Published On: Sat, Dec 28th, 2019

Profile: Charlie Christian, First Guitar Hero

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Take a stroll in the Bricktown district of Oklahoma City along Charlie Christian Avenue, or visit his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee webpage and see some of the impact this prodigal musician had on those who’ve followed in his footsteps. Even the electric acoustic guitar he played has a pickup that bears his name.

Follow Charlie’s Early Years

Charles Henry Christian, born in 1916 to musical parents, first lived in Bonham, Texas but the family soon moved to Oklahoma City. There, his blind father Clarence, and Charlie along with his two older brothers, performed as a family in the better local neighborhoods for whatever they were given. When his father died, young Charlie inherited his father’s instruments and wanting to learn sax in school, defied his music teacher’s wish for him to learn trumpet. He chose the baseball team rather than disfigure his lip playing trumpet.

It was his brother Edward who helped Charlie by mentoring him, getting guitarists he’d played with to give him guitar lessons, and exposing him to local musicians performing in the infamous “Deep Deuce” Northeast Second Street area of Oklahoma City. Among jazz roots implanted in the fledgling guitarist was the song “Rose Room,” on which Charlie learned to solo inside and out. This was to play a pivotal role later in his career.

On the Road to Fame

By 1936, Charlie was playing both locally and throughout the Midwest. His performances with pianists Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum brought him regional attention, and an introduction to producer John Hammond led to a rather lukewarm afternoon audition with Benny Goodman in 1939 at a local studio.

A discouraged Charlie figured that was the end of it, but John Hammond was not to be deterred and slipped the guitarist unnoticed onto the bandstand at Goodman’s Los Angeles gig that same evening. Not fond of surprises, Benny called out “Rose Room,” assuming Charlie didn’t know it. It was to be one of the standout horn-like solos Charlie favored that not only got him the gig with Benny Goodman, but also showed the bandleader what musical eloquence the newly electrified guitar could have in the hands of a master.

Charlie’s star rose quickly. Playing with Goodman’s all-star Sextet that featured Count Basie and other stellar musicians, he topped the jazz and swing guitarist polls for 1940-41 and became one of the Metronome All Stars. Unfortunately, his time on top was to be short-lived. The tuberculosis he’d contracted in 1930 and never successfully cured, coupled with his hectic lifestyle of performing all day and night, brought about his hospitalization in 1941 and eventual death in early 1942 at a Staten Island TB sanitarium.

Share Charlie’s Musical Legacy

Charlie Christian, Guitar Hero

Netherlands swing guitar teacher Mathieu Brandt points out in The Charlie Christian Approach, “Being the guitarist of Benny Goodman’s Big Band and jamming with the likes of Theolonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie, he can be called the Jimi Hendrix of his days.”

He goes on to show how Charlie used the relatively simple concept of chord shapes to create the compelling solos for which he’s so famous. Along with his rock-steady rhythmic comping, he’d pepper his chord-derived riffs with chromatic passing tones executed so thoughtfully that they colored his passages, rather than clouding them. He also made his guitar sing using string sustain and bent notes like the bluesmen he’d heard growing up.

Another lesser-known remembrance of Charlie Christian is the early Gibson electric guitar pickup he used that now bears his name. A large and ornate unit, it consisted of a scatter-wound coil surrounding a blade of mild steel coupled to bulky, low-power cobalt steel magnets available in those days. Although less efficient at capturing every nuance than today’s highly engineered pickups, the Charlie Christian pickup is being remanufactured exactly like the original to give the unique tone he’s famous for.

About the Author

- I am an internet marketing expert with an experience of 8 years.My hobbies are SEO,Content services and reading ebooks.I am founder of SRJ News andTech Preview.

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