By Noë Gold
Doctor Noe is a veteran cultural commentator, former Features Editor at the Hollywood Reporter and Founding Editor of Guitar World.
For the complete interview of Frank Zappa by Noë Gold for Guitar World, go to http://wiki.killuglyradio.com/wiki/Zappa%27s_Inferno
Monday, September 12, 2016
Newman Lives! Pt. III
... being the third in a series of four articles about the legacy of the late guitar genius, Ted Newman Jones
These two newspaper clippings were found in Newman's effects. They have never been published online.
The first one, reprinted here without transcription, is from the Austin American Statesman, dated December 8, 1980 and written by American Statesman staff writer Richard A. Abrams. Ironically, the date was the same as the night John Lennon died.
Next up is ... Daily Texan Friday July 27, 1979 Guitars for the Stars [no byline] The man began traveling with bands at the age of 15. He hails from Tennessee, is 29 years old and strikes one as being an ordinary, everyday country boy.
The man is sure of himself. He once reworked an old guitar that he "thought Keith Richards would like, got in touch with the number of the Rolling Stones through a friend, sold the guitar to Richards and has since made him several more.
The man is Ted Newman Jones and he intensely dislikes his surname and rarely uses it.
He has toured with the Rolling Stones, Tracy Nelson (then with Mother Earth) and Isaac Hayes. He has made guitars, both acoustic and electric, for Mick Jagger, Ron Wood and Tom Petty. At the moment he is working on guitars for Bob Dylan and Travis Holland. Jerry Jeff Walker plays a Newman guitar even though he doesn't know it (it was sold to him through a friend of Newman's). Newman can build "a totally customed instrument to fit just about any player."
Newman grew up next to a radio station. "Just listening to the Stones when I was a teenager made me want to play," he said. "It ws the first thing I saw tht made any sense – they were the only people who picked up on the black energy – and to see some white English guys do this just blew my mind."
In 1972, Newman moved to Arkansas to apprentice for a year under Leo Erickson, perfecting his craft as an instrument maker. Since then he has led an alternating lifestyle – living out in the country in Arkansas, travelling with bands, making instruments, writing, playing and recording music.
He visited this city a year ago, "liked the youth of Austin," and moved here in December, 1978.
Newman rented space in an old warehouse downtown, and with the aid of partner Danny McCullough and co-worker Joel Judlin, began once more to do what he apparently does best – making musical instruments.
He said he also has plans to form a band in Austin and has already done some recording. "Making music is probaly my most important dream," he said.
"Guitar making is more or less a hobby but turned into a business, so what would you call that – a serious hobby, I guess."
"Hell, I didn't know how it started. I started working on them (guitars) because I couldn't get what I wanted," he said.
The art of instrument-making is time-consuming and demands precision.The effort that the process demands, especially that which goes into the final shaping, sanding and application of finish takes no less than 120 hours to complete one instrument. The delivery time for one of these custom-made guitars is usually between three to six months.
The guitar for Dylan that he is working on at the moment has intricate abalone decorations – hearts and crosses – on the fretboard. Newman said "elaborate inlays make it an individual piece – a work of art – and they do serve their purpose. They show you where you are on the scale.
Newman chooses the wood carefully, considering it a crucial aspect, and that accounts for the price he is able to demand for his work. His instruments start at $1,000. The average cost is $2,500, while $3,000 is the highest paid or a Newan guitar.
Newman and Judlin prefer not to do repairs, because it is so time-consuming and not as satisfactory as starting from scratch. Sometimes starting from scratch is a literal statement. Newman himself said he has chopped down a tree to get the wood he wants. All the guitars he makes are guaranteed and should "last longer than the player." And if parts can't be bought, "we make 'em," said Judlin.
Newman's own music consists largely of ballads and rock and roll. "I suppose the ballads would be considered a little bit country," het said.
"I never thought I could play an instrument until Keith Richards convinced me that I could. He encouraged me to play with him. All the Stones were real helpful and encouraging. They always showed me what I needed to learn," he said.
Newman is enthusiastic about the New Wave music that bounds back and forth on the airwave so often. "I think it's as important as the Beatles and Stones. They always showed me what I needed to learn," he said.
But the punk rock scene in Austin disappoints him. "It's designed around adolescent cliques," he said. It's bullshit."
Newman said he has "just about" reached the stage where he can make guitars when he desires and go on the road if the fancy shoud strike him. He will probably go on a U.S. tour with Mick Taylor in the fall, but only for three months. That's the most decadence he can take at one stretch, he said.
Ted Newman depends mainly on word-of-mouth to attract clients, and considering some of the mouths that are speaking his name, it's not surprising that the man is currently working on 13 intsruments, can charge $3,000 for a guitar and looks very satisfied himself.
Part IV will be entitled "Newman Guitars Lives," and will be about the passing of the torch to Jeff Smith, current proprietor of the legacy of Ted Newman Jones.
"Ted left a lot of work to do so we're doing it," says Jeff
Newman's response was typically awe shucks. "I've watched this transition, I've taken the Newman Guitar to its fullest extent, five-string six-string, neck-through bolt-on, and then I met Jeff Smith and he enhanced everything that I have accomplished, and we have a little dreamboat girl, a series of statuettes – who wouldn't want to finger and play on one. They are edible. And I always thought that was a part of it, being 'delectable.'"