A Guitar Man By Any Other Name

Baldemar Garza Huerta, does this name ring a bell? I’ll give you a hint… he was born in San Benito at the southernmost tip of Texas, does that help? No, he didn’t fight at the Alamo, and he wasn’t a Spanish Conquistador. Baldemar was the birth-name of Tex-Mex musician Freddy Fender.

You know Freddy… he recorded Wasted Days and Wasted Nights, maybe in honor of serving time in the brig during his stint in the U.S. Marine Corps for drinking, which led to a court martial and a dishonorable discharge, but it was later upgraded to a general discharge.

The lesson didn’t stick because a few years later in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he got busted for possession of marijuana and spent three years in Angola State Prison. That nearly ended Freddy’s music career, though he did record an album which was aptly named, Recorded Inside Louisiana State Prison. The record album featured songs such as Quit Shucking Me Baby and Hello Loneliness.

In those early days he was the El Bebop Kid for his Latino rock ‘n’ roll and country music. Then he morphed into cool cat Eddie Con Los Shades, singing rockabilly music which blended rock ‘n’ roll, country, rhythm and blues, bluegrass, and hillbilly music.

But Cool Cat Eddie wasn’t quite there yet, not until he changed his name to Freddy Fender, a name which would “sell better with Gringos.” He’d done his time, paid his dues, and now it was time to get serious.

Are You Ready for Freddy was the aptly named third album with songs such as How Much Is That Doggie in the Window, and Begging To You. Once you find your niche in this world, nothing can stop you, and Freddy Fender found his way in the country music world, gracing even the stage at the Grand Ole Opry. Freddy won several music awards and hit #1 on the Billboard Country and Pop charts for songs such as Before the Next Teardrop Falls.

Freddy took the name Fender, not for automotive chrome fenders, but for the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation which manufactured his electric guitar and amplifier. Pairing Fender up with Freddy just plain sounded good.

Fender the company manufactured no less than 32 models of electric guitars, and 28 models of acoustic guitars, including the bizarre “wild wood” colors of blue, green, purple, gold, brown, and variants such as purple-blue or blue-green. Now here’s what made the Fender Wildwood series unique — they injected live beech trees with dye to change the color of the wood before harvesting the trees to make Wildwood guitars. Country music legend Charlie Pride played a green Wildwood II at one of his 1960s concerts.

Then Fender the company hit on a sure-winner of an advertising campaign with catalog layouts and ads that featured skydivers, surfers, and skiers holding Jazzmaster and Stratocaster guitars. Hottie teenage beach boys with guitars posed next to surfboards, and the combo sent sales into the stratosphere.

In the meantime, Fender Musical Instruments Corporation was buying up other companies including the V.C. Squier Company. At first, Fender was just buying electric guitar strings from Squier, and then it bought the whole darned company to become Fender Squier, aka Squier by Fender.

You don’t make it big in the music industry without a good story, and Squier was no exception. Jerome Bonaparte Squier — you’ve probably never heard of this violin-maker who named his violins after the Twelve Apostles, in addition to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Squier also patterned violins after the great Stradivari violins, to the tune of himself being referred to as “the American Stradivarius.”

In a eulogy for Jerome published in the October 1912 issue of The Violinist, he was referred to as “one of the foremost violin makers that America has ever produced.” This was a man inspired. “The perfection of his art was of greater value than money, and for this reason perhaps his works may live from generation to generation, and his name be accorded a place among the master artists.”

Jerome begat a son Victor Carroll Squier, who carried on his father’s legacy. Guitar man Victor created the V.C. Squier Company, which became the best-known “fiddle factory” in Battle Creek, Michigan. Among their claims to fame — the manufacture of hand-wound violin strings, guitar strings, and banjo strings. In order to meet demand, he ended up converting a treadle sewing machine into a string winder.

Guitar strings are big business because you don’t get good sound out of bad strings. Acoustic guitar strings, as well as those of violins, harps, cellos, and lutes, were originally made of catgut, which, contrary to its name, has nothing to do with cats. Guitar strings are also made with nylon, kevlar, steel, and even silk.

Classical guitars (also known as Spanish Guitars) traditionally used three plain catgut strings for treble, and three silk strings wound with catgut for base. Today many classical guitars use nylon strings for treble, and bronze or copper-plated nylon strings for base.

A descendant of the classical acoustic guitar is the steel-string acoustic guitar whose strings are made of, you guessed it, steel. Body styles come in 00 (Double Oh), 000 (Triple Oh), Dreadnought, and Jumbo, and it was the Man in Black himself whose claim to fame was in playing a Dreadnought guitar, specifically a raven-black Martin D-35 guitar.

And whom, do you ask, is this guitar Man in Black? Why, Johnny Cash, of course! The bluesy, rockabilly, folk singer of Folsom Prison Blues fame. Curiously, Johnny never served time at Folsom Prison. His inspiration for the song came from watching a movie about the prison, unlike Freddy Fender whose prison album was actually recorded in the Angola State Prison.

Johnny’s raven-black guitar had a history of its own, because the guitar had to be built in secret. The owner of C. F. Martin & Co. guitar company had expressly forbidden black guitars for being just “too radical,” so his employees built the custom-ordered black guitar on the sly. It wasn’t until C. F. Martin III saw Johnny Cash playing his signature black Martin guitar on TV that Martin discovered the daring deed, and his forbidden black guitars didn’t end with Johnny Cash.

Guess who else had a black Martin guitar? Andy Griffith of Mayberry fame. His was a Martin D-18 which the prop department of Warner Brothers studios painted black, and then glued sequins to for Andy’s role as Lonesome Rhodes in the movie, A Face in the Crowd. Musically, Andy Griffith was best-known for singing The Fishin’ Hole song. Oh, you didn’t know that the Mayberry theme song had words? Or that Andy sang and recorded music?

For the many notable TV shows and movies that Andy Griffith starred in, there were a few that you’ve probably never heard of, such as Salvage 1. This was a TV series in which Andy starred as the owner of a junk yard whose mission it was to build a space ship out scrap parts, in order to fly to the moon to salvage parts from Apollo missions. Yessirree Bob, that was the premise of Salvage 1, and the space ship was built out of a cement mixer.

C. F. Martin & Company must have been familiar with the TV show because they designed the Martin Backpacker series of guitars to be smaller for travel, and one of these Martin travel guitars actually went up into space on NASA Space Shuttle Columbia in March 1994.

Travel guitars come in lightweight, portable, and sometimes even fold-up designs. Squier offers a Mini Stratocaster, Yamaha offers a JR1 Mini Folk Guitar, and Taylor manufactures the Baby Taylor line and the GS Mini series. There’s even a Taylor Swift Baby Taylor signature series travel guitar!

Think you might like to carry your very own acoustic travel guitar up into space? And maybe take a little spacewalk on the ISS space station? Companies such as Space Adventures, Ltd. will take you there, presuming you’ve got a cool $20 million for a ticket to ride. And if you want dibs on tickets to fly around the moon, the pocketbook needs to be a whole lot bigger. But first, you might want to take guitar lessons because you’ll surely want to strum a few chords of “Fly Me to the Moon” along the way 🙂

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