Billy Gibbons (L) and Slash (R) Photo Credit for Photo Above: Gibson. Gibson Live At The Grove, Getty Images (Phil Farone)
By Randy Winters
It’s January and that means it’s time for The NAMM show in Anaheim, California. As usual it is crammed to the walls with excited buyers and musicians all wanting to see, touch, and feel the latest equipment that drives the music industry.
As a Contributing Editor to the Old Guys Still Rockin I do my best to provide interesting stories and reviews for guitar players who have passed the 50-year mark. When I found that I was on the VIP list for Gibson’s private party at The Anaheim Grove, I was excited at the opportunity to hang out with, and listen to, music industry royalty.
The word was that Gibson was throwing the party to announce changes aimed at driving them forward after a few years of financial setbacks.
The Anaheim Grove is a high-end, theater-style restaurant with VIP parking—which I appreciated after negotiating the parking quagmire that always surrounds NAMM.
To my delight I discovered that dinner was included. I followed the crowd into the dining area where five different buffets offered everything from salads to lobster to prime rib. I settled on the salmon and started making some new acquaintances. We were all talking about Gibson guitars, of course. After all, I’m an Old Guy Still Rockin, and I play a Les Paul. The rumor was that after dinner we were going to be treated to some music by Gibson guitar celebrities including Slash, one of my favorite guitar players.
The concert began with a couple hours of great music from a variety of Gibson guitar players. It was expected that Slash would probably be the last performer, so we were all surprised when the announcer introduced Eagles’ guitarist Don Felder, winner of four Grammy awards, including one as the co-writer of “Hotel California.” Felder often performs with a Gibson Les Paul and his famous Gibson EDS-1275 (double-neck 6 and 12 string) electric guitars. Gibson named two re-issues after him in 2010: the “Don Felder Hotel California 1959 Les Paul” and the “Don Felder Hotel California EDS-1275”. Felder is an avid guitar collector, and owns several hundred models .
The former Eagles guitarist opened with “Pride and Joy,” a song made famous by Stevie Ray Vaughan. While I was impressed at what a great blues Felder is, like everyone else, I was thinking one thing: Is he going to play “Hotel California”?
As he announced the second song he brought out that famous white 12-string Gibson he used on so many Eagle songs. When he announced “Hotel California” the energy in the room jumped about 20 DB. We were getting a lot more than what we expected.
But wait a minute. What about that legendary dual solo at the end of “Hotel California” played by Felder and Joe Walsh? Who’s going to play Joe’s part? Then Felder stepped to the microphone and said, ”I’m going to need some help with this one. Here is my friend Slash.” The crowd went nuts. Hundreds of iPhones shot up into the air and locked on to the stage.
The first thing I noticed as the song began was how articulate and clean Felder plays guitar. The man is truly is a master of the instrument. It sounded so much like the record. I was to another time. I was at the LA forum years ago when the Eagles were on tour introducing the “Hotel California” album.
When the famous dual solo began, Slash ripped the night open with his aggressive style. We all shot up a dose of history being made right here, right now. To me the song never sounded better or more powerful. Felder and Slash took it to the limit.
One more time.
We were still energized by what we had just heard but Gibson had one more surprise: ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons! When “The Bearded One” took the stage, the crowd erupted again. I don’t think anyone else could have shown up that would excite me more than Billy. He is quite simply my favorite guitar player. I love his style of playing: How he expresses so many melodic phrases and gets so much out of his homegrown style.
Billy and Slash were only few notes into ZZ Top’s “Waiting for the Bus,” when the iPhones came out again. Even the waiters stopped to watch this magical musical moment.
When it ended I was left thinking of Les Paul and how he would have enjoyed this show. To see what he started and how the Gibson Les Paul guitar, in the hands of great players like Fielder, Slash and Billy, have kept the sound and power of the Les Paul guitar driving the music industry.
So, to all you Old Guys and Gals out there, tune up your Les Paul and get playing.
It’s not over yet.