Monday, August 8, 2016

Newman Lives! Pt. II

... being a re-post of an article about the late guitar genius, Ted Newman Jones

Funny how things work out some time. I reposted this article from 1981 ...

Guitar World-May 1981 Andy Summers cover

 ... "Keith Richards' Guitar Maven" on Facebook a short time ago and I happened to tag "Newman Guitars." I got this response: "The interview you did with Ted did a lot for his self-respect and cemented his place in history. I believe he passed away reclaiming the glory you shed light on in the GW article. I am continuing with Newman Guitars."

But while this post was not written by Ted Newman Jones, Jeff Smith was its author, having set up the Facebook Page at Ted's request. More on that in Pt. III of this three-parter. Here is ...

Keith’s Right-Hand Man

from Guitar World May 1981, Page 51

[This story was lifted wholesale from Guitar World magazine by its author, Noe Gold aka "Noe the G," who was the first editor of that illustrious magazine. It's adaptation was inspired by a post by Daniel Thornbrough on the Facebook page of its subject, Ted "Newman Guitars" Jones.]

   I’d been trying to locate this guy for  months, this Ted Newman Jones character – or 
Newman-Ted Jones or just plain Newman, by most ("I use that name because whoever heard of 'Jones Guitars?’ ”). I'd already decided that the magazine ought to have a story about the technician who han­dles a band's guitars. Hearing about this guy with a little guitar shop in Austin who has been going out on tour with the Rolling Stones since becoming Keith Richards' personal instrument caretak­er, tactician and moral support, and who had been rumored by his close buddies to be quite bonkers and a lot of fun made me more than anxious to meet him. 

   About the time I gave up on the idea of finding some excuse to go to Austin and talk to him. I got a call from a mutual acquaintance that Newman was in town on some projects that I'd be interested in, and that he was not averse to talking about them. So, the first thing I got to see Newman do was give some advice to our mutual friend (John Rivers Bicknell, the guy who draws the cartoons in this magazine) about a guitar he'd given up for dead. He also sold him one he was kind of looking for. 

   John was telling us about the Tele­caster he'd just committed to the shop for a new neck, since "some old guy in Shreveport redid it. It was an original 1953 neck. And he sanded it down so thin that the headstock was coming up. He sanded the first four frets almost flat." 
"Owwww,” howls Newman, truly in pain, "The guy didn't know what he was doin'." 

   "No. he didn't. So it was rounded. About the sixth or seventh fret it started getting round. But it was flat before that. It was just a mess. So I'll have to throw the neck away, unfortunately." 

   "Well, don't do that. You know I can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Any kind of neck like that, John, you know I got all these heat pressures and shit. I can –"

   “– just bend it back. Well, I'll give you this neck," says John, "and you can, if you think it's savable.'' 

   “Sure, it’s savable. I put heat lamps on 'em and all kinds of clamping devices you know, different tensions and pres­sures and add humidity and subtract humidity. Shake all the stuff up and, you know, dust it with a little gris-gris dust. Meantime, I'll ship you this Esquire I got that you'll really like better. It's got kind of a, I think it's a Dimarzio pickup.

   "It's a Schecter neck – a full-fitting neck, not too thin – it's probably gonna be real similar to what you've put on your Strat but it also can be taken down to any size – when they're too small is when you're in trouble. It can be shaped to any size. You know if you were to play it awhile and didn't like it you could say, hey put a V in it or make it thinner or somethin'. 

   "It's got a chunky feeling – I like it 'cause I play so much acoustic guitar." 

   Newman was in town, it turns out, both on guitar business and on Rolling Stones business. Though they put out a lot of p.r. about farewells to touring in the future, the band was beginning to rustle into activity. Working on the recording of other acts like Max Romeo, signed to their Rolling Stones label; getting out into the street and partying and making noises like they were going to be touring in either spring or summer. Keith was doing all this running around. and writing some songs. Studio time had been booked at New York's Electric Ladyland for work on the next album.
So Ted Newman Jones, the ''bubba" from Tennessee, is holed up with his lady at the Chelsea Hotel to look over Keith's guitars, share ideas with him about a few things and generally hang out and keep him company on various exploits like wild rides through the metropolis in a checker cab that Keith had bought as a New Year's gift for his girlfriend. Because that's been part of his job for the past eight years – to hang out with Keith Richards and keep him and his guitars in tune.

When the Stones go
out on the road,
Ted Newman Jones
leaves his rather
rustic surroundings
for months on end of performing.
His job for the past eight
years has been to
keep thirty-odd
guitars in tune, and to keep
Keith Richards together. 

   One of the ideas he's been talking over with Keith is the musician's support of a pet proiect – the Newman Keith Richards Model. Newman has already made a number of versions of the guitar for Keith and some players around Austin. The idea is to market the instrument on a limited-production basis via one of the major guitar manufacturers. The guitar is both futuristic-looking and classic. With an off-center double ellipse shape that suggests the curves of an acoustic gui­tar, it leans forward on its ellipses like a Strat, with the neat scallop of an other­worldly cutaway. It is both practical and sleek – the back and neck are cherry and the face is bird's-eye maple with a match­ing maple fingerboard. It has a simple dot inlay, though Newman has been known to create less traditional finger­board ornaments) like the Woody Woodpecker Newman etched onto the one he made recently for Ron Wood). The gui­tar has EMG pickups with a built-in preamp to eliminate noise and static. 

   Newman is pretty thorough about his craftsmanship. He builds his own fin­gerboards and a lot of his own hardware. He uses Schaller machines and some Schecter bridge parts and neck plates. He makes his own truss rods out of stainless steel ("It's stronger'') and even builds his own cases. Newman has been known to watch a particular cherry tree that was old and "seasoned standing" and save the wood for one of his special guitars. 

   He's made a five-string model tor Keith, which is light and easy to handle. It's missing the bottom string, and is tuned to G D G B D – its G-tuning may be heard on "Jumping Jack Flash,” "Street Fighting Man,” "Can't Always Get What You Want,” "Brown Sugar," "Tumblin' Dice" and a number of other songs that would-be Glimmer clones always have a hard time figuring out from the record. The sound comes from the five-­string that Newman made for Keith which was lost in a fire. That was the first guitar Newman built for Keith.

   The story goes that Newman, being ravaged by a Stones mania that grasped him trancelike, stole his father's credit card and flew over to Europe to show Keith a guitar. "That is a fucking wild story," says Bubba right now, clearing the record, "and not true at all. It grew from a joke I made in an interview. Some guys'll print anything. What really hap­pened was I got a credit card loan – at that time I was eighteen or something, and you could get a Bankamericard loan for two hundred bucks. I went down and told 'em I was going to France to meet Keith Richards and give him a guitar­, which turned out to be true. The guy kind of looked at me like – hmmmm, if you pull this one off. … A girlfriend of mine sent me a hundred bucks, and then my mother was so proud that I'd got this bank loan that she gave me a hundred bucks and I split for Europe.

"Newman" has built guitars for the heavies. Tom Petty wanted one with broken heartson the fingerboard.Dylan got crosses instead of dot-markers.

  "I had with me this little Rickenbacker solidbody which I'd found and fixed up. Put my touch on it and made it look the way I make a guitar look, which is pretty cool, and he liked it. I told him I'd done the work myself and so he could see where I was coming from and that's how I got the job to travel and take care of instruments and tune and stuff like that – actually. to be more or less a compan­ion to him on the road."

   From 1972, during the touring heyday of the Stones, that was Newman's job. Working three months on, nine months off during peak seasons, he was with the group through all the major tours except the last one. He was at Altamont, tossing perfectly tuned guitars deftly to his man. He lived with the band in England for a couple of years and he and Keith became inseparable. He'd go on jet-jags and binges, hell-bent for leather tours at a stepped-up metabolism rate, then retreat to his more rustic surroundings in Arkan­sas, and later in Austin, where Keith sponsored him in his endeavor to set up a guitar shop.

   In between tours one time, he flew down to Nazareth, Pennsylvania and toured the Martin plant as a guest of Martin guitar historian Mike Longworth, who answered his many questions about how the instruments were put together. He went back to Arkansas and finished his apprenticeship with luthier Leo Erickson. After a few guitar projects for Keith he found himself in business.

   Today, Newman enjoys a reputation which gets him more work than any major ad campaign could. He is constantly get­ting referrals by people who have been pleased with his personalized attention. Newman's guitars are body-fitted to the individual, with neck scales made to taste as well. 

   And inlays. “Dylan asks me what I could do for him and I just named out things that I had done. Some of the stuff had been things out of a deck of cards – there were hearts, diamonds, spades. He says, 'How about crosses?' I says, 'What kind of crosses?' He says, 'Christian crosses.' I said 'OK, sure.' It was a custom job.'

Indeed, when you look for Newman at the next Stones tour, he'll be somewhere behind Keith's ampswith a set of earphones tuned into a strobe-tuner,which is plugged into one of nine or ten guitars onstage.

   He's also made a guitar tor Tom Petty that has broken hearts inlaid along the fingerboard, and special axes for Willie Nelson's band, Chris Ethridge, Joe Ely and a growing list of others. When this sort of life starts to pale, Newman will once again take to the road. In fact, he seemed to be open to the possibility of an Austin-based guitar tech consultancy, which would enable him to travel out with other bands than the Stones. 

   "See, I think the Stones'll go out in spring or summer, and I'll probably go with 'em. But it would be nice to continue the momentum, going out on three or four gigs with the Pretenders, or even train their guitar action so it's more proficient, and then fly back to my home base and make some more guitars. That would be ideal. A real consultancy operation. Kind of do some preliminary road-work, go to gigs and see what's going to be happening operationally, preplan the tour. They're going on a world tour. I've been to a lot of places, but I'd be interested to go to some places I haven’t been, like Japan."

   What he does onstage during a show can be summed up in his own words by the motto "Don't Panic." These words are evident in his khaki-colored approach to stage pyrotechnics. "There's bound to be all kinds of things that can fuck up and you'll want to be there to catch a flying instrument, and have another one ready and in tune for the next number. That's the main thing to watch out for."

   Indeed, when you look for Newman at the next Stones tour, he'll be somewhere behind Keith's amps with a set of earphones tuned into a strobe-tuner, which is plugged into one of nine or ten guitars onstage. Some of these will be tuned for different slews of songs in, say a G tuning. For these, Newman will have guitars set up to play this tuning in both the natural arrangement and with a capo.

   "The other rule I have is if somebody on stage is pissed off about something, don't take it personally. On the other hand, don't cater to their every whim, otherwise you'll never get your work done.”

   After doing this for a few nights a week for three months, Newman will drag his ass back home, where the guy who turned him on to his first Rolling Stones record is still incredulous at the fact that Ted Newman Jones actually works with Mick, Keith, Ron, Charlie and Bill. He'll get back in that workshop and tell yarns all winter, getting ready for the next big blowout.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Newman Lives! Pt. I

Keith Richards already knows that five strings can be better than six for fresh and out-of-the-box chord structures. He learned it from his encounter with the late Ted Newman Jones.

I guess my connection to Newman started way before I ever met him in the early '80s via a mutual friend, the funky Shreveport guitar player we had in common named Johnny Rivers Bicknell, for my Guitar World story. No, I actually "met" him on Mick Jagger's birthday, July 26, 1972 and we were on opposite sides of the line at what would turn out to be a most memorable Rolling Stones concert at Madison Square Garden.
Ted at Mick's 29th birthday party in 1972.
Ted is on the couch backstage on tour.

Now, Newman had his own take on this little scenario, and he only recently told it to his confidant Jeff Smith in an interview made just a month ago in June. "It took place in Manhattan on the rooftop of the St. Regis Hotel," the guitar maven recalled about the night of the famed MSG concert recorded for posterity on this bootleg collection: Welcome To New York Rolling Stones _ July 1972  "It was Mick Jagger’s birthday of 29 years with Andy Warhol, Lee Radziwill, Truman Capote, Terry Southern and the whole Stones touring party. I danced all night with Carolyn Kennedy while Keith and Dylan laughed at our shenanigans. Music was provided by Count Basie and Muddy Waters." 

My sister Anna and I went to see the Stones that night. We moved up to the front row – in those days you could do that; note the absence of a guard rail and phalanx of beefy mofos. That's us on the lower left hand portion of your screen: 

New York Post, July 27, 197, by Frank Leonardo
This was on the front page of the Post next day, July 27, 1972 – and here is that footage of the concert, actual footage of Mick splashing the crowd during "Jumping Jack Flash," with me and my sister getting gloriously soaked. The Rolling Stones-Jumpin' Jack Flash (1972) - YouTube

On the other side of the risers, always not far from Keith Richards, was Ted Newman Jones, described by Keith here as, "A young cowboy called Newman Jones." How Newman got there is a long and interesting tale (you'll need to wait for Pt. II) but what he was doing is much more important. His job was to keep Keith rolling while all around him were getting stoned.

Keith Richards story of Ted Newman Jones Guitars

What began as the fullfillment of Newman's dream to bring Keith a special guitar, wound up being not only a nifty gig but the beginnings of a beautiful friendship around the concept that blues are played more profoundly when they are filtered through the prism of a five-string, open-tuned instrument. "I started off by using ordinary guitars and taking off the sixth string, which is alright, but Newman brought me a five-string guitar he'd rigged up that makes it easier to play with five strings. He's made a couple for me since then," he continued, "everything made for five strings."

Then, along came Jeff – Jeff Smith, that is – a guy who went to a guitar show after reading my article and parting with some hard-earned dineros to take home a fabled Newman guitar. That, too, is a long and interesting story but  what is a big takeaway from it is Jeff's determination to put Newman back on the map, to carry on his legacy and to declare once and for all that the "Five-String Open-G revolution has begun. So much fun to play. Nothing like it. It's a Newman.

"His innovation of the  five-string and guitar design are so pioneer that the whole world of guitar players have to catch up to Ted. The five-string concept is new chords and a new voice, which extends the typical known Guitar of today. Everybody deserves an opportunity to learn what Keith Richards already knows, which is five strings can be better than six for being fresh and thinking chord structures outside of the box. My role is to keep the work we have already planned on course. Ted left a lot of work to do so we're doing it."

More on this in Pt. II, wherein I will also reprise the Guitar World story that played out on Page 52 of the May, 1981 issue, the one with Andy Summers on the cover and a cover line that trumpeted, "Keith Richards' Guitar Maven":
The May, 1981 cover
So that is Part I of our saga. Sadly, it ends with my obituary that was posted soon after he died here. "Keith Richards’ Guitar Maker Ted Newman-Jones Dead at 67" was the headline and I proceeded to share the sad news that "... guitar designer and builder Ted Newman-Jones, who made a number of custom electric guitars for Keith Richards and was the Rolling Stones axe-man’s tour guitar tech in the 1970s, died last Friday (7/1). Simply known as Newman to his friends, he also built custom guitars for Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Ronnie Wood, the late James Honeyman-Scott of The Pretenders, Lucinda Williams, Willie Nelson and Joe Ely, among others. As well, he put together Eric Clapton‘s legendary Fender Stratocaster known as “Blackie” ...

Between my 1981 story and my 2016 obituary, there was one other major publication that attempted to place Newman in the proper historical context: "A Guitar for Mr. Richards," Vintage Guitar magazine's 2015 recap by its editor Ward Meeker, who writes ... "Behind Jones’ affiliation with the Rolling Stones lies a fascinating story of how a kid from Texas one day showed up unannounced at the Stones’ headquarters in France, where Richards and the band were hard at work making one of their best albums. The audacity and his skills then put him to work with the group through major tours and albums in the band’s prime. He was at Altamont, and lived with the band in England, staying close to Richards on 'jet-jags and binges' between retreats home during Stones downtime."

But that, is another story. Stay tuned for its unraveling in my next post, "Newman Lives! Pt. II."