George Barnes

George Barnes

born on 17/7/1921 in South Chicago Heights, IL, United States

died on 5/9/1977 in Concord, CA, United States

George Barnes (musician)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
George Barnes (musician)

George Barnes (July 17, 1921 – September 5, 1977) was a world-renowned American swing jazz guitarist, who is believed to have played the first electric guitar in 1931, preceding Charlie Christian by six years. George Barnes made the first commercial recording of an electric guitar on March 1, 1938, in sessions with Big Bill Broonzy.


George Barnes was born in South Chicago Heights, Illinois. He started his professional career at the age of 12, when he received his musicians' union card, and toured throughout the Midwest. By the time he was 14, he was accompanying blues vocalists such as Big Bill Broonzy and Blind John Davis. On March 1, 1938, he recorded "Sweetheart Land" and "It's a Lowdown Dirty Shame" with Broonzy, the first commercial recordings of an electric guitar. Later in 1938, he was hired as a staff musician for the NBC orchestra, and became a featured performer on the radio shows National Barn Dance and Plantation Party.

In 1940, Barnes released his first recording under his own name on Okeh Records, "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" backed with "I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me".

Barnes was drafted into the Army in 1942, and served as an intercept operator in the basement of the Pentagon. Immediately after his discharge in 1946, Barnes formed The George Barnes Octet and was given a 15-minute radio program on the ABC network.

He and his wife, Evelyn Lorraine Triplett, married in Chicago on January 17, 1947.

In 1951, Barnes was signed to Decca Records by Milt Gabler and moved from Chicago to New York City. In 1953, he joined the orchestra for the television show, Your Hit Parade. The band was conducted by Raymond Scott and Barnes was a featured soloist. Barnes, Scott, and vocalist Dorothy Collins (Scott's wife) also recorded together.[1]

In addition to being a well-known jazz musician, Barnes also made a living as a New York studio musician, and played on hundreds of albums and jingles from the early 1950s through the late 1960s. Barnes was primarily a swing jazz guitarist, but could play in any style, as evidenced by his work on The Jodimars [2] Barnes participated in hundreds of pop, rock and R&B recording sessions: he was a regular guitar player on most of The Coasters' hit records produced by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, he provided the guitar solo for the Connie Francis hit "Lipstick on Your Collar (song)," and he can be heard on The Drifters' version of "This Magic Moment" and Jackie Wilson's "Lonely Teardrops".

Barnes recorded three albums for Mercury Records: "Movin' Easy," with Barnes' Jazz Renaissance Quintet in 1960, "Guitar Galaxies" in 1960, and "Guitars Galore" in 1961. The latter two recordings contained Barnes' unique orchestrations with 10 guitars, also known as his "guitar choir," which utilized the guitars as a horn section. They were two in a series of Mercury albums that used an early 1960's state-of-the-art recording technique known as "Perfect Presence Sound."

His albums with his guitar duo partner Carl Kress received national acclaim in the early 1960s. Barnes and Kress were invited to play the White House staff Christmas party on December 17, 1964. For the occasion, Barnes wrote a song for First Daughter Luci Baines Johnson, "Watusi for Luci," as she was then famous for attending discothèques and dancing The Watusi with Hollywood celebrities. The recording was used as the theme for The Clay Cole Show in 1965, when the show was renamed Clay Cole's Discotek.

After the 1965 death of Kress, Barnes formed another guitar duo with Bucky Pizzarelli. Their partnership lasted from 1969-1972, and they recorded two albums.

In 1973, Barnes created a partnership with cornetist Ruby Braff. The Ruby Braff/George Barnes Quartet made their debut in Carnegie Hall at the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival. The quartet recorded several albums, including "Live at the New School" for Chiaroscuro Records in 1974 and "To Fred Astaire with Love" for RCA in 1975. They also recorded a double album with Tony Bennett in 1973, "The Rodgers and Hart Songbook."

From 1973 until 1977, Barnes recorded several well-received albums for Concord Jazz under his own name, as well as with the quartet he had formed with Braff. He also recorded two Concord Jazz albums with jazz violinist Joe Venuti.

Barnes and his wife, Evelyn, had left New York City after his last European tour in 1975 to live and work in the San Francisco Bay Area. Barnes died of a heart attack in Concord, California in 1977, at the age of 56.

First recording with electric guitar

He recorded two songs, "Sweetheart Land" and "It's a Low-Down Dirty Shame" with Big Bill Broonzy, produced by Lester Melrose in Chicago on March 1, 1938. Some historians incorrectly attribute the first recording to Eddie Durham, but Durham's recording with the Kansas City Five was not until 15 days later, on March 16, 1938. Several recordings of an electric lap steel guitar precede both, including recordings by Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies with Bob Dunn on electric lap steel as early as January 1935. But the 1938 Big Bill Broonzy with George Barnes is actually the very first one to feature an electrically-amplified, non-lap steel guitar.

Style and technique

Barnes' style took shape before the development of bebop, and he remained a swing stylist throughout his career. His lines were usually short, very melodic, bluesy and "inside" (i.e. diatonic) as compared to the chromaticism and long lines of bop era guitarists. His improvisations often employed call and response phrases, and his tone was clearer, cleaner and brighter than many other jazz guitarists (such as Joe Pass or Jim Hall) and reflected his "happy" approach to music.

Not long before his death, he recorded three live albums -- two produced from a concert at San Francisco club Bimbo's 365, the other at The Willows Theatre in Concord, California. The albums are good examples of his swinging, happy and often mischievous style. The albums also include his banter with the audience, and his introductions of tunes and his band, giving the listener a glimpse into his sense of humor.

In a review of the album Don't Get Around Much Anymore (material from a 1977 Concord, California concert that was recorded a little more than a month before Barnes' sudden death at the age of 56), Jim Ferguson wrote: "Often overlooked in a sea of more modern-sounding, bebop-oriented guitarists, George Barnes could swing like mad and spin out intricate, frequently bluesy phrases with awesome precision and musicality.... From start to finish, this well-recorded performance demonstrates the qualities that qualify Barnes for a position among the most elite players in the annals of jazz guitar."[3]

In 1942, Barnes wrote the first electric guitar method, The George Barnes Electric Guitar Method, published by Wm. J. Smith. In 1961, he wrote and recorded for Music Minus One, George Barnes' Living Guitar Method; The Easy Way to Learn All the Chords and Rhythms and Ten Duets for Two Guitars (recorded with his partner Carl Kress). In 1965, he wrote How to Arrange for Solo Guitar, published by Peermusic. He also produced the first guitar course offered on cassette tape, The Great George Barnes Guitar Course, published in 1970 by Prentice Hall.

Major recordings

  • "Sweetheart Land"/"It's A Low Down Dirty Shame", with Big Bill Broonzy, March 1, 1938, Acc. by Bill Owsley (ts); BJ Davis (p); George Barnes (el/g).
  • "It's Too Late Now"/"Down At The Old Village Store"/"The Gal I Love", with Washboard Sam, March 14, 1938, Acc. by Big Bill (g); George Barnes (el/g); Black Bob (b).
  • "New Shake 'Em on Down"/"Night Time Is the Right Time", with Big Bill Broonzy, May 5, 1938, Acc. by Bill Owsley (cl/ts), Joshua Altheimer (p), George Barnes (el/g), unk (b).
  • "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles"/"I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me", George Barnes, February, 1940, George Barnes (g); Duney Warren (ts); Bill Huntington (g); Ernie Newton (b).
  • "Lula From Honolulu", Sweet Violet Boys, February 15, 1940, Alan Crockett, vocal/fiddle; Augie Klein, accordion; George Barnes, electric guitar; Chick Hurt, mandolin; Salty Holmes, guitar; Bob Long, guitar; Jack Taylor, string bass. Vocalion 05498.
  • "Kilroy Is Here"/"Zebra's Derby"/"At The Jazz Band Ball"/"Starlight Interlude", George Barnes And His Octet, 1946, George Barnes (g) and various woodwinds.
  • "A Good Night For Murder"/"Suite For Octette", 1946, George Barnes Octet.
  • "Movin' Easy"/"Pick Yourself Up", 1959, George Barnes (g); Billy Bauer (g); Hank D'Amico (cl); Jack Lesberg (b); Cliff Leeman (d).
  • "Something Tender"/"The Eel's Nephew", 1962, George Barnes (g); Carl Kress (g); Bud Freeman (ts).
  • "Watusi for Luci"/"The Jazzman Blues", 1965, George Barnes (g); Carl Kress (g)
  • "Blue Skies"/"Eleanor Rigby"/"Here There And Everywhere"/"Rose Room"/"Love Story Theme", Town Hall Concert, 1971, George Barnes (g); Bucky Pizzarelli (g).
  • "Blue Moon"/"The Lady Is A Tramp", with Tony Bennett, 1973, George Barnes (g); Ruby Braff (cornet); Wayne Wright (g); John Giuffrida (b).
  • "I Want To Be Happy"/"I'm Coming Virginia", with Joe Venuti, 1975, Joe Venuti (v); George Barnes (g); Bob Gibbons (g); Herb Mickman (b); Jake Hanna (d).
  • "Moonglow"/"Fascinatin' Rhythm", 1977, George Barnes (g); Duncan James (g); Dean Reilly (b); Benny Barth (d).


George Barnes' compositions include "Kilroy is Here", "Starlight Interlude", "South Side Blues", "Suite for Octette", "Zebra's Derby", "Frolic for Basses", "It's Like the Fourth of July", "Floatin'", "Duet for the Three Guitars", "Dawn at Midnight", "Jumpin' Jack", "Sunday Drive", "Misty Morn", "Girl in a Picture Hat" (lyrics by Evelyn Barnes), "A Good Night for Murder", "Guitars Galore", "Movin' Easy", "Something Tender" (lyrics by Evelyn Barnes), "Frisky", "Fast and Fancy", "Hot Guitar Polka", "Hawaiian Hop", "The Purple Monster", "Private Blend", "Sugar Loaf", "Sunny Day in May", "Wait With Me, Love" (lyrics by Evelyn Barnes), "Lack-A-Day" (lyrics by Alec Wilder), "Watusi for Luci", "Jazz Man Blues", and "Blues Going Up."


  2. Rock-a-billy Hall. Rock-a-billy Hall.. Retrieved on 2011-11-01.
  3. JazzTimes review of Don't Get Around Much Anymore (George Barnes Quartet) by Jim Ferguson (retrieved 3 October 2011)

External links

  • The George Barnes Legacy Collection
  • NPR January 2013 Five Pioneers of Electric Jazz Guitar
  • Just Jazz Guitar February 2011 Interview with Alexandra Barnes Leh
  • Classic Jazz Guitar June 2006 Interview with Evelyn Barnes and Wayne Wright
  • George Barnes on IMDb
  • Interviews and discography
  • Photograph of George Barnes
  • George Barnes' Custom Guild electric guitar
This page was last modified 13.04.2014 21:03:50

This article uses material from the article George Barnes (musician) from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia and it is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.