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Gibsons in "Heartworn Highways"


rustystrings
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Saturday night my wife and I watched the 1975 documentary "Heartworn Highways," featuring a bunch of folks characterized variously as country revivalists, outlaw country, etc., including Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Rodney Crowell, Steve Young, a very young Steve Earle, Gamble Rogers, David Allen Coe, and many others.

 

What I found myself doing was keeping track of various guitars - no mean feat in the extras section that includes lots of the Guy and Susannah Clark-hosted Christmas gathering, where it appears folks are swapping instruments around. Guitars noted in the course of the film included -

 

1. '60s red sunburst B-25 without a pickguard played by Townes Van Zandt

2. '60s red sunburst J-45 w/ batwing 'guard in the party shots (I think Rodney Crowell plays it at one point)

3. '60s (I think) J-50, batwing 'guard, played by Steve Earle during part of the party sequence

4. (?) J-45 or J-50, top looks to be stripped or unfinished, reverse belly bridge, square area like a clear guard (?),

played by Steve Earle during much of the party sequence

5. Postwar J-45 (I think small 'guard, maybe '47-55?) played by Guy Clark for one song in the party, appears to be the

same guitar he works on at his work bench earlier in the film

6. Norlin-era J-45 with almost stenciled looking 'burst, square shoulders (can't remember who played it, though!)

 

There were a few Martins, notably Guy Clark's D-something ornate with Grover Imperial tuners, Steve Young's D-28 (?) with funky additional fingerboard inlays, and an ancient D-18 (I think) played at the party.

 

Seriously, a LOT of slope-shouldered mahogany Gibsons - but interestingly enough, NO small guitars of any stripe. (*edit - note Townes' B-25)

 

Comments? Anybody know if these guys actually played Gibsons regularly, or were these all from Guy Clark's stash back then?

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Oh man, I love that film.

 

The Cherry sunburst J45 that Townes plays on 'Waitin' Around To Die', in that deeply touching scene when he brings Uncle Seymour (the big elderly black man in the tan hat) to tears with his performance, is actually a B25, I think.

 

The size of the guitar is deceptive, due to Townes being very, very slightly built. If you see the pics of him playing his SJ200, he looks, in terms of comparitive size, like a toddler with a Golden Retriever sitting on its lap...hence the diddy B25 looking deceptively J45-sized.

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Jinder, you may be right. I'm used to thinking of Townes as tall and thin - but the way he holds the guitar in the film, headstock pointed somewhat down, may make it look bigger than it is, i.e., looking more like a J-45 than a B-25.

 

The Blue Sky website at <http://pnwpest.org/coopl/tvzfaq.html#19> has an FAQ, one of which is about which guitars Townes played through the years. The quote we want from that one is this -

 

ca. 1973

A red Gibson J45 or J50 slope-shoulder [seen in "Heartworn Highways" and in

"Be Here To Love Me", including where Townes is at the the Austin club Castle

Creek with Rex Bell and Mickey White. This guitar was loaned to Townes for

making the movie by his amigo Richard (Ricardo) Dobson, who later lost it

in a divorce. It had been customized a bit, with a hand-carved ebony bridge

made by Guy Clark - R. Dobson 2-28-2006]

 

 

- which may or may not be accurate. I can't really tell from the tone, and I don't think we ever see the whole guitar in a full-on angle shot in the film.

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Sitric, you'll love it! It's a brilliant, classic film.

 

Rusty, I had read that piece on Len Coop's page about Townes' guitars...I contributed some of the guitar info, in fact...I had always presumed the info about the J45 was wide of the mark, but I couldn't say for sure. It does look like a B25 to

me though, and I recently played a '64 B25 that looked and sounded almost identical to the guitar in the Uncle Seymour scene...I played Waitin' Around on it and was a wee bit spooked by the similarity in tone.

 

I love the fact there are quite a few Townes fans here. We are few and far between elsewhere!

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Hi guys, i'm a Gibson fan and i lurk here every once in awhile to check out the FS section and to read up on what Gibson owners have to say. I usually post over at acousticguitarforum.com. Anyways, i'm a pretty big Townes fan and Heartworn Highways is a pretty good doc in it's own right (maybe with the exception of the David Allen Coe scenes), and Be Here To Love Me was a great doc in and of itself. If you're a Townes fan as well i'd just like to recommend Robert Earl Hardy's "A Deeper Blue" bio on Townes. It's a relatively straight-forward linear re-telling of Townes' life. I enjoyed it. It did not cast the last Mrs. Van Zandt in such a great light, but it's a good read nonetheless!

 

As for the Guy Clark J50 it did look like it was unfinished. Do you think maybe he personally stripped off the lacquer to try to "release its tone" or do you think maybe it was in the middle of a re-fin job? I tried something similar with one of my guitars to negligible results.

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Rusty, you may well be right-Townes did go through various phases of being guitarless. The Martin D35 that he recorded everything up to 'Flyin' Shoes' on (he barely played guitar on 'Flyin' Shoes', as he'd broken his arm in a drunken truck crash in the run-up to the recording) was stolen from him in a brawl when he and a buddy accidentally walked into a gay bar whilst out on the lash, at some point in the mid-late '70s.

 

He eventually replaced the D35 with an Epiphone copy of an SJ200, which, according to Steve Earle, Townes hated so much he shot it to hell in his back yard. The Epi (or what's left of it) is apparently now owned by Michael Ewah, an Indian friend and drinking buddy of Townes'.

 

He then owned a few different guitars, including an Ovation (which he insisted on reassuring people was made of "fiberglass" not plastic!), and a nameless Dreadnought that appears in a couple of photographs around the time that 'Rear View Mirror' was recorded. It's widely believed that these guitars were traded away or hocked in the tight financial times for Townes and then-wife Jeanene preceeding Willie and Merle having a hit with 'Pancho & Lefty'.

 

It was around that time, circa '84-'85, that Townes picked up 'The Tin Man', an early Lawsuit-era Takamine F340S, a copy of a D28, nicknamed for its scalp-eviscerating treble if the then-primitive preamp EQ controls were set in a less-than-ideal way.

 

Townes, by all accounts, was very fond of The Tin Man, and the guitar remains in the family, now belonging to Katie Belle, his daughter.

 

In 1991, Gibson and Townes struck an endorsement deal, and Townes began playing the SJ200 that he was probably most widely photographed with. It is thought the guitar was made for Townes by Gibson luthier Chip Phillips, and was the instrument that Townes used exclusively, live, until his death. Steve Earle described it as "The worst J200 I'd ever heard", but Townes was very fond of the guitar and mentioned it several times in interviews, describing how it "played itself" and "was big enough to hide behind!".

 

I've rambled on a bit, but my point was that you are probably right-it is likely that Townes was guitarless at the time that HH was filmed, as he borrowed that cherry B25 for the movie from Richard Dobson.

 

Have you heard Richard Dobson's album of Townes' songs? I've only heard bits of it, but what I've heard is excellent.

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  • 10 years later...

I realize I am waaaaaaay late to the party, but I've been researching that red Gibson that TVZ played and wanted to contribute what I've found.

I believe it actually is a J-45 based on the double rosette around the sound hole. Between image searches, for sale listings, and anywhere else I could think to look, every single B-25 that I can find has a single, simple rosette. I'll wholeheartedly agree with everyone though that the body size is difficult to pin down, staring at that video even now I'm second guessing this post. But the clear-as-day double rings around the sound hole call it for me.

Just my $0.02, hope it helps...

Edited by Gibcaster000
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That's a real good video.  Never get tired of seeing it.  For me, it comes across so well because the people in it are professional humans and not professional actors.  You don't get a lot more real and in-your-face than Guy Clark or Townes.  Clark started making his own line of guitars when he was older.  Don't know if he sold any of them on the market or just made them for himself/friends.

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Lars - That is one beautiful D-35! So sad that his original D-35 is lost to history; if it survives today I doubt whoever has it even knows its story...

MissouriPicker - I couldn't agree more. I love his little quips like "I'll play a medley of my hit" and "Pick it! and it'll never heal..." For a guy so widely known to have lived a troubled life he always comes of as incredibly genuine - someone who wouldn't know how to be anyone but himself even if he wanted to.

This J-45/B-25 thing is really bugging the heck outta me though. If I'm reading the citation on the Blue Sky website it seems to be quoting the guitar's owner, Richard Dobson. Seems like he would know the correct model. But the size really does seem off. Guess we may never know for sure 😕

 

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I wanted to thank Gibcaster000 for resurrecting this thread. Having spent a decent chunk of my life in Texas I count myself fortunate to have seen most of these artists many times. I even have tucked away in a box somewhere a very small piece of art that Townes and Guy drew for my wife and I while sitting at the bar in Gruene Hall. Yet somehow in all of this time I had never heard of Heartworn Highways until this very thread popped up. I've been watching clips from the film out on YouTube as a result and will eventually try to locate the documentary in it's entirety. 

 

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Guth - It's my sincere pleasure. I'd been only peripherally aware of many of these great artists until about a year or so ago when I stumbled across the YouTube video of Pancho and Lefty from Heartworn Highways. I knew the song mostly from a live version Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson did that a friend put on a CD for me maybe fifteen or so years ago. I had always considered it a deeply moving and beautiful song, but knew little of its origins.

Finding that video was the start of a massive, ongoing period of discovery for me. Not only have I developed a deep love for Townes' work, but it was the catalyst for finding my way to all of these other amazing songwriters that have now had a huge impact on my listening and playing. This all happened for me when I was laid up with a bad injury and had a lot of time on the couch to burn. This music really helped me stay sane during that period and reignited my passion for growing as a guitarist.

I'm a little too young to have seen these guys in their prime, so the opportunity to connect with someone who got to be there first hand is really cool for me. And to find out that my experience has managed to roundaboutly enrich yours in the process is just too cool. Cheers!

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