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  1. #1

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    When I was 15 in 1963 and had been playing guitar for 3 years, I was playing in, among other groups, an adult dance band, complete with uniforms, music stands and a conductor.

    We were all getting new stage clothes at Krass Brothers "Store of the Stars" in South Philly. Dave Appel and the Appeljacks were just leaving and Bill Haley and the Comets were next. Our 38-member band was after them.

    Behind me, was a 40-ish black man waiting alone with a guitar case for his turn. He saw me eyeing his guitar case and asked if I played guitar. Shyly, I nodded. He asked me if I wanted to see a neat axe. He opened the case and took out a beautiful Gibson hollow-body jazz guitar and handed it to me.

    I figured, given his age, I should play something a bit older than my own generation's music, so I started with my own arrangement of "'Till There Was You." I then improvised around it for about 40 minutes until my turn for fitting came. I handed back the magnificent guitar reluctantly and thanked him.

    I introduced myself and he responded, "Nice to meet you, I'm Wes Montgomery!" I turned beet red and told him had I known who he was in advance, I never would have dared play a note. He was very nice and said I had potential and he liked my playing.

    To this day, I cringe when I think about that 15-year-old kid with only 3 years under his belt playing for the best jazz guitarist in the world (IMHO).

    Sadly, 2 years later, Wes died. His ability to play only "purpose" notes, his octave technique, and his understanding that "technical flash" and "phony stage showmanship" wasn't a part of musicality has been my guiding model for my own style ever since. Many musicians have "hands," but Wes truly had "head."



    "Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity."
    -- Charles Mingus

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    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
     
  3. #2

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    VERY cool story,! I remember Ben Krass and those wacky tv commercials

  4. #3

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    That would have been my proudest moment.

  5. #4

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    Sheesh, I was thinking of all the times I forgot a lyric onstage ... in a crowded club ... playing a popular song.

    Meeting WesMo would be a highlight, not a lowlight, for a scrub like me.

  6. #5

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    Great story. Most embarrassing? If so, you've led a charmed musical life. Actually, if he let you play his guitar for 40 minutes, he must have liked what you played!

  7. #6

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    MANY years ago, walked up to Larry Carlton at the Valley Arts booth at NAMM and asked him a question that I now do not remember - probably something like "how high do you like your action" or "how do you like the Valley Arts strat" - IDK... and he's like "It's great. Wanna play it?" and he just hands the guitar to me as I'm saying, oh, no, I couldn't, really, but ... and there it was. In my hands. Larry one foot away and 30 people watching (likely 25 of whom knew a bunch of his solos note-for-note, as I did) In the words of Rick James, I'm super-freakin out :-) ... especially when I realized that he gets that beautiful tone with HEAVY strings and HIGH action... I was thinking to myself, my GOD this guy must have FREAKISHLY strong hands!!!! I mean, wow the strings were like baling wire and the action was WAAAAY off the neck... I couldn't play that freakin' thing at ALL much less in front of him!!!! And he played it like buttah, like it was nothin'. So I squeaked out a couple notes to see what it was like to bend strings on that guitar (hard!) then thanked him and handed the guitar back and just chatted with him a bit. It was just really a bizarre situation, and yeah I was a bit embarrassed at being so completely outclassed musically. But it was really cool to meet him and to chat a bit.

  8. #7

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    Great story , thanks for sharing! Embarassing? No - something to cherish for the rest of your life.

  9. #8

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    Great story, great memory! What's embarassing about it?



    The most embaracing moment though would have been if you knew it was Wes, he offrered you to play his guitar for 40 minutes but you cried and ran away...

  10. #9

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    Lol I kind of did that once, Howard Alden gave me his guitar to play during the interval at the Tenor Clef once, I froze up and could hardly play a note!

    (also it was a beautiful shiny 7-string, maybe a Benedetto, I couldn’t bear to put sweaty finger marks all over it.)

  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Beartooth
    When I was 15 in 1963 and had been playing guitar for 3 years, I was playing in, among other groups, an adult dance band, complete with uniforms, music stands and a conductor.

    We were all getting new stage clothes at Krass Brothers "Store of the Stars" in South Philly. Dave Appel and the Appeljacks were just leaving and Bill Haley and the Comets were next. Our 38-member band was after them.

    Behind me, was a 40-ish black man waiting alone with a guitar case for his turn. He saw me eyeing his guitar case and asked if I played guitar. Shyly, I nodded. He asked me if I wanted to see a neat axe. He opened the case and took out a beautiful Gibson hollow-body jazz guitar and handed it to me.

    I figured, given his age, I should play something a bit older than my own generation's music, so I started with my own arrangement of "'Till There Was You." I then improvised around it for about 40 minutes until my turn for fitting came. I handed back the magnificent guitar reluctantly and thanked him.

    I introduced myself and he responded, "Nice to meet you, I'm Wes Montgomery!" I turned beet red and told him had I known who he was in advance, I never would have dared play a note. He was very nice and said I had potential and he liked my playing.

    To this day, I cringe when I think about that 15-year-old kid with only 3 years under his belt playing for the best jazz guitarist in the world (IMHO).

    Sadly, 2 years later, Wes died. His ability to play only "purpose" notes, his octave technique, and his understanding that "technical flash" and "phony stage showmanship" wasn't a part of musicality has been my guiding model for my own style ever since. Many musicians have "hands," but Wes truly had "head."



    "Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity."
    -- Charles Mingus
    Lovely story. And no need for embarrassment that I can see.

  12. #11

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    I have to ask though *puts on
    guitar nerd hat* can you remember anything about Wes’s set up?

  13. #12

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    My most embarrasing moment was when I was auditioning for Elvis and he fell asleep eating a deep fried peanut butter and banana sandwich while I was playing.

  14. #13

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    My most embarassing moment was when I played in renassance/folk group in some wine bar and they asked to play solo lute piece (very soft).... and coffee machine wnet in right in the middle of it...

    It should have been embarassing for the barman but it was embarassing for me... and one person in the audience who noticed that.

  15. #14

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    Ok Cosmic, I wanna know if that's a true story. Could be.

  16. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by cosmic gumbo
    My most embarrasing moment was when I was auditioning for Elvis and he fell asleep eating a deep fried peanut butter and banana sandwich while I was playing.


    I got you!! Elvis told me: I hate fried peanut butter with banana!

    By the way - just curious as an Elvis nerd -- could you tell me what was his setup at the moment?

  17. #16

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    What, right now? I think he's playing a 8 string Strandberg with D'Addario balanced tensions gauge 9's.

    He's massively into progressive metal.

  18. #17

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    ...pretty much all of them...

  19. #18

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    Was playing with a dance band, maybe 12 or so. Went to stand up to solo, didn’t realize the cord was wrapped around my leg. Couldn’t get further than a weird knees bent, leaning forward position, during a slow Embraceable You. I looked like I was shredding up a storm, while doing a soft quiet solo. Gig at a county fair.

  20. #19

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    I remember Benny as well and even bought some clothes there. He had an interesting way of getting customers into his store. He would literally get into your face on the sidewalk, tell you what size you were, and literally "walk" you into the store...
    whether you wanted a suit or not. He was quite a character.

  21. #20

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    Yeah Fred, Benny was one of the last of the sidewalk barkers.
    Just reading the op's story brought back a lot of memories, everyone around here knew him and that store.


  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77
    What, right now? I think he's playing a 8 string Strandberg with D'Addario balanced tensions gauge 9's.

    He's massively into progressive metal.
    I bet that bastard uses a modeler.

  23. #22

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    I probably should be embarrassed more than I really am.

    Once in med school I was playing for a function for our class. It was a solemn occasion. I had prepared Villa-Lobos Prelude number 3 and had it memorized. It's an intermediate-to-advanced piece--looks harder on the printed page than it really is, because he uses a lot of guitaristic devices, and once you have the fingerings down, it's pretty routine. I had played it dozens if not hundreds of time.

    Anyway, during the long second section I got (almost) hopelessly lost. I didn't have any music in front of me to refresh my memory. So I improvised for awhile, until I got to a place I could pick up the melody again. I was pretty disappointed, but quite a few people said how much they liked the piece.

    The second time I remember screwing up royally was playing Bill Evans' piece Very Early. It's also pretty routine once you get the chord changes down. This was for a presentation I was giving on music and medicine. I actually thought I played it pretty well--fingerstyle on the old Godin 5th Avenue. Then I was looking at a DVD of the presentation (my son also played Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu), and my son said, isn't that a waltz? You played it in 4/4 time. True. Again, even though knowing it by heart and playing it hundreds of times, in the heat of the moment I went off the path.

    As usual, I got several complements from people who didn't know the piece intimately. It actually sounds good in 4/4, just has a different flavor, more like a renaissance ballad or something.

  24. #23

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    Finishing a 6 month gig in Osaka and having $500 when it was over.

  25. #24

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    Well, I have lots of those moments, but the one that stands out in recent memory was a gig at a nursing home. A lot of the folks in the audience had hearing issues, memory and cognizant issues, as well as mobility issues. Everybody there was on medication, perhaps more than was necessary. Let's just say they weren't a lively group.

    I would usually play jazz standards which were the songs of their youth. I would usually introduce each tune. e.g. when it was written, who recorded it, etc. Occasionally I would play a new tune that I was working on. On this occasion, I played Round Midnight. I didnt play it well, even though I had a chart in front of me. Most of the audience didnt know the difference. They just staired at me and hadn't even noticed. Most probably weren't even familiar with it.

    Except for one frail 80 or 90 year old who was sitting just a few feet from me. With a slight grimace on her face, she began signing the first verse, much to my astonishment! She easily made her way through the rest of the tune. I gently compted behind her, realizing that her singing was more entertaining than my playing!

    When she ended, some of the other residents and staff applauded her and she graciously nodded. I found out later that she had dementia, as most of the audience did. I am quite sure she couldn't remember what she had for breakfast that day, but could recall most of the lyrics and music to a tune that I wouldn't have expected her to know.

    While my playing was embarrassing, the experience that day will stay with me for the rest of my days.

  26. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by Beartooth
    I introduced myself and he responded, "Nice to meet you, I'm Wes Montgomery!"
    That's great! Your story might be the best post I've ever read here!

  27. #26

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stevebol
    Finishing a 6 month gig in Osaka and having $500 when it was over.
    But think of the memories...priceless!

  28. #27

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    When I told Benny I was looking for a wedding suit, some of the ones he showed me....well I think they were still warm from the previous owners Needless to say, I didnt buy from him. Instead, went to a place on 2nd street called Golden Harry's. In those days, Philly had lots of places to get an unusual buying experience.....but none outdid Benny Krass as your vids clearly show.

  29. #28

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    My most embarrassing moment..
    There were several.
    First night on a 6 month gig in Osaka, a girl comes in the club at the end of the night. She say's to me- if you want to keep your job you have to have sex with me one time. I thought, that didn't take very long. She was from Chile and worked a peep show. I liked her. She was a straight shooter and gave me 'The Ella Fitzgerald'.
    The next night we went to a love hotel. In the morning I looked in the fridge. Wow, look at all that free stuff for me. I jammed my guitar case with bottles of booze.
    We go downstairs to the counter to check out and I'm handed the inventory for what I took. She looked at me like, rookie. I'm not paying for this.
    I emptied my guitar case and gave everything back.
    I never stole anything again. Ever.
    That was embarrassing.

  30. #29

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    I was once hired to play an hour long solo piano gig at a major conference center (piano was set up all by itself on a big stage set up for chourses, my back to the audience, maybe 150-200 seats.) A half-hour into the set of the organizers came over and whispered, "OK, you can stop now". When I looked up, most of the seats had emptied out. A few weeks later I did get the full check in the mail, so at least there was that.

  31. #30
    I think he liked what I played just because he took my age of 15 into consideration. Also, my improv style was never to overwhelm with tech show-offery. I believe every note must be a "purpose" note and if you ever listen to Wes, you'll see he didn't play his solos blazin' fast, (more like slowly and simply) but almost every phrase surprised you when you heard his unique musicality in it. It was the greatest lesson I ever learned, listening to Montgomery's best work. I often use Mingus's quote as a sig, "Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity."

    From the start, I found I could always improvise & often surprised myself, never knowing what note was coming next or where the line was going until I heard it. I come from a musically savant family. I got a bit short-changed, though. My sister first taught herself to play piano in Kindergarten on an old upright in the schoolroom, had top-tier schooling after that, and played Tschaikovsky's Second Piano Concerto as the guest soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy conducting, 5 years later, when she was 10 years old. She had been playing since age 5. She, unfortunately burned out at about 14 while preparing for the annual Tschaikovsky Competition with the 3rd Piano Concerto with her master class teacher Susan Starr, and has never played in front of strangers since (she's in her late '60s now & still a one-of-a-kind if she's comfortable enough with you to play in front of you). She had never had stage fright - this was something else. I was with my wife for 6 months before my sister felt comfortable enough to play in front of her. She was one of two top young female prodigies of her age and both didn't make it much past puberty. How many of the world's best musicians went her way, I wonder.

    I got my classical start in 1st grade as a clarinetist in the school orchestra. By 12 (6th grade), I was first chair in the district youth orchestra. I had a massive jones for the delta blues by that time, so I hitched and bused from the suburbs into inner city West Philly, to a famous pawn shop on 52nd St (around Locust IIRC) and traded my clarinet even up for a used Harmony Sovereign flattop acoustic. I had seen a photo of Lightnin' Hopkins (or possibly Howlin' Wolf) playing a Sovereign, so I was smitten when I saw it hanging there. When my father got home that night and saw me with a Mel-Bay book, starting to teach myself the fretboard & trying to imitate Hopkins-style 12-bar fingerpicking styles, he asked me where the guitar came from. I proudly told him of my "adventure." Turns out we didn't own the clarinet - we rented it from the school. I spent the next year mowing lawns & shoveling driveways to pay for the clarinet. To this day (I'm 72), I'm still paying off instruments.

  32. #31
    Quote Originally Posted by FredH
    I remember Benny as well and even bought some clothes there. He had an interesting way of getting customers into his store. He would literally get into your face on the sidewalk, tell you what size you were, and literally "walk" you into the store...
    whether you wanted a suit or not. He was quite a character.
    What a coincidence. When I retired in 2015 and moved to Jacksonville, FL, I was living in Collingswood, just off Collings Ave south of the park. My brother-in-law still lives there around Collings and Atlantic, a block south of Haddon Ave. My wife and I were regulars at Grooveground and still have friends who hang (er - hung pre-COVID) out there daily.