My friend and mentor Jimmy Wyble passed away this past Saturday January 16, 2009. He was a loved husband, master musician, guitarist, teacher, composer, and friend to many people and animals. I mention animals since he left behind his cat Pookie who will have a new kitty friendly home. Jimmy was one of the kindest people I ever met and one of the most dedicated individuals to the craft of the guitar.
I learned much in the short term I knew him and know that the spirit of Jimmy and his music lives onward.
- Jimmy’s bio on Wikipedia.
- Arrangements and lessons of Jimmy’s courtesy of David Oakes.
- YouTube Playlist for Jimmy.
- Interview with Jimmy.
- Message from Jimmy Wyble (audio recording)
The following was edited by Carey Fosse. from Jimmy’s own website
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“One of the greatest guitar talents” – Laurindo Almeida
“Fresh new literature for guitarists” – Joe Pass
“The result of a true master displaying melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic artistry….. a must in every guitar player’s library. ” – Tony Rizzi
“Some the most inventive music ever written for guitar.
Jimmy Wyble is one of my favorite players.” – Mundell Lowe
“When people ask me to describe this music, one way I’m fond of is: George Van Eps meets Bartok and they visit T. Monk to discuss the music of J.S. Bach and a certain Mr. Gershwin.” – Ted Greene
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Early in his career he was an integral part of Bob Wills’ famous western swing band, the Texas Playboys. Later, he moved on to enhance the groups of both Benny Goodman and Red Norvo, among others, and like many of his peers spent years as one of Hollywood’s top studio players busily working recording dates, television shows, commercials and film scores.
We spoke for several hours about his lengthy career, in particular his association with many great artists in both the country and jazz genres.
Selected quotes –
Early years: Port Arthur and Houston, TX
“Incidentally, I’m Cajun too. Both of my parents are French and fresh off the farm around Port Berry, Louisiana.”
“I got my first electric guitar, which was a Charlie Christian model. I wanted that one because by then I was hearing those Benny Goodman Sextet records. I couldn’t copy Reinhardt, but I could copy some of Charlie’s things and play them in slow motion. So, that little span of my life, from about 15 to 17, was spent playing with those country bands.”
Drafted into Army, 1941. “I have terrible eyesight, just the worst, and all my friends were going into the service, including my country band friends, and I wanted to be with them. But when I got my exam the army people said they were sorry but they weren’t going to take me. I weighed only about 90 pounds, and that, along with my bad eyesight, I guess made them think that there was no point in wasting their time with me. But I talked them into trying to find a band to put me in because I really wanted to go.” Joins Army band.
Comes to LA in 1943. Hooks up with Bob Wills – tours, plays ballrooms. Records hit “Roly-Poly.”
“We played five shows a day. And it was so funny because we were living in the same hotel as Tommy Dorsey’s band, and Buddy Rich was with Tommy at that time. So we’d get on the elevator with our cowboy clothes and he’d laugh because he hated cowboy music. Later we became friends and he invited me to play with him, but he didn’t like cowboy music…When he had to go to the hospital for an emergency operation, they asked him if he was allergic to anything and he said, ‘Yeah, country music.’ ”
“You know, my wife Lily grew up in Manhattan. And she and her sister were died-in-the-wool jazz fans. She used to tell me these stories about going to see Tommy Dorsey and, in fact, she used to work in a little ice cream parlor where Barney Bigard and a lot of the Duke Ellington band would come in, and because of that, at a very early age she was very aware of jazz, much more so than I was. So it was funny that when we first met she said, “Oh, you’re the guy who played ‘Roly-Poly” (laughs). But that happened to be the first song we recorded with Bob. Of course we also recorded “Faded Love” and all the rest of the repertoire.”
“My wife grew up in Manhattan and took me everywhere. I’d have never found my way around. She was a very hip young lady ”
1945 – gives notice and studies at Houston Conservatory. After one semester, is hired to work with Spade Cooley. “I really liked Southern California and the fact that I could study with such wonderful players. So when I first got back to L.A., I began studying with Laurindo Almeida.”
1953 – “I’d made a record with a little quintet, which really wasn’t jazz, but it was accordion, guitar, clarinet, drums and bass. That was the Jimmy Wyble Quintet.”
“Leo Fender came to the ballroom and gave me a guitar and amp and gave a steel guitar and amp to Neil Boggs. Leo was so great. Anyway, I had been doing a little studio work before I’d joined Red and it was because of him that I got to work with Frank and Benny Goodman.”
Session work in LA followed. ” I joined Red Norvo and was with him from 1956 until 1965.” Bassplayer was Eugene Wright (pre-Brubeck’s band).” Norvo expands band. “The upshot of the quintet was that from 1957 to 65, we worked intermittently with Sinatra, and even went to Australia and recorded with him there.” (Blue Note) “Forward Look with Red Norvo. And Red Norvo Plays the Blues with Helen Humes .”
With Barney Kessel: “Barney and I did a thing with five guitars, a string section and a harp for Gordie Hormel, one of the Hormel heirs. He used five voices on it and it was a well-produced thing. So on guitars, it was Barney, me, Tony Rizzi, Bob Bain and Bobby Gibbons.”
More country. Movies. Sons of the Pioneers with Roy Rodgers, Spade Cooley, Gene Autry, Charles Starrett. “I made eight movies with him.”
TV (to mention only a few) – “Bill Pitman was so nice to me. We worked several shows, including The Phyllis Diller Show that was conducted by Jack Elliot with Bill Ferguson doing the writing, and Bill was the other guitarist. The upshot of all of this is that everything has been a guitar lesson. I’ve been so fortunate.” The Jerry Reed Show.
After Red Norvo, session work. “A lot with a gentleman called George Wilde, a conductor and arranger.”
With Benny Goodman. “It was not a rhythm kind of playing. The front line consisted of one trumpet, a trombone, Jerry Dodgion on alto and Flip Phillips on tenor. So the guitar was an integral part of the ensemble…When we came back from Europe we went into Basin Street East where we worked for quite a long time.”
(see Bio for full Goodman story and transitions between bands)
Goodman hires him again. “but I worked with him for two years thereafter. He called me again and again. I did one tour with him, just with the sextet and the Julliard String Quartet. They did half the program with Benny and the sextet was the other half. And during the two years I worked with him he had Russ Freeman on piano, then John Bunch, then Marian McPartland. So I got to be around all those wonderful people.”
Students: Howard Alden, Steve Lukather…and possibly Duane Eddy.
Studio work: 1967 to 1983. The Wild Bunch. Ocean’s Eleven.