Guitars at Christmas

December 25, 2010 § Leave a comment


"Guitars at Christmas" (Warner Bros, 1959)

After a too-long break I am returning with a great cover for Christmas day, a 1959 album of the typical Christmas fare performed by what is billed as “Guitars, Inc.” There are no names credited on the record, but it turns out that the guitarists were Howard Roberts, Bob Bain, Tommy Tedesco, Al Hendrickson and Bobby Gibbons, plus Bill Pitman on bass. The only one I had ever heard of was Tommy Tedesco, who was once described by Guitar Player magazine as the most recorded guitarist in history.

All of them seem to have been accomplished session men, but to me one story stuck out as particularly interesting. Bob Bain, who did all sorts of things (apparently mostly on a ’53 Telecaster!), from playing on the themes for TV shows like M.A.S.H., Mission Impossible and Bonanza to being part of the Tonight Show Band for 22 years, had what must have been the amazing experience of accompanying Audrey Hepburn when she recorded “Moon River” for Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Apparently, when the film was being scored with a big orchestra at Paramount, Hepburn decided she wanted to sing just to a guitar. I will let Bain tell the story, from a 2005 interview with “Journal Into Melody:”

“When the date was over the contractor (Phil Coggin) came over and said ‘Bobby, you stay.’ The whole orchestra left and I’m sitting around. Hank said ‘Why don’t you go over to Nick’s. We won’t need you for another half hour. All you’ll need is your gut string (guitar).’ I figured that they wanted me to play a little background music or something. When I came back, Audrey Hepburn was in the studio. The studio had been darkened and the only people there were the engineer in the booth, the producer (Blake Edwards), Hank, and an assistant in the booth to run the tape machine. They had told everybody else to essentially get lost. Audrey did not want to sing with a big orchestra. She wanted to record ‘Moon River’ with just guitar and voice. She was so nice and very easy to accompany. She was really a good singer, too…. She made one take and we went in the booth to listen to it. Hank asked her if she thought she could do it one more time and she agreed. We did a second take and that was it. Then Hank took that track (with just guitar and voice) and overdubbed strings. In the picture, the first sixteen bars has Audrey in a window or a doorway singing ‘Moon River’ with just guitar and then the orchestra sneaks in. It ended up with this really nice orchestration.”

What a great story. Part of why I like doing this is stumbling on things like that. Since it’s Christmas, though, I don’t have a lot of time, so will make this brief. One other thing I noticed, however, was that the fantastic, gun-adorned cover shot was done at a restaurant called The Captain’s Table. Long gone, it was a seafood place on what was known as “Restaurant Row” on La Cienega Blvd in L.A. – at Third Street, so basically near what is now the Beverly Center for anyone who knows Los Angeles. Another thing I discovered that I thought was sort of funny was that the skipper from Gilligan’s Island, Alan Hale, had a restaurant up the street from The Captain’s Table during the 1970s and ’80s, where he would greet diners wearing his skipper’s hat, sign autographs, etc. Called The Lobster Barrel, it was also obviously a seafood place, and apparently many a person mistakenly wandered into The Captain’s Table thinking they were going to be greeted by the famous TV skipper.

Bob Bain was born in January 1924 and I believe he is still alive. He played with everyone from Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee and Nat King Cole to Elvis Presley and Sam Cooke; while in London was invited by George Martin to see the Beatles rehearse before they had even recorded; and appeared on hundreds of soundtracks and TV shows, during what to me really seems like a Golden Age that we will never see the likes of again. I would love to meet him. I played the record today and it’s good, too.

Bob Bain (second from left) with Carol Kaye on Universal's Stage 10. Universal's Joseph Gershenson far left and acclaimed Frank Sinatra-arranger Don Costa at right.

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