Volume #22, Issue #1
Gibson Guitar Centennial Celebration
By J.C. Juanis and Toni A. Brown
Gibson Guitars, the premier maker of fine, hand-made, American stringed instruments, celebrated its 100th anniversary with an all-star concert at the legendary Filmore Auditorium in November. Based in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Gibson originally made acoustic guitars and mandolins. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, however, they teamed up with pioneer Les Paul, who developed an electrified guitar called The Log, which would later bear his own name, The Gibson "Les Paul".
Helping Gibson Guitars celebrate is centennial were some of the finest players to ever pick up a guitar: Hot Tuna's Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Cassidy and Michael Falzarano; Bob Weir; Gregg Allman; Little Feat's Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett; Elvin Bishop; Moby Grape's Jerry Miller; Harvey Mendel; Country Joe and The Fish; Greg Kihn and Joe Louis Walker, among others. Also on hand was The Brotherhood of Lights, who contributed a mind-blowing psychedelic light show and, of course, no Bay Area party would be complete without master of ceremonies Wavy Gravy, who told some of his timeless stories.
The evening's house band included keyboardist Merl Saunders and son Tony Saunders on bass, Tim Gorman on keyboards, Josh Ramos, Dennis Robbins and Henry Juszkiewicz on guitar and Narada Michael Walden on drums. Saunders and friends opened the show with a brilliant set that featured many of the legendary keyboardist's favorites, including "Do I Move You?", "Built for Comfort" and "Dance with Me". Saunders, wearing his trademark leather cap and wide grin, won the packed crowd over easily with his infectious rhythms and good-time vibes.
The audience was also treated to the reunion of Country Joe and The Fish. Country Joe McDonald was joined by old cohorts Barry "The Fish" Melton on guitar and Bruce Barthol on bass. These old pros brought everyone back to that bygone era with a short set that touched the hearts of all. Country Joe and The Fish often headlined The Fillmore and a recently-released recording from 1968 titled Live at Fillmore West (Vanguard) features many musical friends. These days, while Country Joe performs around the world, Barry Melton is the Public Defender in Uklah, California, and Barthol is the musical director of the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Country Joe and The Fish performed a short set that included "Not-So-Sweet Martha Lorraine", "Flying High" and "The Masked Marauder".
Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett from Little Feat sparkled during their set that was comprised of "Dixie Chicken", "Down on the Farm" and "Old Folks Boogie". Barrere's tasty slide guitar work was a marvel to behold, while Tackett proved to be no slouch when it came time to jam.
Guitar hero Harvey Mandel was joined by an all-star cast that included Grammy Award-winning producer Narda Michael Walden on drums, Tony Saunders on bass and Merl Saunders on organ. Mandel's explosive set packed a wallop as the virtuoso guitar-slinger proved to be in top form, playing before his peers. The same could be said of former Moby Grape guitarist Jerry Miller, who demonstrated his legendary skill on his vintage Gibson L-5 from the Grape days and wowed the audience with a potent 20-minute set that included roadhouse rockers and down and out blues. Miller dazzled the house on original tunes such as "My Old 89", "Now I See" and "Runnin' with the Devil". He was joined by Tiran Porter from the Doobie Brothers on bass, Fuzzy Thurston on drums, Boots Hughston on sax and both Dale Ockerman and Merl Saunders on keyboards.
Greg Kihn charmed the house with some material from his new album, Mutiny. Fiddler Scott Joss of Dwight Yoakam's band highlighted the featured material.
Then came Joe Louis Walker, a fixture on the Bay Area music scene for over three decades. Walker has become one of the new generation of blues guitarists and fresh from a gig in Amsterdam with his band, The Boss Talkers, was sensational.
Elvin Bishop also turned a few heads with his outstanding program that included a gorgeous instrumental of the old classic, "In the Still of the Night", followed by "Fooled Around and Fell in Love" and "Give Me Some of that Money".
Gregg Allman came out and performed a couple of emotional acoustic numbers: "Melissa" and "Midnight Rider". Performing on the anniversary of what would have been his late brother Duane's 45th birthday, Allman's haunting vocals stirred everyone in the packed Fillmore.
Allman also joined the concert's headliners, Hot Tuna, sitting in on his Hammond B-3 organ for "Hesitation Blues" and "99 Year Blues". Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassidy were scorching during a long stellar rendition of "Ice Age". Pete Sears was also right on the money, adding some rollicking piano throughout the set. Michael Falzarano rocked the house with an incendiary version of "AK-47". The Grateful Dead's Bob Weir and Quicksilver Messenger Service drummer Greg Elmore then joined Hot Tuna for a jam that will certainly go down as one of the Bay Area's best. Weir led the group with a spirited reading of "Walkin' Blues".
Then the no-holds-barred, long-awaited jam took flight. Hot Tuna, Weir and Elmore were joined by Greg Allman, Jerry Miller, Scott Joss, Merl Saunders, Dennis Robbins, Henry Juszkiewicz (Gibson CEO) and Harvey Mandel for a freewheeling jam on "Key to the Highway". The high-energy jam was replaced by a splendidly moving version of the Allman's "One Way Out", featuring Allman at his best. Each guitarist had an opportunity during the several jam numbers to take an excursion on his own. Allman provided the vocals on "Trouble in Mind" while Kaukonen led the assembled guitar army with screaming ear-bursting guitar solos. Bob Weir brough the band into a jamming version of Bob Dylan's "Maggie's Farm" to close out the show.
As Gibson Guitars enters the next century, they need not worry about a shortage of outstanding musicians to tout its fine product. As Gibson so eloquently states, "Gibson Guitars: American Made, World Played".
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