By Calvin Palmer
Guitarist Bert Weedon, the man who was an inspiration to a generation of rock guitarists with his book Play In A Day, has died aged 91.
In the early sixties, for any self-respecting youngster with musical aspirations and wishing to emulate The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and a raft of groups spawned by the Mersey Sound, Weedon’s manual was the first point of reference and a step taken by the likes of Hank Marvin, Keith Richards, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton and Brian May.
As a 10-year-old caught up in Beatlemania, I wanted a guitar – an electric one. My parents were not prepared to invest in something that I would likely be keen on for six months but then leave it unplayed as I moved on to something else. I had a track record for doing that.
But not wishing to thwart my musical ambition, they got an old Spanish guitar from Penkhull musician George Prophett. The next purchase from Chatfield’s music shop, in Hanley, was a plectrum and a copy of Weedon’s Play In A Day. I was all set.
Well, I would have been had the guitar had a normal action. Unfortunately, its action was high, meaning that the strings were a lot higher above the fretboard than is normal and required greater pressure to hold them down.
Like everyone who has used Weedon’s book, I could play Bobby Shaftoe after a few hours and went on to learn a few chords but at great cost to the finger tips of my left hand. So my chances of lining up with Eric Clapton a few years down the road quickly disappeared. I gave up after a few months and the Spanish guitar gathered dust.
I often wonder what might have happened if my parents had purchased a new guitar and one with a normal playing action.
I got the answer some 10 years later when I bought a Yamaha acoustic guitar during my studies at Manchester University. On this second attempt, I abandoned dear old Bert’s book in favour of a trendier guitar tutor, Harvey Vinson. Vinson’s book was more rock and blues oriented. It featured guitar TABs, if my memory serves me correct, and also pictures of Hendrix, Clapton and other guitar heroes of the time. I could relate to it far better than Bert’s book. I mean, come on, Bobby Shaftoe isn’t exactly a rock anthem.
Through this book I learned about bar chords and also discovered that I was destined never to be a guitarist. A minor bar chord requires the player to hold down three strings with the fourth finger. Try as I may, I just could not do it. Major bar chords were no problem, it was holding down the three strings on the minor chord that was the stumbling block.
And then I made a startling discovery. I have a birth or genetic defect – the top joint of the fourth finger of both hands will not bend and, without flexibility in that joint, holding down three strings in a minor bar chord is impossible.
Through a quirk of fate, rock stardom was denied to me. Of course, not having sufficient talent could also have had something to do with it.
So long Bert. You tried your best to teach me the guitar. And thanks to you, if I were to pick up a guitar today, I could still play the chords of G, D and C.