American radio listeners in the summer of 1959 would have had no way to anticipate that, five years later, their airwaves would be overrun by British performers.
And the people listening to Boston’s WHIL-AM that summer couldn’t have guessed that the British Invasion would be sparked, in part, by the performer whose twangy instrumental “Blue Guitar” was in intermittent rotation on the station.
(I can’t find a good video of “Blue Guitar,” so here’s another instrumental of the same vintage by the same artist:)
The ARSA online database contains thousands of weekly airplay surveys from radio stations across the U.S. and Canada. The WHIL survey for the week ending Aug. 24, 1959, is the only survey in the collection to mention Bert Weedon — and, to add insult to injury, his name is misspelled.
But Weedon, who died earlier today at age 91, played a foundational role in rock music that many Americans would never hear about.
A guitarist of no little versatility, Weedon made a name for himself in the 1950s playing with the BBC’s show band; with visiting American stars the caliber of Frank Sinatra; as a session man on early British pop and rock singles; and, finally, as a featured guitar soloist on his own records.
His skills hadn’t come easily, though. As a boy, Weedon struggled to find a knowledgeable guitar teacher.
So, as a professional, he decided to write a book that would serve as a surrogate teacher — showing young guitarists the basics of chords, melody and playing posture.
Weedon’s tutorial, published in 1957, bore the enticing title “Play In A Day,” and it hit stores at precisely the right moment.
All over the U.K., teenagers were picking up guitars and trying to recapture the seductive clang they heard on early American rock n’ roll records. Many of them — including Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison — turned to Weedon’s “Play In A Day” to pick up some of the fundamentals they needed to get started on guitar.
(Weedon’s singles also served as inspiration to young British guitarists. According to Wiki, “Guitar Boogie Shuffle” was on the Quarrymen’s set list the night Paul McCartney first performed with the band.)
It would be wrong to describe Weedon as a long-term stylistic influence on the British rockers of the ’60s. Put it this way: When you hear Eric Clapton play “Further On Up The Road,” you’re not hearing much Bert Weedon in there.
But Weedon’s role as the first teacher and role model for Britain’s budding guitarists is worth remembering.
For all we know, Lennon and McCartney might have been pipefitters if they hadn’t had someone to encourage them and provide some starting musical knowledge. Many of the stars who used “Play In A Day” — Brian May of Queen is another — have acknowledged the book’s role in their early development.
And while he never made it big Stateside, Weedon enjoyed both elder-statesman acclaim and an occasional dash of pop success in his home country.
British album buyers of the Seventies had a soft spot for budget-priced, as-seen-on-TV greatest-hits collections by faded artists the likes of Nat King Cole and Perry Como.
Weedon was among the beneficiaries of that trend. In November 1976, the 56-year-old guitarist found himself an unlikely chart conqueror, as his compilation album “22 Golden Guitar Greats” elbowed aside Led Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains The Same” to claim Number One on the British album charts.
(Led Zep’s Jimmy Page, incidentally, is another British guitarist who reportedly learned his earliest skills from “Play In A Day.” The stoop-shouldered Page, with his low-slung Les Paul, clearly skipped the section about how to hold your instrument.)
Three cheers for Bert Weedon, then. By sharing what he loved with others, he helped make the British Invasion possible.
And in doing so, he helped save us from all the toothless crap that was cluttering the airwaves in those sleepy pre-Beatle summers like 1959.
It took the Limey kids a couple years to get those chords under their fingers … but once they did, there was no going back to Connie Francis, Bobby Rydell and Edd “Kookie” Byrnes.