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A Conversation With Art Greenhaw About Making Records With Nokie Edwards by Noel Squitieri

Article courtesy of SurfGuitar101.com

In previous conversations with Art Greenhaw we discussed his experiences recording with Bob Bogle and Nokie Edwards, and some of the music he made with them. You can find these two articles here, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/undergroundfire2/conversations/messages/49859, and here: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/undergroundfire2/conversations/messages/45952

Art Greenhaw has had the distinct pleasure of recording many albums with Nokie Edwards. In this third conversation with Art, I discussed four of those records, Guitar Band Classics, Guitars Over Texas, Christmas in Guitarland, and the recently re-released Live at La Me Studios: The Texas R&B Show Band Sessions.

As a body of work, these four albums cover a wide, though not all-encompassing, range of the musical interests of Nokie Edwards. Like The Ventures? You’ll find lots of Ventures songs, though not the same arrangements and orchestration. Like Americana and Roots music? You got it. There’s even some big band swing. What is inescapable is that you hear Nokie Edwards’ signature sound and feel, his style, everywhere, and you can always tell that it’s Nokie.

This interview was conducted via email primarily during the month of June, 2014. Other than correcting a few spelling errors, I’ve left Art’s comments exactly as I received them, for I believe to do any more would edit away Art’s enthusiasm and passion for the music he makes.

Art Talks About His Favorite Records He Made With Nokie.

Noel:
Of all the songs you’ve ever recorded with Nokie Edwards, do you have any clear favorites?

Art:
My absolute favorites would be our GOSPEL records, particularly the songs “EYES ON THE PRIZE”, “HIGHER GROUND”, “LIFE’S RAILWAY TO HEAVEN”, “DARE TO BE BRAVE”, “HOUSE OF THE RISEN SON”, “THERE IS A FOUNTAIN”. The interplay between the roots guitars and the quartet and solo voices and the powerful lyrics are to me, just mesmerizing and magical.

And Noel, I know how many of your readers and friends love and even prefer instrumental guitar and surf music, so my favorite records on our indie label, Art Greenhaw Records, in this field would be “I GOT A WOMAN”, “ODE TO JOY”, “TELSTAR”, “SLAUGHTER ON TENTH AVENUE”, “PIPELINE”, “WIPE-OUT”, “WALK DON’T RUN”, “SECRET AGENT MAN”, “STAR-SPANGLED BANNER ’04” and “AMERICA”.

Noel:
Then let’s start where you did, with the gospel songs. Would you please tell me how you and Nokie decided which songs to record?

Art:
It’s a combination of Nokie’s ideas and my ideas. There might be a song Nokie particularly suggests, such as “CHURCH IN THE WILDWOOD”. There might be songs that I adapt to Gospel music and the Gospel message — that Nokie has been playing in an instrumental format, classic melodies such as “THE WATER IS WIDE” and “SHENANDOAH”. These 2 melodies, for example, after our adapting/arranging became “HIGHER GROUND” and “THERE IS A FOUNTAIN”. Gospel music has always been my very favorite music having been inspired as a child by the records of The Blackwood Brothers, The Jordanaires, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Elvis Presley, Joe Maphis, Semie Moseley, The Light Crust Doughboys, Peter Paul & Mary and so many more. A lot of people don’t know that RICK NELSON did inspirational music on several albums, he even had an EP called RICKY SINGS SPIRITUALS. I was probably most influenced in Gospel music by my father – who directed church choirs, who arranged Gospel music and who produced and directed Gospel and Christian records. I hope you’ll check out more of the work of Frank W. Greenhaw –on Nokie’s website and also on FACEBOOK at the Frank W. Greenhaw Tribute Page.

Noel:
I’m trying to put myself at the table with Nokie and you while you discussed the songs to record. Did Nokie explain why he wanted to record “Church in the Wildwood” with you? Or was it just as simple as you indicated, that he wanted to do these and you wanted to do those, and that was all there was to it? Can you recall any discussion you had with Nokie about these songs?

Art:
It was straightforward, no in-depth, soul-searching discussions! I did base some Gospel songs on well-known riffs, for instance “DARE TO BE BRAVE” was adapted from “LA BAMBA”. “HOUSE OF THE RISEN SON” from “HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN”. “AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL” and “AMERICA” from famous, Tom Brumley-Rick Nelson steel guitar licks and turns. Just little things like these that have always given me JOY JOY JOY—from my favorite historical records!

I remember when we finished the song “HIGHER GROUND”, Nokie was very, very pleased and inspired and “moved” by the combination of music and lyrics. The lines “My heart has no desire to stay, where doubts arise and fears dismay, though some may dwell where these abound, my aim, my hope, is HIGHER GROUND…” These words with the melody –he thought were just very powerful and very, very moving.

Live at La Me Studio: The Texas R&B Show Band Sessions
1. Twist
2. Summertime
3. Proud Mary
4. The Shadow of Your Smile
5. Hearts of Stone
6. Girl From Ipanema
7. Match Box
8. More
9. Georgia on My Mind
10. Luv Band Blues
11. Misty
12. Twist (Reprise)

I’m a sucker for a Bossa Nova. The easy grace of a Samba rhythm always catches me just right, and puts me in a good mood. So, The Shadow of Your Smile, Girl From Ipanema, and to some extent, More, are among my personal favorites on this record. But it’s Nokie’s playing that stands out, like on Georgia on My Mind and Luv Band Blues. He really sounds at the top of his game on these songs. No pyro-techniques or showing off, just terrific musicality. If all you’ve heard Nokie play are his Ventures songs, this is an opportunity to hear him play music you probably won’t hear anywhere else. If you’ve never heard of Larry “T-Byrd” Gordon and his ensembles, Live at La Me is a wonderful introduction. There’s a lot to like about this album, and I do.

Noel:
According to CD Universe, “Live at La Me Studio: The Texas R&B Show Band Sessions”, was released on March 18, 2014. When was it recorded? What was the genesis of the idea for this record?

Art:
The NOKIE/ART/T-BYRD Sessions took place in Dallas at T-Byrd’s La Me Studios over a period during 2005-2006.

The story behind the Art Greenhaw Records/Larry T-Byrd Gordon/Nokie Edwards Sessions is a neat one. T-Byrd and I had known about each other for years, we’re both in the Dallas area, but we had never really met in person or talked extensively. T-Byrd’s Band and The Light Crust Doughboys shared a stage once at a big, Dallas charity ball, but we didn’t connect or visit.

Then, when I made my Grammy Award acceptance speech in New York City in 2003, there was T-Byrd and his family sitting in the front row, congratulating us. We really connected at the Grammy Awards—and hadn’t really connected before in our own hometown! Destiny! Kismet!

After that New York City visit, T-Byrd invited me to speak and work with his Big Band. He and I just really hit it off, we’re both sticklers for work work work and recording and music and perfectionism, as much as we can get “perfectionism”. T-Byrd and I developed this super, professional relationship where we recorded several complete albums, including Nokie’s DEEP ELLUM BLUES and LIVE AT LA ME STUDIO.

Naturally, when I found and started working with such a unique music man and his band and his studio, I wanted to share the experience with my biggest guitar influence and guitar idol, NOKIE!

Noel:
The list of contributors on this record (here: http://www.artistdirect.com/nad/store/artist/album/0,,10874305,00.html) is a Who’s-Who of great artists. Would you comment on that? How are you able to pull together such an amazing group of talent?

Art:
The musicians you mentioned are a part of T-Byrd’s Big Band, THE MUSIC PEOPLE LUV BAND, and they include female backing vocalists/dancers and horn players. T-Byrd, himself, was a super, super sax playerplaying alto sax, tenor sax, soprano sax. T-Byrd even played sax for the JAMES BROWN Show Band, and T-Byrd recorded for Willie Mitchell at Stax Studios, Memphis.

The T-Byrd/NOKIE/ART sessions are among our most interesting and eclectic and jazz-oriented. Sadly, they are a CAPSULE-OF-TIME which will never again occur, since T-Byrd passed from this life suddenly in 2011.

Noel:
How was this album recorded?

Art:
75% of all the sessions were recorded “OLD SCHOOL” live, in the studio. 25% of the sessions (mainly the GOSPEL material found on the album THE GOSPEL PEOPLE LOVE REVUE) were recorded bit-by-bit and using some direct-to-board recording for the guitars. LIVE AT LA ME STUDIOS album was recorded using Nokie’s Hitchhiker electric recorded with a mic or 2 on 1 of my Fender amps, a FENDER HOT ROD DELUXE tube amp. I’m using MOSRITE and BURNS and GUILD basses.

Noel:
My first question is about “Twist” on La Me. It’s the first song on any of the records I played and it hit me with a knockout punch! I’ve loved the stroll since I heard my very first, something like five decades ago. It’s by far my favorite kind of dance of all time. I’m grinning from ear to ear listening to this over and over again. Nokie’s guitar tone is wild. You guys just kill this song!

Art:
Nokie played his Hitchhiker electric through my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe amp. Amps mic’d, Nokie’s amp strategically placed in a booth where not-too-much bleed would occurbut just-enough bleed…!

Noel:
Whose idea was it to turn The Twist into a stroll?

Art:
T-Byrd’s band is basically R&B—-so we’ll give them credit for the rhythm feel and the drum feel…!

Noel:
After that, was it arranged or did everyone just start jamming it out? Or some of both?

Art:
It all came together after about 3 run-throughs in the Studio. It was all recorded “live” 1950s style, no overdubs.

Noel:
Is that Nokie’s original Red Rhodes’ fuzz I hear on Luv Band Blues?

Art:
Not on this one, it’s just the Hitchhiker electric guitar going through my Fender tube Hot Rod Deluxe amp, and the amp is mic’d.

Noel:
Who’s playing what on Luv Band Blues?

Art: All the various members of the T-Byrd Band listed in the liner notes. Rhythm section, horns, female backing vocalists. An authentic R&B Show Band lineup, put together for this session not only by me but also by Larry T-Byrd Gordon, who has a past history of touring with James Brown as a band member –and who recorded for Willie Mitchell and Stax Records in Memphis.

Noel:
I get the feeling you didn’t need many takes to get these songs the way you wanted them. Recording live with everyone sitting together, is it easier to get in the groove? Did anything happen during recording that wasn’t planned, that surprised you, and made a song better than you expected?

Art:
Of course, the greatest thing that could happen “happened”—–and that’s the magic of a GROUP/ENSEMBLE playing together around the focus of Nokie’s terrific touch and tone.

Noel:
Did Nokie show you something during the making of this record that you didn’t know before, and which you’ve used since?

Art:
I was surprised during this session by Nokie’s sizeable reduction of the TREBLE on the Fender amp – and his boost of the BASS on the Fender amp. I remember thinking: boy, I wonder if we’re going to get the twang and the tone that I shoot for…But we DID DID DID get a fantastic tone, a different one than I was expecting, but a fantastic, warm/earthy/mellow tone with a hint of distortion. An unusual tone for me, but a super one – and being DIFFERENT is the NAME OF THE GAME amongst top, recording pros!

Christmas in Guitarland
1. Jingle Bell Fuzz
2. The Little Drummer Boy
3. Poor Little Stranger
4. Shout it From the Heavens
5. How Great Our Joy
6. God With Us
7. The Christmas Song
8. Born Our King
9. Christmas Memories
10. Star Bright Night
11. Evergreen A Go Go
12. The Manger Song
13. Jingle Bell Fuzz (Reprise)

Three songs on Christmas in Guitarland stand out for me as the style of songs enjoyed during Christmas shows many surf bands play at that time of year – Jingle Bell Fuzz, The Christmas Song, and Evergreen a Go Go. The entire album is at turns equally delightful or sentimental. There’s nostalgia and surprises everywhere. In addition to songs of the season, there are songs of faith and reverence, some with traditional arrangements, and some that surprise. There’s the gypsy sound and feel that introduces Poor Little Stranger, which then becomes traditional Americana. The arrangements and performances of How Great Our Joy and Christmas Memories are happy and wonderful musical trips back to a simpler time and place, as is The Christmas Song. I believe Christmas in Guitarland is a genuinely enjoyable Christmas album for any fan of Nokie Edwards and just plain good music.

Noel:
Other than The Little Drummer Boy and The Christmas Song, the other songs on the Christmas in Guitarland all sound similar to familiar Christmas songs. As instrumentals, they couldn’t be Christmassy if they didn’t. I’m very curious about the creative process you and Nokie used for the songs on this album. Did you sit in the studio trying out ideas until something clicked, or did you and Nokie already have clear ideas of what you wanted for each song before you started? In other words, who came up with the ideas for each song, and their arrangements?

Art:
On this album, we all wanted to “get back” to the more combo-sounding, even garage-band-sounding essence of basic guitar band/drums. Using Nokie’s style that I’m so familiar with as inspiration, I came up with arrangements on about 75% of the combo-sounding tracks. Nokie came up with his lead and melody lines and arrangements and approach. On this album, we still have some “folk” and non-electric/non-twangy material, but by-and-large, it’s combo sounds that we all love.

Noel:
Jingle Bell Fuzz sits somewhere musically between The Ventures classic recordings of Jingle Bells and Jingle Bell Rock on their famous record, “The Ventures’ Christmas Album”. It’s very catchy in its’ own right. Nokie is an early user of fuzz pedals on guitar. What Fuzz pedal did Nokie use on this song in particular? Did he use it on any other songs on this record?

Art:
Nokie, for this song and others on this album, brought out his Red Rhodes-built fuzz box that was used on FABULOUS VENTURES and other albums in the early 1960s.. Don’t you just love the sound and tone? Warm, buttered-up FUZZ FUZZ FUZZ-light, but just right!

Noel:
The Christmas Song recalls the thoughtful Christmas songs of an earlier era, songs like I’ll Be Home for Christmas, and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Like them, it’s a nostalgic song aimed at adults instead of children, with more than a hint of wistfulness. Listening to this version, I’m reminded of the understated, calm grace of Chet Atkins. One of the things I’ve always liked about Nokie is a trait he shares with Chet, not needing to over-play the guitar to prove how good he is, and it beautifully suits this song. What can you tell me about making this recording?

Art:
On this song, we were shooting for a wistful, late-at-night, cafe-is-closing-down, quarter-to-2 am-sort of a sound…I’m playing all the instruments on this particular track with the exception of Nokie’s haunting lead, melody-line guitar. I also remember I was using a Gibson ES-175 hollowbody jazz electric guitar on fills on this song—–weaving very lightly around Nokie’s Hitchhiker electric guitar.

Noel:
Secret Agent meets Green Sleeves. Evergreen a Go Go is clever and fun. Did you think it would work when you thought of (or heard) the idea? Have you ever performed it live during a Christmas show? Did the audience get it? Come to think of it, do you perform any of these songs during your Christmas shows?

Art:
This is another song that’s my approach and arrangement and combo-backing, but of course, the touch-tone of Nokie’s lead guitar just “makes” the recording and the arrangement. Let’s all work on developing Dallas and north Texas surf music festivals and guitar festivals-so there will be MORE opportunities to showcase this music in our area. And also in other USA metro areas!

Noel:
Is there a specific story you’d like to tell about making this album?

Art:
I remember I and the studio engineer, Phil York, were just blown away at the use of the vintage, very-early-model Rhodes fuzz box by Nokie. And all the history connected to it.

Also, I remember Nokie specifically saying that we had nailed with this album a sound that would eventually really “catch on” with his fans and guitar instro fans. He felt that they would just love this album and its combo approach. He said that we really had something in the grooves with this album, CHRISTMAS IN GUITARLAND.

Noel:
There’s something unsynchronized about listening to Christmas music in June. Which leads me to ask if recording Christmas music out of season makes it tougher to get in the mood?

Art:
It might be tougher for some, but I personally listen to Christmas albums all year ’round. Especially the instro albums like this one. So I’m always ready to record: CHRISTMAS!

Guitar Band Classics
1. Hawaii 5-O
2. El Cumbanchero
3. Driving Guitars
4. Nutty
5. America the Beautiful
6. Seafoam Green Guitars
7. Sleep Walk
8. Out of Limits
9. Tequila
10. The Star-Spangled Banner ‘74
11. Apache
12. America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee)
13. (Bonus Song) Texas Women
14. (Bonus Song) The Light Crust Doughboys Theme

Not surprising considering the title of the album, Guitar Band Classics is a guitar-centered collection of songs. It features many songs that Nokie has played for years touring with The Ventures. If you love listening to Nokie Edwards play guitar just for the fun of it, this is an album for you. It also contains many songs you may never have heard Nokie play before. The country-style performances of America the Beautiful, America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee) and Texas Women remind us how deep Nokie Edwards’ country roots extend. He shows us here. And, if you don’t know The Light Crust Doughboys, well, you can listen to their theme song here. Formed by Bob Wills several years before Roy Rodgers formed The Sons of the Pioneers, and now led by Art Greenhaw, they are the roots of Texas Swing.

Noel:
“Nutty” is a delightful and cheery song. The song title sets up the listener for a humorous experience. It’s a grin, that’s for sure. What can you tell me about it?

Art:
For Ventures’ fans, this song is a classic adaptation of the “Nutcracker Theme”. It has a signature Nokie ending that’s clever and fast and furious and beautiful.

Noel:
For a whole lots of people who grew up in the fifties and early sixties, “Sleep Walk” was and remains a song that brings back fond memories of school dances, when they used to turn the lights way down low for the slow songs, instead of all the way up like these days. Even now, play this song and people who haven’t danced all night will get up to take a spin on the floor.

I’ve long felt Nokie Edwards plays this song with a perfect blend of artistry and tenderness. Has Nokie ever told you why he doesn’t feel any need to show off on guitar?

Art:
Well, it depends on the song—–how and when a true artist “shows off”. Bob Bogle told me in the early days of The Ventures they were playing before a tough audience of young boys all sitting in the first few rows that had their arms crossed, a look to kill, saying “impress me.” When Nokie let loose on lead, their whole expressions changed, their mouths fell open, they were mesmerized. They started yelling and clapping. Nokie’s guitar genius just slayed ‘em!

Noel:
Ah, Tequila! It’s such an iconic song. Do you remember the first time you heard it? Was it The Champs or The Ventures version?

Art:
It was by The Ventures.

Noel:
Nokie throws a little country flavor into your rendition. Did that surprise you?

Art:
Nokie has since played it several times with us “live” in Texas. The country licks really make the song sizzle-and-twang even more! We decided for fun to end it “TABASCO” …!!

Noel:
Did anything special happen during the making of Guitar Band Classics that stands out as significant or meaningful?

Art:
I was the after-hours keeper of Nokie’s Hitchhiker guitar during the sessions. Every night, I would open the case—-and absorb the Good Vibrations of the guitar and all the music that was made that day in the Studio.

Guitars Over Texas

  1. Walk, Don’t Run
  2. Pipeline
  3. America the Beautiful
  4. The House of the Rising Sun
  5. In the Mood
  6. Telstar
  7. Secret Agent Man
  8. Song of Joy
  9. Big Beaver
  10. Caravan
  11. Slaughter on Tenth Avenue
  12. Wipe Out
  13. The Great Speckled Bird
  14. Under the Double Eagle
  15. Bonus: Session Talk and Rehearsal

Eight of these songs have long been standards played by many instrumental bands and are instantly recognizable by their fans. From Dick Dale’s blistering version of “House of the Rising Sun” to Los Straitjackets traditional version of Caravan, most stay close to The Ventures’ iconic performances of those songs. But you also get Big Band Swing (In the Mood). You get Texas Swing (Big Beaver). You get Country (The Great Speckled Bird, Under the Double Eagle). But most of all you get Nokie Edwards having a ball playing guitar on all these songs, accompanied by terrific musicians.

Noel:
The arrangements on these and all the other Ventures standards are classic Nokie Edwards. Did you and Nokie ever discuss whether or not these recordings ought to sound completely different, perhaps a completely new sound and feel?

Art:
I believe we felt at the time that the fans and record buyers would prefer to hear the very best arrangements possible – which were “these”, worked out over years and years “on stage” by Nokie. I also believe at the time we felt we had just enough new “twists” to the songs – such as rhythm piano in place of rhythm guitar, and also the distinctive tone of the Hitchhiker lead guitar, and also the distinctive tone of the Guild Starfire bass guitar (which is semi-hollow-body).

Noel:
Is there a particular song you think no one would guess it was Nokie on guitar?

Art:
I don’t think so! I believe all true-blue Nokie fans can spot him!

Noel:
Can you choose your all-time, one single favorite song by Nokie?

Art:
I really can’t name just 1 single favorite song or track…but I will say 20th CENTURY GOSPEL (Grammy-Nominated) is my favorite Nokie album with vocals…and this one, GUITARS OVER TEXAS is my favorite instro album—–along with CHRISTMAS IN GUITARLAND and THE VENTURES CHRISTMAS ALBUM and THE VENTURES PLAY THE COUNTRY CLASSICS.

Noel:
Did Nokie ever tell you what was is his personal all-time favorite song he ever recorded?

Art:
Thus far, he hasn’t mentioned a single favorite…

Random Bits and Pieces

Noel:
Aside from Christmas in Guitarland, are there other records you made with Nokie on which he used his original Red Rhodes fuzz pedal?

Art:
That’s the only album…!

Noel:
As far as I can tell, you’ve released thirteen albums recorded with Nokie Edwards. Are there any unreleased recordings that might turn up on an EP or a single?

Art:
The total you mention probably includes a couple of “Best Of…” releases that we did for specific markets, Nokie has even sent specific releases to his fan club in Japan. We keep hoping to start new trends around the world such as “surf gospel” “folk gospel” etc. Things that haven’t “hit” before in various countries…We’re still TRYING…!

Noel:
Have you been in touch with Nokie recently?

Art:
Not nearly as much as when we both were actively recording several albums a year. As you and I have discussed, the record business is really in a transition, the big, pro recording studios where the sound/mics/rooms are so phenomenal—–are becoming a thing of the past.

Noel:
The music world is undergoing rapid changes that seem to leave the songwriter and recording artist financially unrewarded. Piracy and streaming leave the artist with either no, or hardly any, royalties. Sales of physical media are shrinking. You’ve mentioned how early you jumped on the CD bandwagon. Can you say if you have something similar planned for the future? What might that look like?

Art:
We sure haven’t figured it out yet. It looks like it’s going to take corporate sponsors and product advertisers in order to be able to fund the big, pro recording studio sessions of years past. Integration of our music into video and film is also one of the only ways to get a nice return on investment – but these deals are few and far between. And particularly for niche music. We don’t like to think about it – and it’s hard to believe – but what was very, very popular music in the 1950s-60s-70s-80s – has often become “niche” music in 2014…!

Closing Thoughts

To think, all this started with a photograph Art posted on Facebook, of a picture of himself playing a Jazzmaster. Being curious (okay – nosy) I asked him about it, which led to him telling me he made an album with Bob Bogle. The story of that record led to a long discussion about Nokie Edwards. In closing, I’d like to thank Art Greenhaw for being so willing to share these personal memories of making music with Nokie Edwards. They’ve made an extensive catalog of music together that’s worth consideration by any fan of Nokie.

Christmas in Guitarland, Guitars Over Texas, Guitar Band Classic, Live at La Me Studio and more, including some others mentioned above, can be ordered from the Select-O-Hits independent artist online record store, here: http://selectohits.com/index.php?main_page=advanced_search_result&search_in_description=1&keyword=nokie+edwards

Nokie Edwards Website:
http://www.nokieedwards.com/

Larry “T-Byrd” Gordon Website:
http://tbyrdgordon.com/tbyrd.html

The Light Crust Doughboys Website:
http://lightcrustdoughboys.org/

Art Greenhaw Records:
http://artgreenhaw.com/

This is Noel. Reverb’s at maximum an’ I’m givin’ ‘er all she’s got.

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