Desde el Escritorio de Randy Osborne
The Big Bang Theory or how we got to where we are today in the world of Classical & Flamenco guitar music
September 5, 1997
Copyright Randy Osborne F.F.S.I. La Guitarreria Fina, 1997
A funny thing happened to me on the way to this column. I acquired 378 issues of Banjo, Mandolin, & Guitar commonly known as B.M.G. They date between 1936 and 1976. The magazine was published in Great Britain starting in 1903. This collection was in Germany in November of 1996 and acquired from an East Coast dealer in late February of 1997. Having read the 11,000 pages of material twice, I am now ready to write this lengthy article. In the midst of the first read through which took 10 days (40 hours), I noticed that my collection was that of the last editor before the name was changed to The Guitarist in 1976. James. W. McNaughton was a 5 string banjo player (They were known as Zither-Banjos because there was not a fifth string peg as we know in North America, the 5th string went through a metal tube up to the headstock) who had written banjo articles since the June 1953 issue. He took over from the late A.P. Sharpe, who was preceded by Bert Bassett, who was preceded by Emil Grimshaw who became the editor in 1913 replacing, I believe, Clifford Essex. When B.M.G. began in 1903, the music of the day was ragtime in America and due to the fact that there was already the availability of 78 RPM records of Banjo, Mandolin, Flamenco guitar, violin, piano, opera, etc. for at least 10 years, America's virtuosos were quite well known in Europe and the same in reverse for North America. Unlike today, the society and it's music had a different socialization. Every music magazine not devoted to Classical music & Opera included articles about Mandolin Orchestras. (The year that the mandolin really took off was 1884 - if you have the magazines from this era, one can verify just what was going on.) In the U.S. there were tens to hundreds of towns that had Mandolin and Banjo Orchestras at this time (Crescendo & Cadenza magazines from 1900-1935 had large size photos (1/3 of a page) every month and listed conventions in large cities where associations and competitions were held. I n England alone there were not less than 35 Banjo, Mandolin and Guitar clubs. On the continent there were competitions of large Mandolin Orchestras (65 performers in the "Circolo Mandolinistico of Livorno, Italy"). Virtuosos could immigrate from Italy to England and create a solid career teaching and performing in theatres, restaurants, recording and publishing their methods and compositions.
Then came WWI and after the wounds had healed the new optimism brought Dixieland music to America in the 1920's. Vaudville had already been a tradition since the 1880's I believe. Before the advent of silent movies, actors or singers had to deliver high quality performance and a constant basis. With the growth of the motion picture industry, stars could be in two places or actually more places than that at once. Hawaiian music was the rage in 1916. It outsold every other style to the degree that Victor Records, which became RCA Victor decades later, spent over $1 million in advertising in that year alone. Not to mention that in Winnepeg, Canada in 1904, a Ukulele instructor had 500 students at the same time, using a board with electric lights to show chord shapes from the stage and having a few aids in amongst the students to help tune 2000 strings.
Meanwhile, Flamenco guitar had been on record since 1902-03. It was the rage in Spain to such a degree that it could be why Francisco Tarrega was not approached to record though he was a professor, with stature to publish within his own lifetime. (Shortly after he died some publications had a title page mentioning that the works listed were released posthumously.) We all know of the said decline of the classical guitar in the last 40 or so years of the 19th century. Empressarios of the recording world knew that Classical piano & violin would be a sure success. Juan Parga who had taught Flamenco and published the same was in his professorship at the Conservatory of Malaga in the 1890's but died in 1899 and so barely missed the opportunity to record. Had he lived another decade, perhaps we might be touting him in place of Don Ramon Montoya. The skinny on Parga is that one of his falsetas of continous triplets from a Soleares that was published in 1892 can also be found intact in the published work of Guillermo Gomez in Mexico after 1904. And also it's indemicness in Flamenco is that the same falseta can be found once again intact in the 1954 published work of Rafael Morales hard bound method in English and Spanish. Morales was a student of Ramon Montoya whose autographed picture graces the inside preface of his method.
The only guitarist who would be heard on record in the U.S. in the 1st decade of this century was Roy Butin who played a Harp-Guitar (with extra bass strings) and was the accompanist for the mandolin virtuoso Valentine Abt. In Mexico at this time duets of voices and guitars appear on record.
At the end of the first decade Segovia was just about to start his debut in Spain. Miguel Llobet already had somewhat a name for himself and Emilio Pujol as well. In South America Augustin Barrios was just about to start his illustrious recording career (c. 1910-1913). When Barrios began his recording debut, Argentina was the 6th largest economy in the world, not to be confused with the Argentina of the '80s when banks posted on the Electronic billboards the time, temperature, and the percentage they would pay daily on your deposited funds (c. 2 1/2 %) - because inflation was so extent that about every 7 weeks the money in your pocket was worth half of what it had been.
We see that the recording industry enabled the profusion of fame to spread like wildfire. In Fernando Sor's case, had he lived in the 1950's, he might have overdubbed his duets instead of putting Aguado's name on the second guitar part, which angered Aguado. It is said that Emilio Pujol did not like the sound of the playback of an early recording he made and so did not follow suit. Before 1926 all recordings were made playing into a megaphone and after they became "Electric recordings". The fidelity of early Barrios recordings or lack of it compared to his later being able to take advantage of the progress in recording techniques is one of the widest parabolas to the ear. A Barrios recording in mint condition sounds great, but couple steel treble strings and a record that has had a steel needle chew up the shellac surface countless times and you might come close to an observation that Barrios didn't even have the tone quality equal to any Flamenco guitarist that could be mentioned. All Flamenco guitarists used gut strings and therefore even when the record is a little scratchy it sounds great. I have a version of Tarrega's "Capriccio Arabe" on a mint 78 RPM record by Barrios and it well surpasses the sound content of the version on the CD by the European concern. I acquired this record from the estate of the late Fred Stockton - who had a tape recorder, it's probably why it is still mint - you record it once and play it for your students a 100 times. Fred was a bay area classical guitar teacher who advertised in The Guitar Review in #14 in 1952. He was a Vahdah Olcott Bickford student since the 1930's and because of that I now have a few 1st editions of Giulio Regondi & Zani de Ferranti. Imagine my delight turning a page in a bound volume to see Regondi's Op' 19 1st edition (thinking gee I've had a facsimile from Europe for 15 years - wow).
Another aspect of the beginning of the age of recording is that before that period everything that was known was what one experienced in person. Once the age of recording began the influence of music from one part of the world could be an influence on an audience unaware of where some of what they heard came from. For example, George Smith who did guitar studio work for the motion picture industry, The Grapes of Wrath, had a record collection that included discs of Guillermo Gomez from 1928 when there were silent movies and two decades later on a rare 78 RPM titledCarlotta there are obvious influences from G. Gomez's Zambra.
Now in Flamenco it is very different than a century ago, easiest understood from the standpoint that contemporarily we expect any and I do mean any virtuoso will be expected to play every style from all over Spain - it's been that way for decades. Whereas a 100 or so years ago I am not certain that there was one or more accompanist in the "Cafe Cantante" period that played all styles - maybe Paco Lucena knew 3, 4, 5, or more styles but he would have to have travelled all of Spain to know all the styles or the only other manner would to have been the opportunity to meet travelling musicians.
In Americana, the 1930's blues legend Robert Johnson was the first recording artist that had access to recordings of other artists from far away or neighboring states - and influences of Lonnie Johnson and other greats added to his repertoire and licks.
In the case of Ida Presti, she was a child prodigy and we were able to capture her ability on record at the age of 13. Whereas in the days of Giulio Regondi and Madame Sidney Pratten, they were child prodigies that eventually became adults but we could not have more of a record than newspaper clippings because that was in 1830. Regondi didn't publish until he was a 37th year player at the age of 42.
As music changed with the times, so did opportunity to learn new styles for those who wish to widen their horizons. One of those people who wished to do so is Wilfred Appleby. In the late 1930's he put a small advert (classified ad) in the B.M.G. "wanted classical guitar" - when I saw that I immediately thought, wow, this guy was publishing Guitar News 15 years later. Wilfred was an incredible figure on the classical scene in England. He did much research and wrote a long list of articles well before starting his magazine Guitar News. Most people don't know that he also funded Julian Bream's first concert when Julian was just a teenager. Wilfred wrote "The Spanish Guitar" articles for B.M.G. in the 1940's. In A.P. Sharpe's book, The Story of the Spanish Guitar, which was published in 1957, the information on the Panormo family and Rene Lacote was initially written by Wilfred Appleby in theB.M.G. in 1946. But by the time A.P. was writing his tome he had omitted several apprentices of the Panormo shop that Wilfred had uncovered. Wilfred was understandably a fanatic about the classic guitar; after all, having been exposed to all the other types of music before he "discovered" classic guitar he became acutely aware of the extraordinary amount of musicianship not to be found elsewhere in the other palettes of music. He became such an ardent voice for the increasing popularity of the classic guitar that when there was a Guitar Festival to be held in England in the late 1940's, he unequivically stated that the festival should only be of classic guitar while the other board members said no, that Hawaiian and plectrum guitar should be included.
Being aware of the lack of growth (Wilfred probably would have agreed with the other board members if this discussion had been in 1935) of the other members musical appreciation and stubborness to include what Wilfred had taken the stance that although many of the invited Hawaiian and plectrum guitarists that were scheduled had been recording artists in some cases for over 10 years, he knew that this was not the forum for guitarists outside the classic world. Having a worthwhile agenda Wilfred Appleby resigned and ceased to write his informative column. The correspondence to the B.M.G. in the following months was needless to say, vitriolic. Some of the letters written in anger were by, in a few cases, from those who had yet to become converted. Plectrum guitarist Freddie Phillips fired off his salvo only to appear on the cover of the B.M.G. in the early 50's with his nine string classical guitar and a sober appearance instead of being hip. I almost left out an important aspect. World reknowned composer and arranger John Duarte wrote jazz harmony articles for the B.M.G. since the mid-40's but under the name Jack Duarte. Wilfred Appleby was the window for these folks and now John Duarte is known on every continent. This information is not found in the biography of John Duarte in the book "The Classical Guitar" by Maurice Summerfield. One must remember Django Reinhardt was still alive and a considerable influence in the belief of pick style guitar. If Django couln't blind you to the musicianship of piannisimo to forte, no one could. I personally have not less than 650 different, of 900 plus, recordings made by Django from 1928-1953. I learned of him in 1968 and classic guitar more or less in 1978. Django could dazzle your ears - if one can acquire 11 different versions of his celebrated "Nuages" recorded with different groups over a 15 year period, why not. And then comes that day when one's previous heroes become extremely disposable. I used to think everyone fam ous was important. Not so says wisdom.
Back to the wonderful Wilfred Appleby in the early 1950's he started his publication Guitar News. It was the only publication in England that covered exclusively Classical Guitar and somewhat Flamenco as well. If you would like a biography of the guitar maker Manuel Velasquez you got in Wilfred's magazine in 1955. He had correspondents all over the world. I never saw a mention of his mag in B.M.G., though one could find tidbits that had appeared in the U.S. mag The Guitar Review in B.M.G. & Guitar News. Strangely enough, when Wilfred could no longer publish Guitar News in 1972, a month or so later there was a laudatory article in B.M.G. about how Guitar News was a goldmine of history of class guitar and that there really was nothing else like it in England that had been on the scene at the time. But here is the clincher: there is no, I said no mention that Wilfred Appleby had ever written forB.M.G. for an extensive time in the 1940's. There are few people who come along at the right time such as Wilfred and his wife Kay Appleby.
If we had not seen the advent of the airplane, our world would be very different. For centuries, ships had transported Miguel Llobet to the New World and every one else above and below him as an example. But the advent of flying made our world smaller - I think you've heard that before. It really allowed tourism to be what we know it to be today. It let artists travel quicker once they had sufficient reputation and conversely it let people be in another environment within hours. Ivor Mairants - guitarist and businessman is responsible for putting artist grade guitars at reach to the musician in England who may not have had the ability to travel to Spain. And his proximity to Spain did not put him there first. The late Jack Buckingham (who taught Flamenco at the University of California at Berkeley as well as Laney and Merritt colleges in Oakland, CA in the early 1960's) travelled to Spain in 1956. Mairants visited Marcelo's shop about 6 months before Marcelo passed away. Jack Buckingham also studied with Jose Navas Garcia at the Concervatory of Malaga in the 50's and 60's for advanced Flamenco instruction. His teacher Jose had been on the scene since the late 20's. In fact, some of the hand written manuscripts he gave to his student Jack were songs that had been published by Romero and Fernandez in Buenos Aires in 1927 but were out of print. Romero and Fernandez, the firm that had published in 1934 Domingo Prat's "Diccionario de Guitarristas".
In 1959, Ignacio Fleta's waiting list was 6 months. Andre Segovia had already had his first Fleta at least a year. By 1961 Fleta's waiting list was a year and a half. In 1964-65 period the waiting list had grown to 4 1/2 years. Before going on I should mention that these were the most expensive priced guitars available, but they were at hand. You could walk in to Ivor Mairants store and at times choose from maybe two that were for sale. By 1972 Ignacio Fleta's waiting list had grown to nine years, a length of time which would outstrip his own life as we lost him five years later. He also had been the cellist Pablo Casals repair person. Ignacio had opened his shop in 1927 and about 1964 was the point in time when thereafter, all guitars that came out of the shop were a collaborative effort due to the aid of his sons Francisco & Gabriel. Today the sons of Fleta have an 18 year waiting list.
The pervasiveness of export of Flamenco guitar records was to such an extent that for Brits that were accustomed to hearing real flamenco since 1940 or so, to near 1960, was such an eye opener that when Manitas de Plata went on British TV in the early 1960's and was touted as the "Greatest Flamenco Guitarist Ever" he was trounced pretty heavily in the B.M.G. and I am sure elsewhere as well. There was all the hype: he did not really like to travel so all the recording equipment had to be brought to his small town in France. Having not listened to Manitas again until just recently I can understand how he deserved all the adamant criticism. Sure he was or is a virtuoso, but is he flamenco? Not any more than when Carlos Montoya is performing "Blues in the Night" or "St. Louis Blues". Manitas lived close enough to Spain to pick up on Flamenco but far enough away to be out of compas. And some of his stuff is so far off (dune, du, dune, du dune) sometimes for so long you think "Where did he get this?" or "Why is he even doing this part of what would otherwise be close at having aimed at being Flamenco?".
David Spinks,later known as David Rubio or Jose Rubio the great guitar maker, was a very legitimate Flamenco guitarist at least by 1958 - after all he didn't need to lean on Manitas de Plata who didn't show on the scene for some years. David had learned from all the right tradition and was gigging in London restaurants and pubs because he was the real thing. And by 1965 Julian Bream was using Rubio's guitars and lutes. Rubio's guitar prices rivaled those of Fleta at that time in London. It's great to be well though of especially after all that work.
What was it like during WWII for the musician? The Clifford Essex company had one square inch ads in B.M.G. asking their customers "Please return your string envelopes as we need something to put your next set of strings in - paper is short, there is a war on you know". Also with all of Europe at war Ida Presti who had recorded as recently as 1937 had her picture on the cover of B.M.G. and inside in a small column about her it ended with the line "Does anyone know if she is still alive? Maybe someone serving in Paris can let us know". This being the February 1944 issue.
In the 1950's it seemed that every other month and once in a while two months in a row there would be an article on some unlucky electric guitarist who became electrocuted playing either due to amplifier problems or combination with microphones on stage. I don't remember hearing about electric guitarists being electrocuted when I was growing up in the 50's.
By mid-1960's the amount of articles in the B.M.G. on mandolin and banjo had decreased to the point it seemed all you read page after page was about guitar which is why it was changed to The Guitarist in 1976.
In 1878 I believe sound was first captured and by 1885 cylinders were available in London and Paris, and one sided platters became the norm around 1896, though cylinders were available until 1915, and two sided 78's appeared about 1908. In 1960, 78's were ceased to be manufactured. The 10" micro groove came along in 1948, the 12" LP in 1954, the 45 RPM in 1953, and now we are at the dinosaur age of vinyl. It seems to be a little funkier to have an old LP of Sabicas than a CD under ones arm, but time marches on. There were not less than 2800 78 RPM records recorded of Flamenco since it's recorded inception. That's why we see a lot of historical CDs coming about which is good because when the 78's were initially released, production quantities could range from 400 to 1500/3000. Some of the artists mentioned in this article had these said quantities released as a total or second pressing from same master, that's why some of these are quite rare.
In my G.E. cassette 13, Solos by Presti & Lagoya, there is a "Guajira" by Emilio Pujol played by Ida Presti. In a B.M.G. from 1950 we find out that she had been practicing that piece at least for 6 or 7 years before recording it. My teacher Byron Pang (a student of Rey de la Torre and Maestro at the Conservatory of Music in San Francisco 1970-74) told me when I had studied with him back in 1979-81 that the most difficult pieces are practiced sometimes 5 or more years before being added to the repertoire of the public stage; therefore I was reading what I should have been expecting to read when I found the article about Andre Verdier where Ida Presti had dropped by and was performing the "Guajira" on one of Andre's great Francisco Simplicio guitars that were a part of Mr. Verdier's collection.
Anita Sheer was a Carlos Montoya student (in fact his only protege) who passed away last July 8, 1996. She was the driving force (Artistic Director) behind the "Flamenco Society of Northern California in San Jose", for about 15-16 years. When I purchased the collection of B.M.G.s I did not expect to find anything about Anita, but here it is. In May of 1957 there was a Guitar Festival of the Fretted Instrument Guild held at St. Pancras Town Hall. It comprised Classical Guitar, Hawaiian Guitar, Plectrum Guitar, Guitar and Piano Duets, and Folk Music. Nice words are said about all performers except Anita. They raved about Anita - she was an invited guest making a surprise appearance under the auspices of Ivor Mairants. Anita Sheer was described as a "fretted bombshell", "she really made the sparks fly", that she "possesses a dynamic flamenco style" and that "her impassioned vocal technique enlivened the evening considerably". In June of 1957 our Anita was on the cover of B.M.G. holding her Flamenco Guitar, and on page three there was an article titled "Our Cover Subject" with 5 more photos of Anita with her guitar. With a caption under the photos that read "We do not think any B.M.G. reader will object ot seeing these further camera studies of ANITA SHEER - the flamenco singer and guitarist, whose debut in this country is still being talked about".
In the article it says on May 19th she made her British television debut as a featured artist in the Winifred Atwell show. Miss Sheer was in England with an introduction to Ivor Mairants from one of his New York pupils. She was enroute to the 1957 Fiesta in Seville. Ivor was so impressed by Anita's singing and flamenco playing that he introduced her to B.B.C. producer Peter Duncan who immediately put her on his program "In Town Tonight". She appeared with great success. Mr. Ivor Mairants then persuaded her to stay in London until the Guitar Festival on April 9th. With the deafening applause still in her ears she left for Seville the next day. The article also mentions that she, by that time, had already done transcriptions of various songs of Carlos Montoya for publications in the U.S. As well in the June issue in the correspondence section a Mr. E. Herbert writes he thought a couple of acts that preceeded Anita could have done more, but of Anita he says that she was a welcome surprise, and that afer playing three songs the audience responded with a tremendous ovation for which the delighted concert goers received an encore by Anita.
The Spanish Civil War really cannot be talked about in under 100,000 words. If General Franco had lost the war to the communist-socialist-anarchist coalition in Spain in the 1930's anyone who is known as a Classical & Flamenco Guitar dealer in the U.S. and elsewhere would probably be doing something else. We'd have to. If General Franco had not kept capitalism in Spain by winning the war, I doubt that the Jose Ramirez shop would have cranked out 25,000 "1A" concert guitars (current list price $7450) since the mid-1960's. Of course it's true that Andre Segovia's use of the Ramirez guitar in concert and recording helped immensely in sales. I expect that if the communists had won the war that the reality in Spain would be much like that of any region that just came out from under the scourge of communism. There are only two types of being poor: natural poverty and enforced poverty (communism).
With 50% of Spain being illiterate at the time of the war it's pretty easy to understand how the communists had a bone to offer. "Let us get for you what you have yet to get for yourself." Sixty thousand landless farm workers took over 3000 farms in a single day: March 23, 1936. In Barcelona by 1938 the communists had effectively gotten rid of money. They had a voucher system that meant that a farm worker got just as much credit as a skilled factory worker and meanwhile, blocks away, Ignacio Fleta was building guitars that would be worth $30,000 decades later. I don't think the landless workers ever stopped to think that their Patron (he who owns the farm and hires people) did not steal the land that they took from him on March 23, 1936. Oh, by the way, I have watched the Spanish Civil War on video on my list not less than 14 times (5 1/2 hours of details). Had the communists won, we probably would see guitars of the quality that we get from Bulgaria, Romania and Czechoslovakia. I know one of the local importers of those guitars and I've told him that the instruments are built with substandard woods (box material) and that understandably being inexpensive, they should last one to two years. Well folks, the people who have already bought this product have tried to trade this merchandise in at my store and the necks on the 90 day old instruments are already warped. In fact, I told one person "I can take your mandolin made in Paracho, Mexico in on trade because the neck is still straight."
The ex-iron curtain is a good example that not only does communism hurt the society when it's enforced, but it also takes more than a few years to get back on one's feet. It says a lot when Mexico with a 80% poverty rate has guitar builders whose wood supply is higher quality than that of beloved and worshipped Europe.
At times watching the Spanish Civil War video I would watch Franco's troops winning a battle and would think or at times yell "Go Fine Fretted". So it is the incentive in capitalism that has Spain not crying about it's ability to be prosperous in the guitar industry. Also, one can say if Franco had lost the war do you really think that there would be a guitar industry in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia? Franco's efforts are why a lot of Pacific Rim people can send their children to college. You don't see any factories in Japan copying guitars coming out of the iron curtain. Neither do you see Japanese guitar collectors paying vast sums for guitars made in the ex-iron curtain. They are all buying Archangel Fernandez, Ignacio Flaeta, Don Antonio de Torres and Hermann Hauser I (a German mastermaker designed after the Torres-Santos Hernandez models). If it takes money to make money, then it also takes no money to make no money as the communists belatedly found out. My condolences to everyone who has lost someone.
Coming next week
Mexican Mariachi music is sung in Spanish but doesn't sound Flamenco. Are there connections to Spain? Is the word Mariachi Spanish?