Thursday, July 05, 2012

Guitar Workshop: The Music of Mayberry

For this week's installment of our more or less usual midday Thursday feature, our tribute to the late Andy Griffith continues.

Besides a love for the stage, Griffith was also devoted to music, both as a singer and a guitar player. The former won him more acclaim than the latter. He recorded a series of albums of classic gospel hymns for Sparrow Records, as well as a 1996 release, I Love to Tell the Story: 25 Timeless Hymns, which eventually went platinum. One of the aforementioned earned him a Grammy Award.

But while he was no virtuoso on guitar, his playing was quite capable, and his guitar was a periodic feature on the series during its eight year run. Griffith picked and sang in his early movies, as well as in numerous episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. This first clip, entitled “The Guitar Player” and originally broadcast on October 24, 1960 (Season 1, Episode 3), Andy helps local player Jim Lindsey (James Best) get a chance at stardom, by arresting a visiting music group. We see a few musical scenes here, some of them obviously overdubbed. Even "Mister Guitar" himself, Chet Atkins, couldn't play lead and rhythm parts at the same time to that degree.

Then there's the usual Southern banter:

You heard all these fellas that come through here, playin' in the shows. How 'bout that fella we see every now and then on television, shakin' and screamin'? Sounds like somebody's beatin' his dog.

Skip ahead about seven months, to May 15, 1961, as Mayberry's favorite son returns in “The Guitar Player Returns” (Season 1, Episode 31), having made his fortune as the star picker of "Bobby Fleet and His Band With A Beat." (Groovy.) Our sheriff learns the real story soon enough, that our rising star has fallen a bit lately, and is in some financial difficulty. Andy gets to the bottom of it, with the help of a now-less discourteous Bobby Fleet. Notice also how Andy has already lost some of the country-boy hokum near the end of the first season, paving the way for the addition of other oddball supporting characters as the series went on.

What authentic playing is actually featured in these two episodes, provides an adequate demonstration of the "rockabilly style" already sweeping the South, and making a few inroads up North, by the dawn of the 1960s. We will explore that style again in a future installment.

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