The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six to celebrate the beauty of music in different flavors, six tunes at a time. Before getting to that, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge today’s 21st anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks on the U.S. One thing that came out of the unspeakable horror that day was a strong sense of solidarity to come together. I feel we could badly need some of that spirit today. Back to what this blog aims to be, a “happy destination” that leaves any troubles you may have behind, at least while you’re here!

Dave Stewart/Lily Was Here (feat. Candy Dulfer)

The first stop on today’s musical excursion is the year 1989 and a beautiful smooth jazz track I was reminded of the other day. English musician, songwriter and producer Dave Stewart is best known for being one half of Eurythmics, the British pop duo he launched with Scottish singer-songwriter Annie Lennox in 1980. Candy Dulfer is a Dutch jazz and pop saxophonist. The daughter of Dutch tenor saxophonist Hans Dulfer began playing the drums as a five-year-old before discovering the saxophone a year later. Since the age of seven, she has focused on the tenor saxophone. By the time she was 11, Dulfer made her first recordings for her father’s jazz band De Perikels (the perils). Three years later, she opened up two European concerts for Madonna with her own band Funky Stuff. In 1989, Stewart invited Dulfer to play sax on Lily Was Here, an instrumental he had composed for the soundtrack of a Dutch movie of the same name. The single became a no. 1 in The Netherlands and a top 20 in several other European countries, Australia and the U.S. It encouraged Dulfer to launch a solo career, which continues to this day. Hard-core jazz aficionados may consider the track to be “on the light side,” but I absolutely love it, mainly because of Dulfer’s amazing saxophone part!

Dire Straits/Once Upon a Time In the West

For this next track, we’re going to jump back 1o years to June 1979, which saw the release of Dire Straits’ sophomore album Communiqué. After the British rock band had received favorable reviews for their eponymous debut that had come out the year before, critics were generally lukewarm about the follow-up. Many felt it sounded too similar to Dire Straits. While that is not an unfair observation, I still like Communiqué and especially this tune, Once Upon a Time In the West. Written by Mark Knopfler, it also became a U.S. single in October of the same year. Unlike the internationally successful Sultans of Swing, Once Upon a Time In the West missed the charts altogether. In my opinion, that’s unfortunate – I just love that Mark Knopfler signature Fender Stratocaster guitar sound!

Lucinda Williams/Metal Firecracker

Since I saw Lucinda Williams open up for Bonnie Raitt in Philadelphia back in June, I’ve been planning to explore the catalog of the American singer-songwriter. While I featured her in a Sunday Six installment in August with a tune from her ninth studio album Little Honey from October 2008, I haven’t made much progress to date – too much great music, too little time! Metal Firecracker, penned by Williams, is from Car Wheels On a Gravel Road. Her fifth studio album, released in June 1998, marked her commercial breakthrough. Nine additional studio albums have since appeared. Luckily, Williams largely recovered from a debilitating stroke she suffered in November 2020 and was able to resume performing. I love this tune – check out this neat electric guitar sound! Based on the credits listed underneath the YouTube clip, it appears that part was played by Gurf Morlix who was a member of Williams’ backing band from 1985 until 1996 and co-produced her 1988 eponymous studio album and the 1992 follow-on Sweet Old World.

Creedence Clearwater Revival/Green River

Okay, we’re four stops into this trip, so don’t you agree it’s time for some ’60s music? I trust Creedence Clearwater Revival don’t need much if any introduction. The American rock band led by singer-songwriter John Fogerty (lead guitar, vocals) was active under that name between 1967 and 1972. Initially, the members of the group, who also included John’s brother Tom Fogerty (rhythm guitar), Stu Cook (bass) and Doug Clifford (drums), had performed as The Blue Velvets (1959-1964) and The Golliwogs (1964-1967). For some reason, that latter name always reminds me of the Gremlins! Green River, written by John Fogerty, was the great title track of CCR’s third studio album that appeared in August 1969. It also became the record’s second single in July that year, one month ahead of the group’s performance at the Woodstock music festival.

Robert Plant/Turnaround

Let’s travel to the current century. The year is 2006. The month is November. That’s when Robert Plant released a box set titled Nine Lives. It features remastered and expanded editions of nine albums the ex-Led Zeppelin vocalist released post-Zep between 1982 and 2005, both under his name and The Honeydrippers. Turnaround was first recorded during the sessions for Plant’s sophomore solo album The Principle of Moments released in July 1983, but the tune didn’t make the album. In addition to being featured on this box set, the tune is included as a bonus track on a 2007 remastered version of the aforementioned second solo effort by Plant.

Buddy Guy/We Go Back (feat. Mavis Staples)

And once again, we’ve reached the point to wrap up another Sunday Six, and I have a real goodie: We Go Back, the second single from Buddy Guy’s upcoming new album The Blues Don’t Lie. The 86-year-old blues guitar legend’s 34th record is scheduled for September 30. The release date marks the 65th anniversary of Guy’s arrival in Chicago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This ambassador of the blues is just incredible! On the nostalgic We Go Back, released on September 2nd and co-written by Richard Fleming and Guy’s longtime collaborator, drummer and producer Tom Hambridge, Guy is joined by none other than Mavis Staples. What an amazing duo and tune – really looking forward to that album!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist featuring the above tunes. Hope there’s something you dig!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

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The Hardware: Fender Telecaster

World’s first commercially successful solid-body electric guitar continues to be popular to this day, more than 65 years after its introduction

Similar to the Fender Stratocaster and the Gibson Les Paul, which I covered in previous posts here and here, I could have called the Fender Telecaster the quintessential electric guitar. After all, that model predated the Stratocaster and the Les Paul by three years and one year, respectively. And while Paul Bigsby built the first solid-body for country and western artist Merle Travis in 1948, it was the Telecaster that became the first such electric guitar that was manufactured on a substantial scale.

But the truth is “quintessential” is largely in the eye of the beholder. I always loved the seductive shape of the Stratocaster. I also thought Mark Knopfler created such a cool signature sound with it on Sultans of Swing, Once Upon a Time In the West and other early Dire Straits classics. Ultimately, that’s why I feel the Strat is THE electric guitar and wrote about it first. On to the Telecaster.

The Telecaster was developed by inventor Leo Fender, the founder of the Fender Electric Instrument Company. He built the first prototype in the fall of 1949 and introduced it to the market in 1950 as the Fender Esquire, a solid-body with one single-coil pickup. But the Esquire was hampered by quality issues, especially around the guitar neck that easily bent, so it was only produced in limited numbers.

Fender Esquire 1951
Fender Esquire 1951

Fender addressed the lacking neck stability with the placement of a tross rod. He also added a second single-coil pickup to the guitar and renamed it the Fender Broadcaster. That name was very similar to Broadkaster drum sets made by Gretsch, so needed it be changed. The Broadcaster became the Telecaster in 1951, and the guitar has been sold under that brand name ever since.

The Telecaster featured several innovations and used production techniques that made manufacturing and repairing the guitar more cost-effective compared to models from Gibson and other manufacturers. Rather than constructing the Telecaster individually, Fender introduced the production of components that could easily be put together into the finished product on an assembly line.

Fender Telecaster 1951
1951 Fender Telecaster

Unlike the traditional glued in neck, the Telecaster had a “bolt-on” neck. Not only did this make production easier, but it also allowed for faster repair or replacement of the neck. Additionally, the neck on the classic Telecaster was made from a single piece of maple without a separate fingerboard.

Moreover, the bodies of the Telecaster were built with solid pieces of wood instead of being hand-carved individually. The Telecaster also featured easily accessible electronics. This was made possible through a removable control plate. In contrast, the electronics of the then-predominant hollow-body electric guitars could only be accessed through the soundholes.

Fender Telecaster Electronics Control Plate
Telecaster control plate for electonics

Unlike the Stratocaster, which got a lukewarm initial reception from many guitarists, the Telecaster was an immediate hit. This can be explained by the guitar’s distinct properties, which according to Reverb include: “A bridge pickup tone like to no other. The definition of twang when clean. The definition of rock when dirty; Liberating simplicity. Two pickups, two knobs, six strings, no frills. It forces you to be a better player; Surprising versatility. Across three pickup positions, different tone knob positions and varying levels of gain, the Tele is capable of an unexpected number of voices.”

I think it’s mainly the guitar’s versatility, which has made the Telecaster a staple in country, electric blues, rock & roll and other music genres. Like in the case of the Stratocaster and the Les Paul, several customized versions of the Telecaster have appeared over the decades. These variants feature different pickup configurations like a humbucker in the neck position, dual humbuckers and three single-coil pickups. There is also a semi-hollow version called the Telecaster Thinline.

Now comes the part of this type of gear-focused post that excites me the most – a list of musicians who have championed the equipment.

James Burton

American guitarist James Burton, who has performed with Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Roy Orbison and many others, has played a Telecaster since age 13 and is considered to be the most visible Tele player in the late ’50s. Here’s a great clip of Burton performing Johnny B. Goode live with Presley.

Albert Lee

Also known as Mr. Telecaster, English guitarist Albert Lee has played a Telecaster since 1963. Here is a cool live clip from the early ’70s of Lee performing Country Boy with British country rock band Heads Hands & Feet – holy moly!

Albert Collins

American electric blues guitarist Albert Collins was called The Master of the Telecaster. The Fender Custom Shop offers an Albert Collins Signature Telecaster, which is based on his 1966 model featuring a humbucker pickup in the neck position. Here’s Collins with Iceman, the title song of his tenth and final studio album released in March 1991, two and a half years prior to his untimely death from lung cancer in November 1993 at age 61.

Keith Richards

Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards has used a variety of Telecasters throughout his long career. The most famous one is a ’53 Tele called Micawber. According to the Fender website, Richards got the Micawber from Eric Clapton as a present for his 27th birthday in 1970. At the time, the Stones were gearing up for Exile On Main Street. Shortly after the band’s ’72 tour, Richards replaced the single-coil pickup in the neck position with a ’50s Gibson PAF humbucker for extra bite. Here’s a clip of Richards in action with his Micawber, together with the Stones: Brown Sugar, from the 2016 concert in Havana, Cuba.

Muddy Waters

Blues guitar legend Muddy Waters played a red ’57 Telecaster. Until 2010, Fender offered a replica as part of its signature series, the Muddy Waters Telecaster. Here is a great clip of the maestro and his red Telecaster, performing I’m A King Bee, captured during ChicagoFest in 1981.

Bruce Springsteen

Of course, this short list of Telecaster champions would be incomplete without The Boss. Bruce Springsteen’s iconic guitar, which is pictured on the cover of the Born To Run album from 1975, is not a pure breed Telecaster. As Bobby Owsinski explains on his Music Production Blog, it’s actually a hybrid from at least two other guitars: a ’50s Telecaster body with what looks like a ’57 Esquire neck, which Springsteen purchased at a guitar shop in Neptune, N.J.

Before selling it to The Boss, store owner Phil Petillo removed the two additional pickups that had been added to return the guitar to its original Telecaster configuration. Over the years, Petillo made significant additional modifications requested by Springsteen, including triangular Precision Frets, a six saddle titanium bridge, as well as custom hot-wound waterproofed pickups and electronics, so the guitar could better withstand Springsteen’s marathon shows. In 2005, he retired his beloved instrument from live shows and has since played clones of it during tours. Springsteen continues to use the original for studio recordings. Here’s a clip of the mighty Born To Run, which is from a 1978 show and presumably features Springsteen’s original Telecaster hybrid. Man, watching this footage makes me want to see The Boss again!

Sources: Wikipedia; “Telecaster Buying Guide,” The Hub, March 2017; “Statocaster vs. Telecaster: The Differences That Matter,” Reverb, Nov 2016; “Interesting Mods: Keith Richards’ ‘Micawber’,” Fender website; “The Story Behind Bruce Springsteen’s Iconic Hybrid Telecaster,” Bobby Osinski, Music Production Blog; YouTube