August 17, 2012
By Morgan Brunner
Gretsch guitars are fabulous-looking instruments. Always have been. So it’s no surprise that they often made their way onto the album covers of those who played them and put them to such great use. Here then, in no particular chronological order, are eight fine album covers notable for being graced with great Gretsch guitars:
1. A Session With Chet Atkins (Chet Atkins, 1961)
There are only about a bazillion Chet Atkins albums that feature a Gretsch guitar on the cover, usually in the hands of the master himself, and all of them look fabulous. So this one is kind of a tough call.
After much consideration, we’re going with the 1961 re-issue of 1954’s A Session With Chet Atkins because it must be the Gretsch-iest original-era album cover ever. The 1954 original cover somewhat somberly pictured Atkins himself, and while the ’61 re-issue cover doesn’t, what it does picture is three—count ’em, three—Gretsch guitars: a Tennessean, a Duo Jet and a 6120; the latter locked in the joyous embrace of a sultry brunette. Come to think of it, 1955’s Chet Atkins in Three Dimensions also has three Gretsch guitars on the cover, but since none of them are locked in the joyous embrace of a sultry brunette, A Session With Chet Atkins gets the nod here.
2. Cloud Nine (George Harrison, 1987)
After a half-decade hiatus in his recording career, George Harrison re-appeared to surprise and delight everyone with his tenth solo album, 1987’s Cloud Nine. Equally, if not more, delightful was that fact that he scored a chart-topping hit with the album’s main single, a cover of “Got My Mind Set On You.”
Especially delightful to Harrison, Beatle and Gretsch fans, however, was the album’s cover. Cloud Nine pictures a beaming Harrison slinging the black 1957 Duo Jet he bought in the early 1960s while still a teenager. It’s the guitar he played during the Beatles’ meteoric rise to stardom, including the band’s legendary Hamburg, Germany, performances and during the recording of surely one of the most auspicious debut albums of all time, 1963 Beatles smash Please Please Me. Harrison re-acquired the guitar in the mid-1980s from a friend he’d given it to many years earlier and had it restored as closely as possible to its early-’60s condition. And it does look totally fab, we must say.
3. Have “Twangy” Guitar Will Travel (Duane Eddy, 1958)
Like early Chet Atkins albums, many Duane Eddy album covers picture the man himself wielding a Gretsch, so we once again chose carefully here. After a few minutes of Googling and much rapt contemplation, we’ve decided to single out the third pressing of Have “Twangy” Guitar Will Travel, Eddy’s rebel-rousing 1958 debut album.
The first and second pressings picture Eddy seated on a guitar case in a rather pensive pose—requisite cool, but a little on the dour side. Ah, but the third pressing (year unknown; let us know if you know), now, that’s more like it—one of the coolest Gretsch album covers ever. Pictured on this version is the nattily attired King of Twang hitting a Marvel superhero stance on a bright red background and slinging a 6120 with obvious total command.
4. Jeff Bridges (Jeff Bridges, 2011)
Did you know that musician Jeff Bridges also happens to be an acclaimed and highly successful actor? For our purposes here, however, we look to Bridges’ real-deal career as a singer/songwriter, which began in earnest with his 2000 debut album, Be Here Soon. Further, millions of moviegoers recognized Bridges’ talents as a singer and musician with his Oscar-winning 2009 turn in Crazy Heart, and he sang five of the 16 songs on the film’s soundtrack.
Shortly after the film’s enormous success, Bridges inked a recording deal with Blue Note Records, which led to the album we’re spotlighting here. His eponymous summer 2011 second album was a well-done and well-received country effort, the cover of which pictures Bridges in full Kristofferson-ian mode and cradling an elegant 6122-1959 Chet Atkins Country Gentleman. A class act sonically, visually and cinematically.
5. Go Bo Diddley (Bo Diddley, 1959)
Wow, man, that is some jacket. Two jackets, actually—the ultra-badass record sleeve itself and the ultra-badass garment worn with such marvelous sartorial aplomb by the great Bo Diddley, who needs no introduction.
This is Diddley’s second album, released in July 1959, and the simple fact is that there weren’t many guitars around in that era or any other that could live up to a plaid jacket like that. That is a bold statement, man, and leave it to the great rock ‘n’ roll pioneer to complement the entire ensemble with a guitar that rises perfectly to the occasion—a gorgeous Gretsch Jet Firebird that, by the way, sounded fabulous too.
6. Big Beat From Badsville (the Cramps, 1997)
OK, the kids have to leave the room for this one. Sorry about that, but we would be remiss in our duties if we didn’t give a shout-out to the Cramps for sheer undying Gretsch devotion. All throughout the remarkably long career (1976-2009) of the so-named venerable New York garage-punk psychobilly freakshow, guitarist Kristy “Poison Ivy” Wallace slung various Gretsch guitar models as she accompanied her husband, vocalist Erick “Lux Interior” Purkhiser.
A perfect illustration of this is the cover of 1997 twelfth album Big Beat From Badsville. If you can wrest your gaze from the scantily clad Ms. Ivy’s menacing glare, drum-straddling threatening stance and drawn knife blade, you might notice the presence of a handsome Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins Hollow Body. On the right. You can’t miss it.
7. Setzer Goes Instru-MENTAL! (Brian Setzer Orchestra, 2011)
While it might seem a little surprising that few if any Stray Cats album covers show Brian Setzer brandishing one of his beloved Gretsch guitars, you certainly can’t say that about Setzer’s voluminous solo output. Indeed, Gretsch guitars positively abound on the covers of plenty of his albums on his own and with the Brian Setzer Orchestra.
In fact, we were gonna go with the BSO’s 2009 Songs From Lonely Avenue—which shows the sharply attired bandleader slinging his lime-gold 6120SHLTV signature model—until we remembered that 2011 solo album Setzer Goes Instru-MENTAL! has stylized depictions of, like, half a dozen Gretsch guitars on the cover, which has to be some kind of record. And believe us, Setzer Goes Instru-MENTAL! is some kind of record.
8. Lou Monte Sings Songs for Pizza Lovers (Lou Monte, 1958)
No survey of Gretsch-adorned album covers—not even a brief one like this—is complete without singling out Lou Monte. New Jersey’s foremost purveyor of 1950s-1960s-era Italian-themed novelty songs, Monte amassed a voluminous discography from 1953 to 1981, include huge sellers such as 1954’s “Darktown Strutter’s Ball (Italian Syle),” “Dominick the Donkey” (1960), “Pepino the Italian Mouse” (1962) and “Pepino’s Friend Pasqual” (1963).
Submitted for your approval here is the cover of 1958 album Lou Monte Sings Songs for Pizza Lovers, which features a truly one-of-a-kind Gretsch instrument—a White Falcon flat-top acoustic. Called “one of the hippest acoustic guitars ever made” in author Jay Scott’s The Guitars of the Fred Gretsch Company, the instrument was a circa-1956 one-off built specifically for Monte. It was actually a modified Gretsch 6003 Grand Concert acoustic, decked out with a 6136-style vertical gold-sparkle logo and wings on the headstock, mother-of-pearl “hump-block” fingerboard inlays, lacquer finish with gold-sparkle binding, and a gold-painted bridge and pickguard. The album was for pizza lovers, but the guitar is definitely a rare bird for Gretsch lovers.