Call it a gimmick if you will, but the Great Guitars super trio of Charlie Byrd, Barney Kessel, and Herb Ellis made some great music.
The concept came by accident. Byrd’s own trio was booked on a joint tour with Kessel’s group. “We would play, then they would play a set, then we would jam on the last song,” Byrd said in an interview recalling the tour. “That jam was so much fun that by the end of the tour, we just jammed on all of the songs.”
Add Herb Ellis, and Great Guitars was born. The trio released its self-titled debut album in 1974, followed by Return of the Great Guitars with Mundell Lowe replacing the retired Kessel.
The original trio also released two other live LPs, which are now together on this two-CD set: At the Winery (1980) and At Charlie’s Georgetown (1983). The group dances through covers of classics like “Air Mail Special,” “Sheik of Araby,” “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and more, blending Byrd’s latin-tinged classical guitar with Kessel’s Charlie Christian-inflections and Ellis’ bebop licks. It’s good stuff.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Dec. ’01 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.