Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Very Small Bit of Rock and Roll Guitar History (From Life On The Road) -- Peter Green's Hawaiian Thirds

Peter Green, March 18, 1970, Niedersachsenhalle, Hannover, West Germany (photo W.W. Thaler)

       Clifford Essex stocked the Hawaiian Third strings that Peter fancied, one of the few stores in England to do so.  The narrow gauge of these strings allowed the guitarist to bend and manipulate notes into the crying blues phrases that astonished his fans.  The gorgeous tone on “Albatross” grew from Peter’s ability to work these strings.  However, the delicate wires popped easily after heavy use, especially on his favorite Les Paul guitar, so much so that I became a regular at the music shops.  Since the Hawaiian Thirds were not widely available at the time, I had to order hundreds from Clifford Essex whenever we planned to leave England for a tour."

"598: Peter Green's Hawaiian Guitar 3rd String
Category: Fleetwood Mac
Starting Bid: $100.00
Number of Bids: 0
Price: $150.00

1968. From the collection of former Fleetwood Mac sound engineer, Dinky Dawson, comes this U.K. produced Hawaiian guitar 3rd string still in original packaging. Green acknowledged that the sweet sound acheived on his Gibson Les Paul was due to the Clifford Essex Hawaiian 3rd string, "a string that makes amplifier valves glow with fire!"

Note: I have written previously about Life On The Road, Stewart "Dinky" Dawson's autobiography, written in collaboration with Carter Alan and published by Billboard Press in New York in 1998.  Dawson, a leading sound engineer for some great bands and artists (including the original Fleetwood Mac throughout the "Peter Green Era," The Byrds, The Kinks, Lou Reed, Steely Dan, John McLaughlin, Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez), produced a book that was both highly revelatory and, one imagines, discreet, mixing technical shop and business talk with fascinating and memorable anecdotes.  It's well worth seeking out, if you like this sort of thing.

        I had a devil of a time locating a picture of Clifford Essex's brand of Hawaiian Third guitar strings, but was able to find a picture of Selmer's (another leading London music store) product, which I hope suffices (if it is in fact the same type of string).  I did find some incredible pictures on the Clifford Essex website (see below), however, learned a lot about the history of their business (including its management by stringed instrument scholar and author A.P. Sharpe), and picked up some useful history about the banjolin, the zither banjo and the Hawaiian lap guitar.   You will see above an auction advertisement Dawson placed for one of Peter Green's Hawaiian Third strings, which he purchased in such vast quantities, never imagining, I expect that extra strings lying around his home might one day have collector's value, but anyone who has ever heard (or whoever saw and heard) Green and Fleetwood Mac at their early best might not be that surprised.  They were astonishingly good, profoundly moving and completely deserving of the adulation still accorded them.

Peter Green and Willie Dixon in Chicago

Fleetwood Mac in London, 1969  (l to r:  John McVie, Danny Kirwan, Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood and Jeremy Spencer)

"Greeny" with 1959 Les Paul


Fleetwood Mac (On Top Of The Pops): Oh Well

Fleetwood Mac (On Playboy After Dark): Rattlesnake Shake 

Fleetwood Mac (On Top Of The Pops): Albatross

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