRATOCASTER & ADOLPH ALMASY HAS A NEW ACCORDIAN CASE ?? .... always a joker he OPENS IT TO THE SURPRISE OF US ALL revealing a brand spanking new ELECTRIC ACCORDIAN ! On the very second gig, a Confraternity Dance at St. Jude's recreation hall in Mastic Beach, Adolph plugs it into BOB DESHLER'S Gibson amp and promptly blows out the speaker with one good squeeze on the bellows and a low C note. BOB IS VERY UPSET & LEAVES THE BAND ! ..... Doug & I are thoroughly enjoying our new axes ....That's history !
1964 The Beatles go Epi when George Harrison, John Lennon and Paul McCartney buy Casinos. Paul uses his for the guitar solos on "Ticket To Ride." George's Casino, the only one of the three equipped with a Bigsby vibrato, plays the major-scale runs in "Hello Goodbye." All three Casinos are used on "All You Need Is Love." Paul also gets an Epiphone Texan which he plays on "Yesterday."
1965 : Like an idiot, I go and trade my Gibson in at Irv's, Patchogue Music Center for another red guitar, this time a Fender Candy Apple Red Jaguar. I get it home and soon realize it's not for me as you can only play and stand so much surf music. I return to the store within one hour to find my trusty Gibson that I have had for 3 good years is GONE ALREADY..... a few months later, the Jag gets traded in for another Gibson ...this time an ES 345 Stereo. Though its not red, the jacket sure is and I would later learn first hand from guitar great Bucky Pizzarelli that "You can't go wrong with a sunburst"
1965 THE ES- 345 STEREO with Varitone. I WISH I STILL HAD IT TOO
1970 In the face of heavy competition from Japanese makers, Epiphone production is moved to Japan. Through the 1970s and early '80s, the Epiphone line has little continuity, although it maintains respect as a quality import brand.
1976: Fate steps in and an opportunity arises to get my original red Gibson LP back, It's changed a wee bit. The Vibrola got wisely yanked and replaced with a stop tailpiece and the now late great Jimmy D'Aquisto has installed new frets ..... but it gets sold out from under me. The whole story is on the Red Guitar page. What !!! you haven't read it yet?
1979 : In July, Anne Orologas & Ken Spooner Open The Clearwater Guitar Gallery on the west coast of Florida . A specialty guitar shop. Master Luthier Bob Benedetto adjoins his custom building and repair shop with the Spooners. Many rare and vintage Epiphones, Gibsons, DeAngelico's, Martins, Fender and Gretsch guitars are both restored and sold there. Bob's skills draw in an elite guitar clientele too, Chuck Wayne, Bucky Pizzarelli, Tal Farlow and many many more. Anne & Ken get married in December, Sandy DeVito plays at the wedding.
1986 Epiphone and Gibson, headquartered in Nashville since 1984, are acquired by Henry Juszkiewicz, David Berryman and Gary Zebrowski. The Epi line is soon expanded to include traditional Epi models like the Sheraton, Emperor and Howard Roberts plus Epi versions of such Gibson classics as the Les Paul, Flying V and Explorer.
1987 Ken Spooner is hired by Ben Rhodes. Gibson's National Sales Manager and spends about 18 months at the company wearing several hats. One of the jobs he holds, is running the Gibson parts department while Gibson's oldest employee and former Epihone president, Ward Abanas recuperates from major surgery. While at Gibson, Spooner meets future country star Joe Diffie, one of the most in demand demo singers of the day at that time. Diffie sings some of Spooners' song demos and both gentlemen have major career changes.
1992 Jim "Epi" Rosenberg arrives to head up the Epiphone line and expands it to offer virtually every style of guitar to the value-conscious player. In 1993, the Epi reputation is enhanced by the Nashville USA Collection limited edition models that are the first American-made Epiphones in over 20 years. Gibson's Montana division follows in 1994 with limited editions of Epiphone flat top models Excellente, Frontier and Texan.
1995 Epiphone celebrates the 80th anniversary of Epi Stathopoulo's rise to head the family business the beginning of the modern era of Epiphone history.
2009 Ken Spooner purchases his first Epiphone, a Very Affordable Reproduction Of His First Good Guitar
OUR STORY CONTINUES .....
Guitars have played a large part in my life for most of the 62 years ( May 1947 ) that I've been around this planet. I started playing at the age of 10 in 1956. That makes what ? HOLY COW !! 53 YEARS !!! As a professional musician, guitar dealer, and former employee at Gibson, I have been around all sorts of guitars, great, good, and not so good, So I think it's fair to say I know a wee bit about what makes a fine instrument. I have to say this new Epiphone guitar is VERY fine and in some ways, sounds to my ear perhaps even a bit brighter than my original Gibson did. It might just be my ear ( I only have one that works anymore, but it still works well. It might be modern day electronics? I find the pickups to be almost as bright as single coils, without the buzz and hum. The finish, fretwork and craftsmanship throughout is absolutely first rate. The Epihone has Grover Tuning machines that are far superior to the original Kluson machines that are still used on the Gibson (albeit for authenticity) The one major difference between this repro and repro that Gibson makes is the width and profile of the neck. The Gibson is wider and thinner. But because of the design of this instrument with the neck so clear of the body, a thinner neck is less stable and can promote more tuning problems. Many hard rockers have been known to use SG necks as vibrolas! Because I play so many different types of guitars, my hand is very adaptable. At one time I carried what I call a Guitarsenal on stage with me somwhere between 7 or 8 guitars. As a solo act, tt seems I spent more time picking up and putting them back on their stands than I did playing. With the variety of neck shapes and body sizes I learned to adapt on the spot.
Before I bought it though, I naturally tried it out. To be honest, price was my original consideration, as I rarely play an electric guitar anymore and could not justify nor raise the money for the Gibson repro without factoring in the divorce costs. The Gibson lists out at $3,299.00 and the Epiphone just over $600.00..... That's quite a difference. While I was trying it out, I mentioned to the salesman that I had an original one when Les Paul's name was still on the Truss Rod cover, He said, "We have a 1961 model in the vault." Naturally I wanted to see it too, not that I was contemplating buying it as you know there is one on my Red Guitar page that was for sale about four years ago for 15 grand. So I followed him into the vault and there it was..... a 1961 Les Paul Standard hanging right in front of me. The red had faded and it was now more brown than red. The nickle hardware looked like new and of course it had that useless sideways vibrola bar. I wished I had my camera with me though. Naturally I asked how much? Without hesitation he said "43".... Excuse me? Did you say FORTY THREE? "Yes Forty Three Thousand, but I think they will consider offers in the mid 30's with the economy being what it is." To even use the word economy in the same sentence with $43,000.00 sounds oxy moronic to my ear. I had to tell him what mine cost new in 1961. $230.00 bucks....to which he said , "I bet you wish you still had it?"
As crazy as that figure sounds would you believe on E Bay this week some guy has the truss rod cover from a '61 Les Paul for sale for .... well just look at the screen shot. It's just a small piece of laminated plastic about 2" long and an inch wide that covers the hole where the neck truss rod gets adjusted. Epi Stathopoulo btw invented and patented the adjustable truss rod.
I PLAN ON GETTING A NEW ONE FOR UNDER TEN BUCKS. AFTER ALL IT'S A NEW GUITAR RIGHT ?
WHY WOULD I WANT TO SLAP AN OLD USED PART ON IT THAT COST MORE THAN I PAID FOR THE GUITAR?
Or $10.00 _ Do You Hear Any Difference?
The afternoon that I got the guitar, within an hour, I plugged it directly into my computer recording program that I am still light years away from learning how to use. Just look at the screen shot of the mixing console and you will see why. I sometimes feel like Buddy Hacket must of, when he found himself having to fly an airplane in the movie, Its A Mad Mad Mad Mad World after Jim Backus the pilot passed out from mixing martinis. Learning to play the guitar without any manual etc was a whole lot easier.
I recorded it along with original track of Jorgan Ingman's APACHE, that was a hit in 1962 and one of the staples we played in The Islanders. It's JUST RAW and not mixed to any degree and Jorgan is doing the fancy high parts with his Echo Plex. I am using a Dan Electro FAB echo, an amazing little digital pedal that costs under twenty bucks. I also did a pass with my classic guitar and my Yamaha keyboard to add a touch of Accordian to give it that true Islanders touch !!! Didn't blowout any speakers either .
Last December, Doug Percoco, asked me if I would be interested in a Islanders Band reunion in 2009 to tie in with the 50th anniversary of Mercy High School in Riverhead. The Islanders played our very first PAID GIG there on May 10, 1961, I still had my Kay archtop guitar at the time and Doug his Danelectro Silvertone. There were 6 of us then and we got 30 whole bucks for something we probably would done for free. I wrote once in my music bio that I turned pro when I was 13. I turned 14 the next day. So it looks like we have four of the six Islanders , (three charter members ) Adolph, Doug and Me and Frank O'Shea, who was our second drummer. when the late Eddie Ianetto joined the NAVY. We are all committed to get together to do it this Fall. We hope to also play an additional concert in our home town of Mastic Beach, NY. probably at either the Fire Hall or The Property Owners Clubhouse. There will probably be a surprise guest or two sitting in also. To be playing again with the same guys after 48 years and to be using virtually the same instrument in the same buildings .... ...... WELL IT ALL READY IS AN INDESCRIBABLE FEELING and we haven't hit the first note yet!