Well, I finally saw one. A 1937 Gibson Roy Smeck Stage De Luxe guitar. In George Gruhn’s Guitar Store on Lower Broadway in Nashville, Tennessee. I first heard of a Roy Smeck Stage De Luxe through the old, worn out Jerry Jeff Walker album I stole from WCIS AM in Pascagoula, Mississippi during the six months I worked there in 1978. The song That Old Beat Up Guitar from the album called Jerry Jeff Walker really spoke to me. The radio station management wouldn’t let me play it on the air anyway so I gave that piece of vinyl a good home. Which it still has.
In the song lyrics, Jerry Jeff describes the guitar’s pawn shop purchase, the angel drawn on the top by a drunken poet and its usefulness as a pillow for a picker on the road. The story continues that through the travels and perils of a wandering musician, he and the guitar parted company somehow, somewhere. Years later, he finds the guitar in a bar and now, “she travels with me always.”
That song speaks to so many guitar players whose instruments become a part of them and I am no exception. The lyrics refer to the “old songs that were written on that guitar,” and,in my case, I can remember exactly which of the guitars I’ve owned, kept and traded over the years that I have used to write every song.
With a name like Smeck…
Who was Roy Smeck? According to George Gruhn and Walter Carter in their 1993 book Acoustic Guitars & Other Fretted Instruments, Smeck was a vaudeville entertainer famous for being a multi-instrumentalist. He endorsed guitars and banjos for several manufacturers over the years, including Gibson. Smeck lived from 1900-1994 and is a member of the Ukulele Hall of Fame (I didn’t know about that hall of fame, either). According to the Ukulele Hall of Fame’s website, the Vita-Uke was a ukulele produced by Harmony with Smeck’s endorsement. He also appeared in a very early sound motion picture. But I will always associate him with Jerry Jeff’s old beat up guitar.
Jerry Jeff was right
When I looked at the guitar and realized it was built in 1937, I thought of Jerry Jeff’s song. While this one is not “beat up,” her very age would allow for some interesting tales, were she able to speak. It would appear to me that the one I saw in Nashville on a hot August day in 2012 would fit Jerry Jeff’s perfect song line: “A lady, she never fared as well, who traveled through so much.”Learn more about Jerry Jeff Walker here: http://www.jerryjeff.com/ Learn more about Gruhn’s Guitars at www.gruhn.com Learn more about Les Kerr here: www.leskerr.com Text and photos copyright 2012 by Les Kerr