Like many people, I’ve had some great experiences in my life. I’m lucky that many of them revolved around music.
I was fortunate enough to attend many major music festivals. I went to several Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960’s. I also went to the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. I was 16 and my Uncle Ed, the man who raised me, was in his 80’s. We had great seats and saw some incredible musicians. I must admit, while I love the music of Ravi Shankar, I made a few trips to the food and vendor area during his 4 ½ hour set. He was better with hot dogs and French Fries.
While perusing the Fender Music Booth in the vendor area, a saw a young man in his early 20’s checking out the new guitars. I recognized him as Mike Bloomfield. Ed and I had seen him in New York with the Butterfield Blues Band a few times. He was now with the new super group, “The Electric Flag.” He was an amazing guitarist and proof positive that white guys could play the blues.
While he was mostly a Gibson Guy, he was checking out Fender Guitars that were on display. A shy, nerdy 16-year-old, I was in awe of one of my guitar heroes. I finally got up the courage to speak to him. He was cool, asked me if I played and we had a nice conversation about music. My knowledge of classic blues gave us some nice common ground.
He asked me if I was going to try out any of the guitars. I told him I was just looking. He took me over to the man in charge of the booth and introduced me, telling him I wanted to try out some of the new Fender Guitars. He said goodbye and left the booth. The man from Fender was very nice and plugged in a couple of guitars for me to try. When I finished, I thanked him and told him I wouldn’t forget his kindness.
Mike Bloomfield and the Electric Flag tore up the crowd. I was sitting just a few rows from the stage and was able to watch his fingers fly across the fingerboard of his Gibson Les Paul. I followed his career after that. He did some amazing work, both solo and with other musicians. Like so many artists, he fought a lifelong battle with drugs. In 1981, at age 37, he was found dead in his car in San Francisco. No drugs in his system. A great loss to the music community.
While I have guitars from many other companies, I never forgot the kindness of Mike and the Fender rep. I have many Fender Guitars in my collection, some deliberately, some by “happy accident.”
My dear friend, Ron Popeil, was at a charity auction one night. They were auctioning off an American-Made Fender Stratocaster, signed by Pete Townsend. The movie mogul Marvin Davis began to bid on it. Ron knew I was a huge Who fan and started to bid against him. As you might imagine, Marvin was highly competitive, but then, so is Ron. I wish I could have seen these two men, neither of whom was used to hearing “no,” battling over a Pete Townsend guitar.
I have heard from reliable sources who were there that it became a fierce bidding war. Ron finally outbid the mogul, making this signed guitar probably the most expensive instrument I will ever own. I cherish it. I have played it a few times and it is as sweet as you can imagine. The lace sensor pickups give it a very rich sound.
Another Fender tale: New Year’s Eve Day, I saw a Fender Custom Esquire at the Sam Ash store in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. I played it and really loved the sound and the action. I bought it. While I live over 3,000 miles from the store at the moment, it is still my favorite music store. It’s managed by an amazing musician and dear friend, Joe Ward.
I never played the Custom Esquire out, but I do play it at home quite often. It’s smooth but still has the kick you’d expect from a guitar like this.
Yet another Fender “happy accident,” happened a few years ago when the Golden One Center in Sacramento had a contest to write a Beatles’ parody to celebrate the first show at the center – Paul McCartney. A Facebook friend alerted me about the contest. I wrote a parody of “Blackbird” and sent it in. I won the Beatles’ themed (Rubber Soul) guitar in the cover photo. It’s an acoustic electric and is a really fine guitar.
I was almost 60 pounds heavier when I recorded the video parody. Chemo destroyed my metabolism for a few years. I’m a lot lighter and happier today, but very proud that I won the guitar.
I have other Fender Guitars, even a resophonic and a lap steel. And I have very fond memories of the kindness exhibited by a young bluesman and a Fender representative at Monterey in 1967.
© 2021 Steve Bryant – No portion of this or any blog can be reproduced or copied and posted on any online site or read aloud on any audio or video media without the express permission of the author.
Fascinating stories! Always look forward to your sharing your memories.