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Del Casher

Wah-Wahs, Ecco-Fonics and the W Coast Studio Scene
 
Wah-Wahs, Ecco-Fonics and the W Coast Studio Scene

Photo: Preston L. Gtatiot

PART 1
…and other earlier gizmos as well. Del Casher (nee Del “Kacher;” the reasons for the name change are forthcoming) has for decades been a fixture in Los Angeles-area studios, and he was a pioneering player in the use of more than one device for musicians (particularly guitar players).

Some of them, such as the Ecco-Fonic, are now considered antiques compared to modern equipment, but Casher is still on the cutting edge of technology. He’s a big advocate of MIDI, but he still loves his old guitars, as well.

Casher has seen a lot of changes in the L.A. music scene since he migrated to the Left Coast after attending the University of Pittsburgh on a music scholarship (he’s originally from Hammond, Indiana). He recently sat down with Vintage Guitar to discuss his years of experience. Among the items we were able to peruse prior to our on-the-record conversation was the cover of a 1961 issue of Fender’s Fretts magazine, where “Del Kacher” is brandishing a Fender Jazzmaster with a larger-style pickguard, so we started off with an inquiry about his name change:

Vintage Guitar: Apparently you had some success as “Del Kacher.” When did you change your name?
Del Casher: I went through school known as Del Kacher, but when I came to California, there was some confusion about the pronunciation and spelling. Some people didn’t think I was in the union book, and I missed out on some musical projects because of that. When I got into the film industry about 10 or 15 years ago, I thought it represented a good time to make a change, and it worked.

Didn’t your “musical upbringing” involve more of a “formal education” as opposed to “the school of hard knocks?” Do you have a degree in music?
My education was in Liberal Arts, but my father was my first music teacher. He was an arranger and composer for string music, so I had a very thorough reading and orchestration background. He’d orchestrate works like “The William Tell Overture” for mandolins, mandolas, fretted cellos, and fretted basses, and he added a guitar part for me to learn. He went as far as he could, but playing marches on the guitar was not what I had in mind, so I studied with a local teacher named Barry Redley, and then with Hal Morris.

Later, I studied sightreading using the guitar, with a fine clarinet teacher. It really took some convincing for him to give me lessons; he thought it was crazy for a guitarist to study classical clarinet books!

Guitar was not a lead instrument in those days, but I knew that George Barnes was working with the NBC Orchestra and could read as well on guitar as any symphony player could. George was the sort of player I wanted to be like, and later in my career I had to learn to play exactly like him when I joined the Three Suns.

Does your interest in the application of technology to music also date from your childhood?
I’m not exactly sure how it evolved. I think my fascination with science began when I started doing experiments with my chemistry set when I was about 10 years old; I’d build miniature rockets, using powdered magnesium and potassium nitrate. My next love was electronics. I had a cousin who had a radio shop, and the weekends I spent there convinced me that I wanted to get into electronics and science; I was about 11 or 12.

Then at 13, I heard Les Paul, and my life changed. I’d known who he was because of my brother’s extensive record collection, which included his early releases. But suddenly, I heard what he was really doing with his guitar and electronics, and I was hooked. His recordings were magic!

I felt like the guitar was the future of music. By the time I entered high school, I was the number one guitarist, and was playing professionally with local dance bands and groups. I’d learned how to read charts for Glenn Miller tunes, and I was always the youngest in the band.

What kind of instruments were you using?
I built my own electric guitar. I bought a used blond acoustic archtop, got some guitar pickups, and wired and installed them just like Les Paul’s guitar. My cousin told me about potentiometers, so I cut a hole in the back of the guitar and wired it internally. A friend’s dad had a metal shop, so we built a mechanical tremolo for that guitar.

These days, it’s not unusual for a young musician to have an electronic engineering degree and to also be a great guitarist, but back then, musicians were sometimes considered “weirdos” (chuckles). Also, people didn’t really seem to know what the guitar really was; it’s hard to believe that today. I had to stand my ground because I believed in the future of the guitar.

I understand you had your own radio show at a fairly early age.
I’d practiced really hard, and I landed my radio show on WJOB, in Hammond, at 16. I had to pre-record my background rhythm guitar tapes with added harmonies, and of course, the famous speeded-up guitars just like Les Paul. I could only go up to three or four generations before the noise buildup, so I’d get as much of the rhythm parts down as I could and would play the guitar melody live. I used Magnecord PT-6 machines; they got the job done. The shows worked out so well that the program director, Earl Vioux, recommended me to produce radio commercials for some department stores in Chicago, I called the musicians’ union in Hammond to get a singer for those commercials; her name was Eleanor Ford. What a trip! My modified guitar with multiple recordings, and a gal named Ford! It was a valuable experience.

Did you finally get to meet Les Paul in person?
Yes I did. I used to go to the Lyon and Healy music store in Chicago, and the man who ran the guitar department, Bob Dayton, was a dear friend of Les Paul’s, and had played in Les’ trio at one time. I told Bob that I would do anything to meet Les Paul; he smiled and wrote a note on the back of his business card, gave it to me, and told me to go to the Chicago Theater, where Les Paul and Mary Ford were appearing. I got to meet them backstage, and they took me to their dressing room where Les had his gold prototype guitar. I still haven’t gotten over it; Les Paul and Mary Ford were bigger than life!

Les was so gracious to me; he let me play his prototype guitar. Mary Ford asked me if I’d like to have a picture taken with Les, and I told her that I didn’t have a camera. She took out a Polaroid camera, which was a new idea at the time, and took a picture of Les and me playing his guitar.

Going home on the South Shore train that night, I guarded that picture like I was carrying $10 million (laughs)! And of course I made five negatives from that photo and put them in a vault.

The next day, I went to my favorite music store in Hammond, Hal Morris Music, and told Hal I had something they would not believe. Boy, were they impressed when they saw Les and me! Today, I have a copy of the photo in my studio lobby. Directors, film producers, and actors ask about Les’ early guitar, and sometimes they’ll ask “…who’s the kid?” in the picture (chuckles).

Did you keep in contact with Les Paul and/or ever meet up with him again?
Later, when I moved to California, Zeke Manners brought Les to my home recording studio in Hollywood. Les and I have since remained very dear friends throughout the years. I appeared with him on Les Paul Day in Los Angeles in l993 at the Gene Autry Museum, along with Jeff Baxter on bass.

Details about your college experiences?
Well, I studied everything that I would never need in the music business (chuckles); subjects like Geology and Russian. But I met some wonderful musicians like Joe Negri and Johnny Rector; they helped me understand the guitar, and that helped me immensely. For my scholarship, I was required to perform concerts with an ethnic college group called The Pittsburgh Tamburitzans. A tamburitza is a European stringed instrument that originates from Serbia and Croatia. Pittsburgh has a lot of ethnic folks from many lands, so our show was comprised of Italian, Slavic, Polish, Bosnian, Macedonian and Slovenian music. I was the first to play an electric guitar in such a group, and I did a lot of orchestra modifications that enhanced their traditional sound. The college kids in the group loved it.

During our summer concerts, I convinced our music director, Matt Gouze, that in addition to the ethnic music, we ought to do an “Americanski Guitar Boogie-Woogie and Jazz” part of the program. He agreed that it was a good idea, and it became the highlight of our concerts from then on. We even did Elvis Presley tunes which would later prepare me for the recording scene in Hollywood, since rock was taking over, big-time. I had fun with those college performances, but during that time my heart was always in the complexity of recording, overdubbing, and getting a “quality” sound from my guitar.

Did you feel like you had to come to L.A. if you were going to become a successful professional musician?
I felt like I had a choice between L.A. and New York, and since I was from the Chicago area, I thought I’d rather come to where there was some sunshine. My brother was already out in L.A., playing for society parties, film producers, etc., and he helped me get some jobs. I also knocked on a lot of doors, but nothing happened.

Then one night I went to the world-famous Coconut Grove and saw The Three Suns perform; they were on RCA Records. They seemed to be having trouble with their new guitarist, so I told Artie Dunn, who was the band’s organist and leader, that I thought I was the guy for their group. They invited me to audition the next day, and I was hired on the spot.

The many concerts I played as a featured soloist during the Pittsburgh college days taught me stage presence, how to relate to the audience, and how to get the biggest applause. That training paid off when I got this job.

Tell me about your experiences with that band.
Well, during that time I met up with E.S. Tubin, who owned a company called Ecco-Fonic. He needed someone with a high profile to use this new invention on live performances, and I was the guy now playing at the world-famous Coconut Grove with the famous Three Suns. The Ecco-Fonic was a portable box with a recording circuit and a tape cartridge; you could adjust your echo delay with the movable playback head that could be moved closer or farther from the record head. During performances I would reach back to the unit behind my Fender Bandmaster amp and get delays that were so long the audiences thought they were hearing five guitars out of my one (chuckles). I also performed on all of the Ecco-Fonic demonstration records that helped sell the unit; Joe Maphis and I played together on those demos and performed at NAMM shows. Don Randall, from Fender, began to distribute a modified solidstate version of the EccoFonic designed by Russ Allee, under the able guidance of Bob Marks from the Automata Corporation. Fender had me produce and perform on the Fender Ecco-Fonic 45 RPM record; it was used to promote the sales to guitar players.

The Ecco-Fonic was important in my situation with the Three Suns. Their sound was comprised of accordian, Hammond B-3, and electric guitar. At the time, they had the number one album in Japan, and after the Grove, we played the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas, then went on to Japan via a Japan Air Lines DC-6B. Twenty six hours one way! When we arrived at the Tokyo Airport, I saw about 2,000 people waiting at the arrival area, and when I asked why, I found out they were waiting for the Three Suns!

What was it like playing for Japanese audiences?
They were wonderful; very polite and attentive, but enthusiastic, too. We were one of the first American music groups to perform for the civilian audiences in Japan. Prior to that, only military entertainment had toured Japan.

We required a Hammond B-3 organ to follow us throughout our multi-city tour of Japan. A very thin, good-looking young man owned what seemed to be the only B-3 in Japan, and he accompanied it wherever we performed, from Hokkaido to Kyushu. During our performances he was always taking pictures of my guitar, my Ecco-Fonic, and me. He, as well as the audiences, were very amazed when I would do the “five guitars” sound with only two fingers moving; I would always place my Ecco-Fonic behind my new Fender Bandmaster amp, and after every concert in every city, Japanese musicians would offer to buy my amp for almost any price I asked! Later it hit me:they thought the amp was making the multiple-note sounds.

But the young man with the B-3 knew very well what was going on with the amp. His name is Ikutaro Kakehashi, and he’s now the Chairman of the Roland Corporation. He has become a very good friend through the years, and in the ’70s he invited me to introduce the first Roland GR-500 guitar synthesizer to Japan. I have always considered him a great genius of our time, with vision beyond imagination.

What kind of guitar were you playing on the Japanese tour with the Three Suns?
A Gibson ES-5 Switchmaster, and I’m indebted to Mr. Julius Bellson for it. He was kind and generous, and he took a personal interest in me when I was in high school. My father and I would visit the Gibson factory in Kalamazoo, and I already had an ES-350 with a cutaway. Mr. Bellson would ask Ward Arbanus and his staff to adjust the guitar, because I asked for a very low action.

During one visit, Mr. Bellson had an ES-5 Switchmaster sitting in his office. He said it had some holes drilled in the wrong places, and asked if I was interested in it. My dad and I “gulped,” because we knew a guitar like that would cost a fortune, and it was more money than we could ever afford….with or without wrong holes (chuckles)!

Mr. Bellson said he couldn’t give it to me, but would sell it to me for $75 as a courtesy. It was his way of showing us that Gibson wanted me to do well, and how they were supportive of young people. I have fond memories of that experience; of Mr. Bellson and Gibson.

With that ES-5, I figured I might as well continue the experimenting process, so I put in passive high and low-pass filters, which gave it more flexibility and more sounds. I changed the center pickup to get a brighter sound, and made a clear plastic pickguard to make it more special.

Back in the ’50s, you were also seen playing other guitars, like a Gretsch Duo-Jet.
I loved my Gretsch, and was pictured with it on the Ecco-Fonic brochure, but Artie Dunn felt that “those funny-looking solidbody small guitars” weren’t professional-looking. You have to remember bandleaders in those days. They just didn’t understand.

Part 2
In Part One, Vintage Guitar conversed with longtime Los Angeles studio guitarist Del Casher about his earlier musical efforts – from his childhood in Hammond, Indiana, through his 1959 tour of Japan with the Three Suns. In this second part of our dialogue, the discussion picks up with his subsequent musical efforts:

What kind of work did you do in the L.A. area when the Three Suns returned from Japan?
I played on Gene Autry’s “Melody Ranch” TV show every week, and used my Gibson L-4 modified electric sprucetop. After several shows, I went down to visit the Fender guitar company, and met Leo Fender. He was so gracious; if you played country music, Leo would give up his whole day and do anything for you. He gave me a Telecaster, but made me promise that I’d play it or I’d have to give it back. I loved the guitar and did play it, but I went back about a month later and told him the guitar that really excited me was the Stratocaster; I had some upcoming Motown record dates. I told him I wanted one with a maple neck, and that I wanted the front pickup to be brighter-sounding. He took a Stratocaster apart in front of me, and rewound the front coil five or six times until I was satisfied. I still cherish that Stratocaster, and am honored to own a guitar that Leo himself modified, while I watched.

I met Bill Carson back then, along with Stan Compton and Don Randall, head of Fender Sales. They were all wonderful to me. I also have a Jazzmaster, and I played a Jaguar in a Jerry Lewis film.

I built my first garage studio in 1963; guitar playing was an obsession, but so was recording on my own professional equipment. I bought two Ampex 351 stereo decks, and a Telefunken U-47 tube microphone; today I still consider that microphone to be a collector’s item. I would produce demo songs, recording my guitar rhythm parts first, just like I did at WJOB, but with the Ampex recorders I could do a lot more generations than I could with the old Magnecords.

In 1964, I appeared with Elvis Presley in his movie Roustabout. One day on the set at Paramount Pictures, Elvis’ buddy, Red West, came up to me and said, “…Elvis really likes your guitar playing and wants to get together in your garage studio when he finishes this picture, to try out some new tunes with you. Del, you’ve got to keep this very quiet because it could be a problem if people started coming in.”

After the film was done, Elvis went on tour and it never happened, but Red would come in and sing on tracks I made for Elvis to hear, and Elvis eventually did record one of the tunes that Red and I thought would be good for him. Red sang just like Elvis, and I still have the tape.

Also among the material I was able to peruse prior to this interview was a photostat of a poster for a Mothers of Invention concert.
Frank Zappa was from Cucumonga; he came by one day, said he’d heard about me, and said he wanted to record something for a singer who had a song about a Russian cosmonaut who was lost in space (chuckles). I used to get these strange requests all the time, and Frank’s request was no different. In those days he wasn’t a guitar player, so he asked me to play guitar and bass, laying down tracks using the Ecco-Fonic to get the spacey sounds, while he played on a snare drum I had in the studio. I think this was one of the first recordings Frank did when he arrived in L.A. He was very pleasant, and he looked as weird as the sounds we created, but boy, was he talented! When he played the drum, I knew something great was going on, and we enjoyed that session so much he asked me to join his new group. I politely declined because my studio schedule was beginning to happen. Later, he formed the Mothers of Invention, and he asked me to play at several of his concerts while he and his manager, Herb Cohen, were getting a record deal together; it was an interesting experience. Frank employed me to perform with him on the David Susskind TV show featuring a “Freak Out” concert. I met with Frank a few years ago and he mentioned this show to me; I’m still trying to find a copy of it.

To me, Frank was one of the most exciting musicians I’ve known, because he went beyond being a musician. When I first met him, he said he was interested in playing guitar, and asked me what was the most expensive guitar, and I told him that the most expensive one was a Gibson ES-5, like the one I had, so he went out and bought one.

He invited me to his home one evening, and instead of putting on a bunch of records and saying “listen to these,” he showed me his 8mm home movies. He was fascinated with film, and he proved that his talent was much more in-depth than just with music.

He also asked me to play one of his early concerts at U.C. Santa Barbara. During the concert, the smoke machine freaked out everybody, which is what he wanted. My wife was in the audience, and was terrified! She expressed some feelings about that on the way home from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, which is about 120 miles. I did play the Whiskey A-Go-Go on Sunset Strip with Frank…. without telling my wife where I was that night. We had a ball; we alternated sets with a kid named Lowell George and his band, Little Feat. Playing with Frank in his early days was great.

Other Los Angeles musicians of note with whom you’ve worked?
At that time, I was doing a lot of record dates in addition to operating my new studio in Hollywood in 1967. Tommy Tedesco used to call me to play on a lot of his sessions. He became a good friend and was sort of like my mentor. He showed me how to do things right for recording sessions, and hired me on many of the Fifty Guitars of Tommy Garrett albums. I worked a lot with Carol Kaye, a fabulous Fender bass player, and Hal Blaine, the most recorded drummer of all time. I’d perform on the Gene Autry TV show, then go to a record date, and I’d finish the evening with Frank Zappa. Sort of an A-to-Z music schedule (chuckles).

In the mid ’60s you became involved with another “gizmo” that was new at the time – the wah-wah pedal.
I was always looking for a new sound for the guitar. I got a call from the Thomas Organ Company, which owned Vox Guitars; they said they had a new pedal they wanted me to try. I told them I didn’t think I was interested, but they insisted. I was given the prototype wah-wah pedal by Stan Cutler, Vox’s engineer, and the minute I plugged my guitar in, I said “…this is brilliant! It had a very narrow band, so the “cut” for the midrange of the guitar was extreme. Stan told me to take it home and play it for a few days. I called him back the very next morning and told him I couldn’t give it back (laughs). So they hired me to make a promotional recording using the pedal.

I said to myself “…someone is going to become very famous with this pedal,” but I didn’t know what musical style it would be. I overdubbed my bass and three guitars with drums, using the wah-wah with some original blues, jazz, rock, country, and even sitar tunes; I recorded in my garage studio. This was 1967, and no one could imagine what Jimi Hendrix would later do with the wah-wah.

The record was pressed on a piece of plastic-coated orange cardboard that was played at 45 RPM. It says “New from Vox, the Wah-Wah Sound, Recorded in Hollywood, California, U.S.A., February 1967.” Since it was on cardboard, I didn’t think much of the pressing, and I also didn’t think I’d be talking about it 29 years later! I was paid $500, but I didn’t insist on being credited as the guitarist on the record, as I had for Ecco-Fonic records. But that’s me on it, and I have the master tapes and that rare cardboard record. I was later retained by Vox, and I demonstrated the wah-wah for James Brown, Jimmy Durante, and just about anybody else who walked in at Vox. I also appeared at the 1968 NAMM show in Chicago.

During a wah-wah press conference at the Century Plaza Hotel in L.A., TV stations were filming me jamming with the wah-wah, and a guy introduced himself and told me he wanted me to play on his film scores. His name was Vic Mizzy; he was the composer for “Green Acres,” “The Addams Family,” and other shows. Vic and I became great friends; he hired me as the first musician to use the wah-wah pedal on films. The first movie soundtracks I used the wah-wah on were The Shakiest Gun in the West and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. I have a photo of Vic conducting and me with the prototype wah-wah on the recording stage of MGM, we’re playing on the Tony Curtis movie Don’t Make Waves. Vic became a very big wah-wah fan, using this sound on practically everything he did from then on. Even Tommy Tedesco had to buy one, since he also did a lot of work for Vic.

Were you involved with any other innovative products from Thomas/Vox back then?
Yes, I produced and played on a Vox album with Bill Page, who led the Vox Ampliphonic Orchestra. Bill had just left the Lawrence Welk TV show, and was in charge of promoting the wah-wah pedal for use in big bands. We used wah-wah for saxophones, trumpets, clarinets, bass clarinets, and even a wah-wah bassoon, along with my wah-wah guitar. We recorded tunes by the Beatles, old standards, originals, and just about anything we thought would get a listener’s attention. I still have the records and photos of this orchestra. It was really unique, because the music stands were triangular amplified speakers that said “Vox” on the front, and each one had its own built-in wah-wah pedal.

One day, Joe Banaran, Vox’s President, asked me what they should call this version of the wah-wah pedal, because they planned on promoting it to big band players. I remembered hearing “Sugar Blues” by Clyde McCoy when I was a kid; he used a mute on his trumpet to get a “talking” sound, so I told Joe to call it the Clyde McCoy wah-wah, and that’s exactly what he did.

Were you ever a Fender endorser?
Yes, when I came to California, Fender’s Fretts magazine did a feature article on me with a cover photo. Through the years, Fender has always been great to me. Dan Smith has been a good friend, and Mike Caroff, a brilliant writer who’s with Fender’s Frontline magazine, wrote a very nice article about me a few years ago, about my transition into recording post-production sound for the film industry.

You alluded earlier to hooking back up with Mr. Kakehashi in the mid ’70s, when they were developing their guitar synthesizer.
Mr. Kakehashi has vision, patience, and passion for the guitar, and for anything else he does. He wanted to see the guitar become the “equivalent” to what the keyboard synthesizer could do, and he contacted me in 1976, when he learned I was in Los Angeles and I had a recording studio. We discussed his new ideas for Roland’s GR-500 guitar synthesizer, and he asked me what model of guitar was most popular with players. I said “…either a Fender Strat or a Les Paul,” so they made the GR-500 in a Les Paul shape. He brought his new prototype to my studio; Bill Botrell was my engineer then, and we recorded this guitar on my 16-track, overdubbing all of the different voices the GR-500 could possibly make, then we mixed it down.

It sounded like 30 players on the tape! Mr. Kakehashi and I were amazed and very pleased. He took the tape to a trade show in Germany and played it for Bruce Bolen, who was then with Gibson. He was astounded; he didn’t think a guitar could do what the GR-500 was doing.

When we got a final model we both liked, Mr. Kakehashi brought me to Japan to introduce the GR-500 to Japan’s press; I also made public appearances on TV. Then we introduced it at the 1977 NAMM summer show in Atlanta. Mr. Kakehashi was most generous; he treated my wife and me like royalty, during our trip to Japan.

Any other devices with which you’ve been associated?

Yes, the Foster Freaky. A friend of mine, Don Foster, built a gadget that made a swishing, phasing sound, like the guitar was coming over a short wave radio. At that time there were no phasers or flangers in the recording industry, unless you got the effect by using two tape recorders; that’s were the word “flanging” comes from. Flanges are the metal reels on professional tape recorders that can be taken apart. The cool thing about this gadget was that I could “flange” or “swish” by rotating a knob.

About that time, in 1971, NBC in Los Angeles asked me to come up with a new sound for their closing theme for “NBC News Center 4,” just before the Johnny Carson show. The Foster Freaky had the perfect sound for this project. I used my Vox Ultra-Sonic wah-wah guitar with distortion, and my Fender Telecaster for the lead guitar, through a modified GE tube phono preamp for guitar equalization.

It was an immediate smash hit; everyone thought it was some kind of new synthesizer. The TV audience demanded to know where they could buy this record, but there wasn’t any record; I had only recorded what they asked: 30 seconds of a closing theme. Tom Brokaw and Tom Snyder, then part of the NBC News team in L.A., often commented at the end of the news how much they and their viewers liked this theme. An NBC executive called me one day and said that I had to make a record, because requests were coming in every day. So I edited the original version, extended it to two minutes, and added a violin section. It was flattering to have a major network ask me to make a record to sell to their news audience! The theme played from may 1971 through 1986, and was the longest-running theme NBC has ever had. But nobody has ever heard of the Foster Freaky or knew it was me playing that theme except for ASCAP, which paid me my royalties every month all those years!

Tell me about some of the work you’ve done with famous performers.
Dick Stabile, the orchestra director for the Coconut Grove, would call me whenever a new artist appearing needed guitar for their arrangements. This required very astute reading of charts, and Dick was very comfortable with my work. I worked with Eddy Arnold, Connie Francis, Bobby Vinton, Julie London, Bobby Troup, Buddy Rogers, Bob Hope, Peggy Lee, Buddy Ebsen, Donald O’Connor, Danny Thomas, and many others.

I recorded with Burt Bacharach and Gene Page, who was the arranger/conductor for a lot of the Motown hits. I also recorded with the Ray Conniff Orchestra, Sonny and Cher, and Phil Spector and his “wall of sound” efforts. I produced several albums by the Billy Vaughn Orchestra for JVC, using Bill Bottrell as my engineer. Bill recently received the producer Grammy Award for Sheryl Crow, and he was Michael Jackson and Madonna’s engineer. He started his career with me, and I’m very proud of him. I appeared as guest solo artist on the Lawrence Welk TV show when Buddy Merrill left for the service.

What about your work on movie soundtracks?
I recorded the balalaika and tamburitza for Warren Beatty’s film Love Affair, with Annette Benning. He liked what I did, so he put me in the movie. Earlier, I did the Matt Helm films with Dean Martin, The Patsy with Jerry Lewis, Roustabout with Elvis, My Girl for Columbia-Sony Pictures, and others.

Recently, I composed and performed the soundtrack score on a new film, using my MIDI guitar as the entire orchestra. All of the sounds are samples, using French horns, bassoons, brass, vibes, strings, and tymp. The sound is very sensitive, different and very real because everything is phrased from the guitar, just as I had envisioned 20 years ago.

At the first Santa Monica show, you renewed a friendship with R.C. Allen, who had some instruments on display at our booth.
Dick was one of the first people I met when I came to California. He’s a very talented luthier, and he introduced me to a lot of people. He built me a great plectrum banjo; it sounds terrific. He also makes great guitars; Dick is one of the best in everything he does.

How many different fretted instruments do you play?
I have about 45 instruments, and many of them are guitars with modified electronics, tunings, altered bridges, and hand-wound pickups. I also play bouzouki, tamburitza, oud, balalaika, electric mandolin, 12-string mando-guitar, plectrum and 5-string banjo, tenor and baritone uke, and a modified Gretsch electric 12-string guitar.

What do you think is the most-often-heard example of your playing over the years?
Probably the early wah-wah soundtracks for “Green Acres” and “Chico and the Man,” and of course the “NBC News Center 4″ theme.

Over the decades, what do you think was your toughest assignment?
I think the toughest, but most lucrative, was when I was musical director for “The New Zoo Revue,” a syndicated children’s show that ran for four years in the early ’70s. Each show had three songs, which meant 15 songs had to be written, then arranged by me, and recorded each Wednesday for use on shows that began the next Monday. It wasn’t difficult, but it was probably the most stressful, because after writing the arrangements, I would have to call the players in, conduct and play guitar on the sessions, then I’d stay over to mix down the tracks for the singers to overdub during the next few days. It was like producing an album a week!

On the flip side, what about the best assignment, or the one that was the most fun?
I think playing those concerts with Frank Zappa was the most fun, because as a studio player I was constantly being told “…play it this way,” “…don’t play this,” or “…you’re playing too loud,” so I was confined. But Frank would turn to me onstage and say “…take 20 choruses.” When I’d get to the twentieth one, with the audience cheering wildly, he’d say “…take five more.” I felt like I had the freedom to go on forever.

Looking to the future, you’re a big proponent of MIDI guitar.
Ever since Mr. Kakehashi came to me with his first synthesizer guitar, I’ve known that the guitar as an orchestra was no longer a dream, but a reality that he helped make come true. So many times, on my TV productions or albums, I needed to play the piano, or needed to overdub a clarinet or trombone. Now I can phrase what I hear in my head without having to explain it. All I have to do is play it. I think the only limit to the MIDI digital musical world now is one’s imagination and playing ability.

But some of the old guitars still sound good.
You bet! I recently recorded my trio in my new post-production facility in Burbank, using my Stromberg and my Fender/D’Aquisto acoustic. Al Vescovo had his fabulous old Gibson L-7, and Fernando Cortez was on bass. We recorded “one-takes,” with no overdubs, all to digital tape. If we made a mistake, we stopped and got a good take straight through. It’s a satisfying sound that no synthesizer can create. That’s why I never use guitar samples on my film scores. I will always use the real guitar.



Readers may have noticed Del Casher’s answers are usually quite meticulous, which is probably how he also approaches his studio work. Casher has had more unique experiences in his musical career than most players, but he’s certainly not the type to rest on his laurels. He’s still pursuing the latest musical innovations, from where he began with Ecco-Fonic to today’s MIDI, to further his knowledge and abilities. That’s an admirable legacy.



Photo: Preston L. Gtatiot

This article originally appeared in VG‘s Jan. and Feb. ’97 issues. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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