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."

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