musicians there knew me from the music
store. I did a lot of work back then backing up musicians like Freddy Cannon, Del
Shannon, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley.
Bo used to say, “Play me something
funky! Don’t play the Bo Diddley beat.”
How did you like working with
Why the Explorer?
It fit my personality; it was big enough, different, but not too ridiculous. It had three knobs
and a toggle switch, it was easy to play, comfortable, simple—a work of art, not too curvy.
I own three original Gibson Explorers.
You own three out of the nineteen original
ones built between 1958 and 1959?
Yes. I also have six Les Paul Sunbursts, a few
‘Burst conversions and some custom ones. I
have three original Flying Vs, all with original
cases. There’s one collector out there who paid
thirty grand for an original Flying V case. That’s
nuts. I also have a ton of old parts: zebra PAF
He’s a very angry man (laughs). He would
never tell us what key the songs were in.
I used to look at his hands to see what
fret he was on. He made it clear to his
backup musicians that he didn’t need
us—we needed him. He gave the promoters a lot of grief with his demands.
Who were your guitar influences?
Duane Eddy, the Ventures, Chet Atkins,
and the edgier stuff like Jeff Beck, and
later, Jimi Hendrix. I saw The Yardbirds
with Jeff Beck, and was one of seven
people in the audience when the Jeff Beck
Group played locally. I saw Jimi at The
Factory, in Madison, WI.
You’ve had a long association with
Hamer Guitars. When did you hook up
with them, and what’s your relation-
ship with them like today?
It goes back to around 1973. I got a call
from Paul Hamer, who knew of me as a
guitar collector. He wanted a Sunburst
Les Paul Standard, and I had one to sell.
It was pretty faded out as I recall. He
gave me $2500 for it. My wife and I were
living in Philadelphia at the time, and she
was pregnant with our first child, so that
money allowed us to return to Illinois.
Paul sold that guitar, and that became the
working capital that helped start Hamer.
Another thing is, I was looking for an
Explorer. I had pictures of an original Gibson,
but they were so rare. There were only
nineteen built originally. Hamer agreed to
build me an Explorer-shaped guitar. I think I
helped reintroduce the Explorer to the general public. Hamer has built well over a hundred guitars for me over the years, maybe as
many as one hundred fifty. I still have about
seventy eight of them. I have given some of
them to Hard Rock Cafes around the world.