To help celebrate Epiphone's 140th anniversary, we're putting the spotlight on some of the great Epi players of the past that you might have missed. After World War II, Les Paul, George Barnes, and many other high-flyin' jazzmen of the time used their electric hollowbody Epiphones in cutting contests, jam sessions, and recordings, borrowing ideas from Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt in an effort to push the boundaries of modern guitar.
But no one could beat the jaw-dropping solos of Junior Barnard from Coweta, Oklahoma
who performed for a short while with Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. Barnard, who died in a car crash at the age of 31 in 1951, left virtually no commercial recordings but he can be heard on the Tiffany Transcriptions recorded with the Texas Playboys in San Francisco, California just after World War II. And though most guitar greats of the day probably didn't know Junior existed, if he had lived, he surely would have made his mark nationally. Today, fans like Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel and Nashville's Kenny Vaughn are rediscovering Barnard's work and hailing him as a pioneer.
Junior remains today the most exciting soloist in western swing 62 years after his death. His fiery and futuristic leads, which have the tone of Charlie Parker plugged into a 15-watt tube amp with a half-blown speaker, sound like everything at once, conjuring pre-historic rock, Louis Armstrong Hot Five licks, rockabilly, fuzz, garage, punk, and primordial metal. Fans of Paul Burlison, Chuck Berry, Link Wray, and Hubert Sumlin (not to mention Junior Brown) will become instant devotees of Barnard's far-out runs which he made on an Epiphone Emperor rigged up with both a DeArmond pickup and an Epiphone steel guitar pickup, both wired out of phase and each sent to different amplifiers including an Epiphone amp of unknown origin that Junior bought with the guitar. Barnard definitely would have loved the modern Epiphone Broadway with two newly designed Alnico Classic humbucker pickups.
He also employed a volume pedal (an idea borrowed no doubt from steel guitar players) so he could react quickly to Wills' infamous last minute call outs. "In those days in the Wills band," rhythm guitarist Eldon Shamblin told writer Buddy Peters, "you never knew when you'd get a solo. Bob would just point his fiddle bow at you and say, 'Take it away.'
Junior didn't have time to turn the volume up, so you can see that the pedal was a time-saving device."
Take a listen to Junior in action and hear the sound of innovation and what you can accomplish with an Epiphone archtop. Read more about Junior and the history of the Texas Playboys here
. And as Bob says: "Get it low Junior or else ride it high."