In in the middle of his tumultuous 1966 tour of Britain, when ‘going electric’ became synonymous with him taking thirty pieces of silver, Bob Dylan stopped off before his gig in Liverpool with rock photographer Barry Feinstein. What resulted was this classic shot with some local kids.
It even moved me to poetry, some years ago:
Pictures with Meaning: Bob Dylan with Liverpool kids, 14 May 1966
Tiny rock jockey
coming up on the rails
riding his coattails
cup final afternoon in Liverpool
Everton come back in black and white
drawn to the big car
in a floppy hat
Feinstein fusses: at last they settle
jammed in a doorway
of this grubby maelstrom
one hiding his laugh
one serious, buttoned up
one snot-sweet girl, mostly smile
two streets along,
a brick falls
worked loose on a bombsite
in three days
Dylan will die
when the folkies crucify him
then rise again
new electric god
playing it fucking loud
while the kids, oblivious
use jumpers for goalposts
In fact, looking back, it moved me to poetry twice: I won’t trouble you with the second one, but describes him emerging onstage after the break (the first half of the concerts were just Dylan and his acoustic guitar) thusly:
‘a street punk came out of the chrysalis, toting a Telecaster…’
Which is one reason why I always thought of the Fender Telecaster, 70 this year, as a rock n’ roll guitar.
There are plenty others of course: Keith Richards is rarely seen without a Tele slung across him. Bruce Springsteen has that iconic stripped-wood one. When Leo Fender first grabbed a plank of wood and nailed a few strings to it he created a classic, simple design that sits well with the rock n’ roll attitude: your basic model has a thick, hefty solid body, a couple of no-fuss single-coil pickups, and a three-position switch. Nothing fancy. And yet…
The Telecaster isn’t just a rock n’ roll guitar. Dylan very likely picked his up from Robbie Robertson, who, with his fellow members of the Band, had been the backing band for rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins, then going off on their own to play blues and soul, before fetching up as Dylan’s band (or Band) on that legendary tour.
The truth is, a Telecaster is as much a country music guitar as it is rock, or indeed anything else. The country connection was brought home to me when we went to Nashville, and they were all over the place! When you think about it, in 1951, rock n’ roll hadn’t been invented, and the bands that really wanted extra volume on their guitars were more likely to be playing Carter Family favourites than Be-Bop-A-Lula.
And the truth also is, any electric guitar is only as good as what you hook it up to. The signal that comes from it can be manipulated any which way by amplifier settings, effects pedals, or, when recording, all numbers of different software effects. I was reminded of that when reading that all of the guitar on Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’ is a Telecaster.
My own Tele isn’t a Fender, it’s a Harley Benton. As I’ve said before on the blog, I’m not a big believer in paying for the name, and this one came by way of a trade with my friend and fellow musical traveller, Jeff Sniper.
Courtesy of the previous owner, it boasts a cool yellow sniper target on the body which contrasts nicely with the classic black and white finish. Jeff told me when we traded it was a good songwriting guitar, and so it’s proved: when you wake up in the morning with musical ideas, it’s handy to have an unplugged electric on hand to work them out on.
Although my acoustics feature on my new album too – including the twelve-string Freshman, restrung as a six-string in the so-called ‘Nashville tuning’ (info for guitar nerds only) – I kind of feel the reverb-laden sound I’ve coaxed out of Jeff’s electric is the defining ‘country’ element in the sound, really, in the absence of any strings or pedal steel.
Which is a long way of getting to a word from our sponsors, as they used to say in 1951. My album is out on Bandcamp here: it raises money for Fife Women’s Aid, and it’s called ‘If God’s Not On The Angels’ Side (Who The Devil Is). I hope, even if you don’t naturally consider yourself a country music fan, that you give it a go. It’s a long way from commercial, slick country pop, but in a good way I reckon.
Or, if you prefer, my record label boss (yes, I have one of them now!) Tom Hilton of Aldora Britain Records describes it in this way:
‘Despite the Scottish heritage, Ferguson delves deeper with this release. It is rooted in the great tradition of American country music with a heavy slice of Southern Gothic, all the while staying true to the singer’s strong regional accent. Imagine if we transplanted The Proclaimers across the Atlantic and brought them up on a steady diet of outlaw country and Appalachian folk. Scottish storytelling grit with free-roaming American spirit. These two cuts justify these transatlantic comparisons. Scottish Southern Gothic, we like the sound of that.
For fans of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and The Proclaimers.’
Yep, I’m liking Scottish Southern Gothic too. Incidentally, Tom has released probably the two best solo tracks on the album as a single here. Tom is a thoroughly good bloke who does this for a living and has a wife and ten(ish) children to support, so that would be a shorter and cheaper way of supporting me!
I dunno. Probably something not involving guitars. or the Proclaimers. People used to say I looked like one of the Proclaimers. They could never say which one (that gag was funnier when Craig and Charlie looked identical, to be fair).
P.S. When researching this piece, I came across this video about Dylan’s Stratocaster that he played at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. If you want to disappear down that particular rabbit hole.