Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Guitarist Bert Weedon Passes On

Bert Weedon OBE may not be well known in the United States, but chances are that if you are a fan of rock music you have heard someone on whom he was a great influence. Bert Weedon was a  British guitarist and author of an instructional manual on guitar playing who would have an impact on three of The Beatles (George Harrison, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney), Pete Townshend, Keith Richards, Brian May, Jimmy Page, Tony Iommi, and Eric Clapton. Bert Weedon died on 20 April 2012 at the age of 91.

Bert Weedon was born on 20 May 1920 at East Ham, London. His father was a driver on the London Underground and in his spare time was part of the amateur song and dance team, Weedon and Walmisley. Young Bert Weedon would often accompany his father to Weedon and  Walmisley's performances at various railwaymen's clubs. When he was twelve his father bought him a guitar for 75 pence. Bert Weedon would leave school by the time he was 14 and work as an office boy while learning from a teacher in classical guitar. In 1934 he formed his first dance band, Butch Townsend and the Cold Shoulders. With the local butcher's son on drums, the band was named for the contents of his father's deep freeze. He played his first solo appearance in 1939 at the East Ham town hall.

During World War II Mr. Weedon worked as a part of rescue services. Following the war he joined jazz violinists Stephane Grapelli’s group. He played with various popular dance bands until in the early Fifties he joined the BBC Show Band, then led by Cyril Stapleton. He played for both BBC Radio and the BBC Television Service (now BBC One). Over the years he would be part of the music department of such shows as The Square and BBC Sunday Night Theatre.  It was in the mid-Fifties that he was signed to Parlophone. His first single, "Stranger Than Fiction," was released in 1956. He would have hits with the instrumentals "Guitar Boogie Shuffle (which went to #10 on the UK singles chart in 1959)," "Nashville Boogie (which went to #29 on the UK singles chart in the same year)," "Apache (which went to #24 on the UK singles chart in 1960)," "Sorry Robbie (which went to #28 on the UK singles chart in the same year)," and "Ginchy (which went to ##35 on the UK singles chart in 1961)." He also played as a session musician for artists ranging from Adam Faith and Tommy Steele to Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole.

It was in 1957 that Bert Weedon's guitar instructional manual, Play in a Day, was first published. In the end it would sell two million copies and teach generations the rudiments of guitar playing. Play in a Day would be followed by Play Every Day. Over the years VHS and DVD versions of the books would follow. His books would be the starting point for many important guitarists in the history of rock music.

Bert Weedon would also appear frequently on television, particularly on children's shows such as Five O'Clock Club and Tuesday Rendezvous. He appeared on such shows as Thank Your Lucky Stars, The Dick Emery Show, The Golden Shot, and Chasing Rainbows. He also had his own, long running ITV series. In the Seventies he signed to Contour Records and released a series of albums. In the mid-Seventies he would top the British albums chart for one week with 22 Golden Guitar Greats, released on the Warwick label. He would continue to release albums into the Eighties.

Bert Weedon would have a lasting impact on many British rock bands of the Sixties and Seventies, and as a result he would have an impact on rock music worldwide. One need only consider that guitarists in three of the biggest bands of all time, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who, all learned their craft from Bert Weedon's books. In fact, it is possible that some may not have become guitarists had it not been for Mr. Weedon. In a eulogy by Neil McCormick in The Daily Telegraph entitled "Farewell Bert Weedon,the man who helped make stars of John Lennon and Paul McCartney," Eric Clapton was quoted as saying, "I wouldn’t have felt the urge to press on without the tips and encouragement Bert’s book gives you." To a large degree, then, Bert Weedon is responsible for the success of the British rock bands of the Sixties and the genres they would give rise to, everything from power pop to heavy metal. Few men could boast such an important place in rock history.

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