Sunday, May 06, 2012

Bert Weedon (1920-2012)

By Richard K. Barry

(For my approach to noting selected lives lived, see here.)

Bert Weedon was a British guitarist known, in part, for his popular instructional manual "Play in a Day." What made Weedon better known than he might otherwise have been was that a number of aspiring British rock stars made use of Weedon's method to help them on their way. This included Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Pete Townsend, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Keith Richards, and Sting.

Beside his interest in music education, Weedon also had a career as a performer, working as a studio musician, television personality, and soloist, though of a particular kind. As the New York Times obit indicates, Weedon was anything but flashy and very decidedly "un-rock 'n roll."

As a television performer in the late 1950s, when he was in his 30s, Weedon cut a curious figure, looking more like a bank manager than a guitar hero. He had crinkly hair, beady eyes, a blob of a nose and a roguish smile, and invariably appeared in a dark suit and white shirt.

"Play in a Day," which was first published in 1957, has been translated into several languages and is still in print. His website is still up and running.

In 2001, Queen Elizabeth II presented Mr. Weedon with the Order of the British Empire.

As a person alway in the process of trying to improve my playing ability on a few different instruments, I have countless instructional books around the house. Mr. Weedon's is not among them. If I lived in England, it probably would be. Many of my books are put out by the famous Mel Bay Publications, and though they are mostly useful, the cover shots are frequently ridiculously out of date, showing an "instructor" who might well have been a hipster 50 years ago, but no longer.

Not that any of that matters. The fundamentals of playing something like the guitar haven't changed in a very long time, as I suspect all the rock stars listed above could attest.

If Mr. Weedon did nothing else in his life, and he appears to have done much more, than help a generation of British musical standouts learn to play the great six-stringed beast, then that is not a bad accomplishment. Though, and excuse my skepticism, I doubt any of them learned to "Play in a Day."

Here's a great clip of Bert Weedon performing some boogie woogie in 1982.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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