During the past few weeks, I’ve posted several Charlie Christian-related articles, including interviews with Benny Goodman, John Hammond, Barney Kessel, and Lynn Wheelwright, who found and now owns Charlie’s ES-250. I’ve just posted another Christian-related article, which includes the recollections of pioneering electric guitarist Eddie Durham and a scan of a letter from jazz guitarist Floyd Smith, who recorded “Floyd’s Guitar Blues” on electric guitar several months before Christian launched his recording career.

Eddie Durham’s 1935 recording of “Hittin’ the Bottle” with Jimmie Lunceford has been credited as the first amplified jazz guitar solo on record. Long before that, though, he had been experimenting with ways to make a guitar sound louder onstage. With Benny Moten’s band in the 1920s, he’d carved out his acoustic guitar’s top and inserted a pie tin to act as a resonator, and played through a megaphone. Then he got a National guitar and lowered its action with an acoustic guitar bridge. Finally, he got a DeArmond pickup. “But they didn’t have sound amplifiers,” he remembered, “so I’d get any kind of amp I could find and sit in the corner of the stage and run the cord to the guitar, and that was it. And if we were in an auditorium, I’d go directly into the sound system. You couldn’t play rhythm like that because it was too loud. I used to blow out the lights in a lot of places. I’d just play solo work, and I think that at the time I was the only guy playing that kind of guitar in a jazz band.”

In 1937, while on tour with Count Basie, Durham met both Charlie Christian and Floyd Smith. In our 1979 article in Guitar Player, Eddie remembered, “Charlie was only playing a little piano then – he wasn’t playing guitar. He wanted to know technical things, like how to use a pick a certain way. So I showed him how to sound like I did. I said, ‘Don’t ever use an up-stroke, which makes a tag-a-tag-a-tag sound. Use a downstroke – it gives a staccato sound, with no legato, and you sound like a horn.’” Durham went on to describe how he met Floyd Smith in Omaha, Nebraska, and convinced his mother to buy him a guitar.

As soon as that article hit the newsstands, I received a hand-written letter from none other than Floyd Smith, responding to some of the things Durham had said. It’s an interesting piece of jazz guitar history. If you want to learn more about Durham, Christian, George Barnes, and the other early electric guitarists, I’ve posted the info here, along with a scan of the Floyd Smith letter:
Jas Obrecht Music Archive