Most of the guitarists, bassists, and mandolin players in photographer Jay Blakesberg’s just released gem of a new book, Guitars That Jam: Portraits of the World’s Most Storied Rock Guitars, are members of bands that use rock, bluegrass, the blues, and R&B as launch pads for improvisational jams. But one artist stands apart from this group – Willie Nelson – who posed for Blakesberg in 2014 at the Lockin’ Music Festival in Arrington, Virginia with his famously beat-up classical guitar. Nelson calls his 1969 Martin N-20 “Trigger,” after the horse ridden by matinee idol Roy Rogers, but with all due respect to the red-headed stranger, Willie doesn’t quite get the metaphor right. Comparing his guitar, as well as the rest of the Martin, Gibson, Fender, Alembic, Modulus, and Ibanez axes in Guitars That Jam, to a horse is fine, but musicians like Willie, Jerry Garcia, Warren Haynes, Carlos Santana, Trey Anastasio, and Neil Young are polar opposites of the saccharin Rogers. I’d say they are more like rodeo stars, or perhaps elite jockeys, who ride their thoroughbreds, night after night, to the musical equivalent of the Triple Crown.
Blakesberg captures the energy of these artists (plus more than 50 others), the sheer beauty of their instruments, and the intimate relationship between artist and machine, with the sure hand and keen eye that has made him a favorite of rock bands and music fans from coast to coast. Accompanying each photo of the artist in performance with his or her guitar is a statement about the instrument, usually written by the artist. These range from the ethereal (“I didn’t go after this guitar; this guitar came to me,” says Steve Kimock of his 1972 Charles Lobue Explorer) to the loyal (“This is the one I always go back to,” says Trey Anastasio of his 2002 Paul Languedoc Custom) to the grudgingly respectful (“It’s heavy, and in general kind of a pain in the ass – just as a good blues guitar should be,” says Jackie Greene of his 2010 National Reso-Phonic Resonator). But Willie’s son, Lukas, has clearly caught the naming bug from his dad, and may even do the old man one better. “The name of the guitar is ‘Georgia’” Lukas says of his 1957 Gibson Les Paul, “but the other name for it is ‘the Spanish Inquisition,’ because nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.” Nice! A young Monty Python fan! “It’s got an unexpected growl and a lot of spirit,” he adds, as does this terrific new book by Jay Blakesberg.