In Chuck Holley’s new book, A Perfectly Good Guitar (University of Texas Press), he spent eight years interviewing professional guitarists about how they acquired that one special instrument and why it grew in importance to them. In all, Holley spoke with 46 musicians that included famous names from the worlds of Americana and country music (Rosanne Cash, Dave Alvin, Marty Stuart, Guy Clark), western swing (Ray Benson), the blues (John Hammond) and rock (Jorma Kaukonen, J.D. Souther).
The professional photographer/writer also included anecdotes from a number of studio musicians including Greg Leisz, Waddy Wachtel, G.E. Smith and Dan Dugmore. Each chapter is written in the words of the artist with a short bio tacked onto the end about the interview subject complemented by great pictures.
Anecdotes drip with strong emotion, whether it’s producer John Leventhal talking about inheriting his good friend Robbie Kaplan’s 1970 Telecaster after the latter died in an accident or how Doc Watson’s musical partner David Holt used his Valco resophonic guitar to heal from the grief he was suffering from losing his 10-year-old daughter in a car accident. There are many mentions of guitars having songs in them, being stolen, busted up and resurrected. It doesn’t take long to see how these inanimate objects become living entities, whether they’re being played or not, that carry an emotional weight with them.
While at times the jargon can go a bit on the technical side, it is the stories about how these artists wound up with their favorite musical tools that most resonate, regardless of whether you can play an instrument or not.