Special thanks to ThisDayinMusic.com.
Back in the glorious ’60s, Record Mirror magazine reported that slap bang in the middle of swinging London was a very happening, very cool club. And in that club, as you walked down the stairs to the bar were huge letters written on the wall spelling out, “Bert Weedon is God.”
It was a response of course to the name given to the guitar hero of the day, Eric Clapton. So who was this Bert Weedon? And why did they call him “God”? And why did Clapton say on Weedon’s This is Your Life TV tribute, “Bert, thank you for all those tips on guitar playing that I got from your book, when I was young”?
In the mid-to-late ’50s Weedon – who was born in this day in 1920 – was Britain’s equivalent to Les Paul. He was the first really popular guitarist, and when, in 1957, he wrote and published a book to help wannabe guitar heroes learn to play, he became a guitar institution.
And it wasn’t just Eric who learned from that book. Brian May of Queen said on This is Your Life: “Mr. Bert Weedon – Guitar Wizard ... this guy is a legend ... there are thousands of us so-called guitar heroes who first saw live TV guitar playing by Mr. Bert Weedon. Thank you very much for spreading the guitar and your enthusiasm to all of us, who are very happy to know you.”
Other rock legends were also proud to pay their respects to Bert with testimonials for his book. “We all started off in our early days through your book Play in a Day – thanks Bert,” said John Lennon while Pete Townshend chipped in with, “Like everyone else I bought Play in a Day, and started off with it.” Paul McCartney stated quite simply, “We [he and George Harrison] went through the Bert Weedon books and learned D and A together.”
The story started in London in 1932, when a 12-year-old working class kid from the East End of London bought a guitar from a stall on Petticoat Lane market. A natural on the guitar, he was able to play any genre of music on sight, which led him to work with Britain’s top orchestras and bands. His versatility was a massive asset for TV producers and Weedon was snapped up by the BBC as a featured soloist with the BBC Show Band show, which saw Weedon on TV three times a week on Britain’s premier music program. His reputation was such that, in the ’50, he was playing with superstars Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby and Judy Garland.
When rock and roll hit the U.K. shores, Weedon was the fist guitarist that producers called to back the slew of new, young artists desperate to become Britain’s answer to Elvis Presley – from Billy Fury to Cliff Richard, Marty Wilde and Johnny Kidd.
Then, in 1957, Top Rank invited Bert to make his own record, making Weedon the first British guitarist to chart a single, the highly influential “Guitar Boogie Shuffle.” He followed up with “Apache” (before The Shadows), “Nashville Boogie,” “Ginchy” and “Tokyo Melody.” His many albums sold pretty well, too, going gold and platinum, for the most part.
And then there was the book: Play in a Day, released in 1957 and read by millions ever since. And in the dark ages before TV and the Internet, Weedon’s books opened a vast door of rock and roll possibilities to Britain’s rock-obsessed youth. Suddenly, in a lesson or two, they could make their guitar sound like the records. British guitar legend Hank Marvin even wrote a song about Weedon, simply titled, “Mr. Guitar.”
As Weedon’s rival as “God,” Clapton proclaimed to NME: “I wouldn’t have felt the urge to press on without the tips and encouragement that Bert’s book Play in a Day gives you. I’ve never met a player of any consequence that doesn’t say the same thing.”