Sunday, July 24, 2011


That's what I called him. "Guitar George" Ede. But unlike Mark Knofler's hero, our George was more than a rhythm player; he could make the guitar cry and sing, too; and he often did it with astonishing speed, fingers flying up and down the frets. He is the owner of Liberty Music in Framingham, Massachusetts, in business now for forty years or more. When I began to establish myself on the Irish folk circuit in New England in the late seventies I cast about for a store for the necessaries of a musical life. To a man, all my peers said, "Go see George at Liberty."

It was a fairly big shop and very friendly. And George was, in a manner of speaking, big and friendly himself. I'm not talking about size, I'm referring his warmth, integrity, sense of humor and professionalism that made him, yes, larger than life. (A fella named Steve worked with George, and Steve played saxaphone. No need to ask what nickname I gave him. They played some good music together in various aggregations.) They sold guitars of all makes, electric pianos, amps, strings, sheet music, et al - everything a musician could want. They also rented band equipment. It was not uncommon for any of us to drop in for a set of strings, or something more serious and stick around just to shoot the breeze with George, or any of the musicians that showed up; exchanging stories and leads to new clubs and gigs. It was that kind of place because George was that kind of guy. Bets are he still is.

I play a big Guild D 70 acoustic; have for thirty years now. It's been my one and only, and thus deeply associated with me in the minds of friends and fans. There were times when I would borrow a guitar to take on the road, just to play something different, to hear a different tone and color. And people would say, "Where's the big Guild, Denny? It ain't you without the big Guild."

I had a Guild D 35, I think, when I first started to patronize Liberty Music and struck up a friendship with George. Liam's Irish Tavern, also in Framingham, was a fairly regular gig for me then, and it was not uncommon for George to stop in and sometimes sit in. He had a keen ear and his comments about one's performance were always welcome and taken very seriously. One night he asked if I was coming to the store anytime soon and I replied that I was, indeed, headed in for some things the next day.

Coming out from behind the counter George greeted me with a sly smile and told me he had something special to show me, something I just had to see. We walked to the guitar display and he stopped in front of a very big and very expensive guitar case. "Uh-oh," I said. "Is what you want me to see in that case?" He just grinned and started to open the case. I took a step back. "Don't do this to me, George. Please. I just know whatever is in that case, it's beautiful, but way out of my price range. Don't torture me. I can't afford it. I don't even want to look at at, never mind play it."

Of course he ignored me, let loose a dramatic cackle and in a second the cover fell open revealing the most beautiful guitar I had ever seen. I groaned, "No, stop. Please. No, No. Absolutely not. Put it away." It was like that old Flip Wilson routine with Geraldine being tempted by the Devil with a new dress. George steered me toward a little piano stool, sat me down. He lifted the guitar gently out of it's case and placed it in my hands. I wrapped my arms around it and almost cried. Then I played a chord, strummed one chord, an E Major, I think it was; and I sat there and listened as the notes resonated through the big rosewood body and sailed out the soundhole. And the notes rang beautifully, slowly decaying, so slowly that it was hard to tell when they stopped.
I looked up at a beaming George. "You can do it," he said. "I'll give you a good deal. You need this guitar, Dennis. This guitar was made for you. We'll work something out."

He gave me more than a good deal. He took the old Guild and a small deposit, and we arranged a payment plan. And further, he let me take the guitar right then and there. Yes, friends, you read it right - he let me take it home. Musical instrument dealers do not do things like that. Still don't. Hell, retailers of anything aren't going to let you do that. But that was George. He put me and that guitar together.

And I paid him, I did, and on time. And I played that Guild for years, and I still play that Guild. It was with me in hundreds of clubs and a multitude of cities and states over thirty years. I wrote a great many songs on it, among them Honky Tonk Moon, a number one hit for Randy Travis. And it was with me last year, on two different cruise ship gigs; in the Baltic, the Mediterannean and the Caribbean. Fifty ports. Passengers remarked numerous times on the warm sound; warm because I mike the guitar. No pickup. With all that beautiful, aged wood invested with the music of hundreds and hundreds of gigs, thousands of hours of playing.....Why would I ruin that? And the amount of young and old folkie guitar players that shyly, hesitantly asked if they could play it? They were legion.

Well. A certain segment of that cadre of Irish pub singers slowly drifted away from the Boston area, indeed, some from New England altogether. Seamus Kennedy went to Maryland, Frank Emerson to North Carolina, Robbie O'Connell down the road to Rhode Island, and I went to Nashville. I saw George last on a trip back to Massachusetts to play the Eagle Brook Saloon in Norfolk on Paddy's Day, oh, ten years ago or more. Time, you know.... But he was a good friend and will remain a big part of the beautiful mosaic of my life as a musician and an entertainer. He's right there in the audience everytime I set the Guild in my lap and start to play.

June 17, 2011