Vintage Guitar Magazine 6/94
by Jim Hilmar

The Most Exciting Guitar

This month's "SPOTLIGHT" LP features the extraordinary guitar skills of one of the finest "cowboy jazz" players ever - Roy Lanham. While Roy was very busy as a leader, sideman and studio musician as far back as the 1940's, (and continuing through the 50's 60's, 70's and 80's) his name is not nearly as well known today as it should be.

Roy's first prominent exposure came in Cincinnati as a staff guitarist for radio station WLW, which was a fertile proving ground for many other stellar country musicians and performers including Homer & Jethro, Merle Travis, Joe Maphis, Hank Penny and Grandpa Jones. At the same time Roy was the leader of the very fine vocal/instrumental group The Whippoorwills. (The Whippoorwills line-up featured Roy on lead guitar and vocals, Doug Dalton Image of the cover of THE MOST EXCITING GUITAR album on mandolin and vocals, Dusty Rhoads on bass and vocals, Gene Monbeck on rhythm guitar and vocals, and Juanita Vastine/" Sweet Georgia Brown" on vocals.) The Whippoorwills program might include an old western vocal like "Skyball Paint" or a pop-flavored tune like "Blue Raindrops" followed by an absolutely blistering instrumental like "Air Mail Special", "Stompin' At The Savoy" or a rousing version of "Tea For Two".

Roy was an active session musician and appeared on records by artists like the Delmore Brothers (on King)

In the early 1960's Roy joined the legendary Sons of the Pioneers as a lead guitarist/vocalist. He was active with them through the 60's, 70's, and much of the 80's until health problems forced him to retire. Roy passed away in early 1991 and the guitar community lost a unique and gifted player.

The Most Exciting Guitar was recorded for Seattle-based Dolton Records some time in 1959 and released in 1961. Roy displays his versatility by adroitly handling pop tunes, jazz standards and country classics. And lending his trademark style (constantly melodic - always swinging) to each one. Roy's guitar technique was so unique! His approach to chord melody was unlike any other guitarist I've ever heard. Truly innovative, he used incredibly hip chord inversions with very cool voicings and liberally mixed a pick and fingerstyle technique. He also was one of the very few jazz oriented professional guitarists (possible the only one??) to regularly use a Fender Jazzmaster. (Check out the Jazzmaster on the cover of LP. It's Fiesta Red with a cool tortoise 'guard. Nice tux too!) This gave him a very unusual tone: a rich jazz sound perfectly blended with country twang. (He occasionally used a Fender Jaguar and I've seen photos of Roy playing Strat and even a Duo-Sonic. Not exactly your typical jazz boxes!!)

"Lost Weekend" starts this LP off in fine fashion. This mid 40's Woody Herman chart features some fancy single note pickin' paired with Roy's interesting chord work. Definitely swingin'! "Where Or When" is just incredible! This is my all-time favorite version of this beautiful Rodgers & Hart song. Roy's wonderful chord melody-based arrangement moves along quite a bit faster than most versions of this song. His ultra-cool chords and imaginative voicings really make this highlight of the LP. (I like this one so much that I adapted it for my style of playing and try to play much of it just like Roy - although my tempo is a bit slower and I'm sure that many of my voicings aren't exactly perfect.) Even the ending is cool! "Body and Soul" gets a beautifully lush arrangement as does "As Time Goes By". And once again, Roy's very distinctive chords highlight both of these songs.

Roy gets some very fine support from two veteran players, Red Wootten on bass and Earl Palmer on drums. These guys really lay down a solid groove on every tune, including the exceptionally fine cover of the Charlie Christian/Benny Goodman song "A Smooth One". Roy really works the chords on this one!

Roy's country roots are well represented by the country/steel guitar classic, "Steel Guitar Rag", which gets a brisk up-tempo treatment. Very cool! He also pulls out another country classic, "Wildwood Flower", in which he effortlessly navigates from Mother Maybelle Carter's "drop thumb style" to Travis/Atkins "thumb style" to pick style - and back again. "Lover Come Back to Me" features some intricate chords for the melody and a signature/trademark Roy Lanham "lick" for the ending. (Jay Lacy astutely copped his "lick" for the ending to "Up A Lazy River"/"Sweet Georgia Brown" on his CD Back to the Tone Age.) The "Kerry Dance" is another uptempo selection and it features a very hot chord solo/sequence expertly sandwiched between two fine single note solos. The Most Exciting Guitar concludes with the great old fiddle standard "Old Joe Clark". Roy starts it off with a very jazzy (and subdued) introduction and then goes into the main melody at a blistering pace. There's a lot of interesting single note and chord-based things happening on this one. Very nifty!

At some point in the future I hope to do a more in-depth profile of Roy. Until then, I hope this "SPOTLIGHT" column will interest some of you who don't know about Roy to look for his records. (Unfortunately, finding Roy's records probably won't be real easy. They've been out of print for years. But trust me, the search is worth it.) The easiest way to get a small sampling of Roy's awesome ability is to pick up the fine CD Legends of Guitar - Country, Vol. 1 (Rhino Records CD R2 70718). This CD features the track "Lost Weekend", the only Roy Lanham material I'm aware of that is available on U.S. compact disc under his own name. Hey Dolton/Liberty/EMI!! How about a CD reissue of The Most Exciting Guitar?

The Most Exciting Guitar is available in stereo on Dolton LP BST 8009 or in mono on Dolton LP BLP 2009.

Special THANKS to Deke Dickerson for putting me on to some of Roy's Sage & Sand material that I wasn't familiar with. And - EXTRA SPECIAL THANKS to Jeff Heinz and Dusty Rhoads for the very cool Whippoorwills radio broadcast transcriptions.

A final note on a separate topic: Fans of steel guitar will be happy to hear about a book I'm working on. Tentatively titled "Steel Guitar: The players and the Music", it will be published by Centerstream Publishing and distributed by Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation. (These are the same folks who brought you Jay Scott's book on Gretsch instruments and Richard Smith's fine book on Rickenbacker guitars.) If you're a fan of steel guitar I encourage you to write or call me if you have old photos, albums, ideas, information, etc. Or if you just want to talk about your favorite steel player(s).

The author welcomes correspondence with fellow fans of guitar music. He listens to a wide range of styles but his special interests are in the instrumental jazz, "cowboy jazz", and country vein. Steel guitar too. Write to Jim Hilmar at 7903 18th Avenue SW, Seattle, WA 98106. Or call him at (206)767-7840.

Jim Hilmar
7903 18th Ave SW,
Seattle, Wa. 98106

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