Dabbling With Donahue
Los Angeles-born Jerry Donahue has a stack of session-guitar duties to his name: you may even have heard him Walking The Dog on a Hush Puppies TV commercial late last year. Recently he's recorded a solo album ("Telecasting") and worked on Gerry Rafferty's forthcoming album; amongst his best-known back catalogue are two classic Joan Armatrading LPs, and those with very long memories may even recall his stint with Fairport Convention. But for now we asked the guitar man to select his six favourite guitar instrumentals on record; this is what he chose.
(1962, available on "Link Wray & The Raymen" Edsel)
"It's a very simple piece, and I bought the record mostly for the tone of the guitar. The structure is the usual rock'n'roll E/A/B three chord thing; he hits the E flat and then slides up to E, a triad on the top three strings, and then lets it ring — and so on with the other chords. Then to change it, he does eights on the same thing. He was using his Dan Electro guitar on this, that fierce-looking thing with the sharp horns [see the Calendar pic in issue six for an example]. That pickup is still very good — I've heard that the Dan Electro pickup is a nice one to put in the Telecaster neck position. The guitars themselves were just thrown together."
(deleted — check secondhand bins)
"Chet Atkins was famous for his thumbpick style, where he'd do bass lines on the bottom strings and then do the melodies on the top with his fingers. But that wasn't the style of his that I like the most, I prefer it when he experiments with rock'n'roll influences, it's really better than his corny old-fashioned country stuff. On this track, for example, he used the vibrato on the amp going in time with the song, and he plucked the strings while the vibrato was on the 'soft' bit — unique at the time. Consequently you don't hear any plucked notes, a very haunting sound. I think he nearly always used his Gretsch, and I must say I've never really liked the sound of electric-acoustic guitars — I like Duane Eddy too, but almost in spite of the guitars that he and Chet used."
(1961, available on "20 Golden Greats" EMI)
"All the early Shadows records have stood the test of time very well, they still sound great. The rhythm part here goes full speed — how Welch's hand didn't fall off I don't know. And Hank Marvin's solo in the middle, I'm sure he inadvertently hits an open string that rings out while he's playing — fantastic. Obviously a Strat: the neck pickup sound, which Marvin used most, is one of my favourite guitar tones, but not used much now. Most people now tend to use the 'famous' in-between middle-and-bridge position — even though I'm sure Mark Knopfler just used the middle pickup alone on 'Sultans Of Swing'. People think it's an in-between sound, but I'm sure it's the middle alone. It's only the really good Strats where the pickups can stand alone, mind you."
(1968; last re-released 1981 by Warner Bros)
"It sounds vaguely familiar, doesn't it? In some ways it sounds like a mixture of several familiar classical tunes, though I have a feeling the record says 'written by Mason Williams'. At the time it was a perfect blend of a classical type of piece with rock'n'roll; orchestration with rock rhythms, and absolutely innovative. I don't know if they had Thomastik strings in those days, but I use them on classical guitar to give a steel string effect on a classical guitar — if you put steels on you'll rip the bridge out! They're wound, and have a very ringy tone, though in fact the only ones that are any use are the top three, so I use something like standard Augustine nylon strings on the bottom three."
(originally on "Jerry Reed Explores Guitar Country", now deleted)
"His first album is called 'The Unbelievable Voice And Guitar Of Jerry Reed', and that pretty well sums it up — certainly the guitar part, anyway. He's from a country background, but he made it more rocky and modern, but mostly using a classical guitar. I don't think he even touched an electric until about 1970. He's the first guitarist that I ever heard using a banjo-style picking on a regular gut-string classical guitar. You use an open string whenever you can: you play up the neck, and if you need to play a D, say, you don't play it up there, you let the open D string take that. It gives the feeling of the notes tending to run together. The 'Explores' LP is almost impossible to find, it's from 1968 or so and deleted now, but it's one of his best."
(1986, available on "Speechless" MCA)
"It's a remake of the old Duane Eddy tune, with the same melody but some very fiery guitar work from Albert where Duane's version would have stuck to the melody all the way through. Duane kept very much to the bottom strings — there were only a few things, like '3.30 Blues' and 'Shazam', where he shows he can really play and touches the top strings. He did actually have them on his guitar, apparently. I guess this was a tribute to one of Albert's early heroes — and he has worked with Duane recently. Albert is one of the greatest. He used to underplay too much on his solo LPs, you wouldn't get what he's famous for — the dazzling speed and precision. But this is a much better showcase for his abilities."
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