For guitar lovers and roots-music fans, the place to be in July ’13 was British Columbia. The Vancouver Island MusicFest held a true summit meeting of masters of the Telecaster (with an asterisk).
Britain’s Albert Lee is acclaimed for his work with Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton, the Everly Brothers, and others. Amos Garrett played the beautifully quirky solo on Maria Muldaur’s “Midnight At The Oasis,” and also worked with Harris, Paul Butterfield, Jerry Garcia, and others. His formative years were spent in Toronto, where David Wilcox is based; Canada’s best-kept secret, his “Rockin’ The Boogie” was cued up for Olympic figure skaters Sale and Peltier. And James Burton’s work with Ricky Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Elvis Presley, to name a few, influenced thousands of guitarists.
For those who missed the Vancouver jam, a tape of the show is now on a CD called Guitar Heroes – no overdubs, fixes, or edits. Burton used his Fender namesake Tele, while Lee earned the asterisk playing his Music Man Albert Lee Signature Model. “I love it,” he says. “But, every now and then I get the urge to pick up a Tele, which is a totally different beast.”
“I still have the Tele I bought in ’78,” says Wilcox. “It has the original Tele pickups plus a Seymour Duncan humbucker, a DeArmond, and four toggle switches. I can get every possible tone combination.”
Garrett used his ’91 Fender Tele Custom. “Factory bridge pickup; [middle position] Seymour Duncan Quarter Pounder Strat with a reverse magnet, reverse wound, and the neck pickup is a Lace Sensor Red. It has a five-position Strat toggle.”
“The person I copied most when I got my first electric guitar was James Burton,” says Wilcox. “It was wonderful to get to tell him that and play with him.”
Garrett concurs. “One of the coolest things was getting to hang with James for a couple days. I’m only two years younger than him, [but] I told him I picked up guitar because I heard him on [Dale Hawkins’] ‘Suzy-Q’ and Chuck Berry.”
Lee replaced Burton in Emmylou’s Hot Band. “James and Jimmy Bryant cover a lot of what I do. And, Amos is an influence on me. I definitely knew the direction I was going, but once I heard him I said, ‘Boy, this guy is doing it right!’ I learned a lot, watching him.”
Wilcox replaced Garrett (in Ian Tyson’s Great Speckled Bird) and was hired by him (for Muldaur’s band). “In ’63 or ’64, there were two scenes in Toronto – a folk scene and a rock and roll scene,” Garrett explains. “[They] collided in a nice way, and I was in the middle of it. In the Great Speckled Bird, I wasn’t James or Albert, but I infused a certain amount of ‘Amos’ stuff.’”
Lee plays with a flatpick, simultaneously using his middle and ring fingers. Burton’s wrinkle on that method involves both a flatpick and one fingerpick, on his middle finger. Garrett details, “For most of my career, I used flatpick and fingerpicks, but I switched to acrylic fingernails. I use a thumbpick, and acrylic nails on my first, second, and third fingers.”
“I use a thumbpick and bare fingers,”added Wilcox. “I like to hear it played like a guitar – bends, chokes and contrapuntal stuff that only a guitar can do. That’s what I like.”
Garrett is a pioneer of multi-string bending, raising two strings to different intervals, to evoke a pedal steel. “The only person I heard doing it before I started to was using a mechanical B-bender, and that was Clarence White,” he says. “I didn’t know of anyone doing it manually before me – and very few since. It’s hard.”
His bending showcase on the CD is the Santo & Johnny hit “Sleep Walk.” The rest of the repertoire ranges from “Susie-Q” to “Polk Salad Annie,” some tasty Wilcox slide on Jimmy Rogers’ “You’re The One,” and Lee’s show-stopping “Country Boy.”
“It was a mutual admiration thing,” says Lee. “We found tunes that would suit us all, flew in, and before we knew it we were on stage.”
This article originally appeared in VG July 2015 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.