Interview with Marty Grosz - Noted Rhythm Guitarist, Singer, and Raconteur
Source: Pre-Concert Conversation with Michael Pettersen
I didn't know Freddie Green on a personal basis. We did play on the same concert bill several times in Chicago during the 1950s. He, of course, was with Basie and I was with a small group. In person, Freddie sounded different than he did on record. Live, I could hear more string noise caused by the pick, like you hear with all rhythm guitarists. His live sound did not have that same big, deep, woody sound that I hear on records. A good portion of that deep sound I attribute to placing the mic close to the lower F- hole of Freddie's guitar.
George Van Eps was too polite of a player to be a hard driving rhythm guitarist. He really want to play "lap piano" which was his description for his approach to the guitar. And he did. He didn't bend strings and do anything that could not be done on the piano. His technique was impeccable. Listen to his fast chord solos using three note triads...amazing.
Now Allan Reuss could really drive a big band. I liked him better than his teacher, Van Eps, in a big band. Just listen to the Goodman records from the mid-30s with Reuss.
Eddie Condon could not read music but he had a fabulous ear. He could hear the changes of any tune after hearing it once. He only played four string tenor guitar. I never saw him with a six string.
Barry Galbraith was a great rhythm guitarist. His secret was that he used just a hint of amplification so that he did not have to strum hard to be heard. Thus the extreme smooth sound of his rhythm playing.
I play a 1935 Epiphone now. For years, I played Gibsons. I had a Stromberg but did not like it. The bass and midrange were huge, but the high end had no sustain. It didn't work for my chord soloing which I do primarily on the top three strings. A good Stromberg sounds like a cello.
I blame amplification and microphones for the lack of players with a big, full sound. Think of Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Ben Webster, Jimmy Blanton, or Freddie Green. These guys learned to play before amplification was everywhere. They learned to play big and loud in order to be heard. That physical effort created a unique sound and an energy that I rarely hear today. Anybody can play a million notes on an instrument if there is a mic an inch away and no effort is required to produce the sound.