Kevin Gordon – the rock and roller with the masters degree in poetry whose songs have been covered by Levon Helm and Keith Richards – let his songwriting and recording evolve through his use of a '56 Gibson ES-125, culminating in the stunning new album 'Gloryland' (February 14 / Crowville Media). Here's Kevin:
"Not long after moving to Nashville, I found my 1956 Gibson ES-125 in my friend Pat Gallagher’s apartment, propped in a corner, without a case, gathering dust. I picked it up and played it; it immediately felt right, natural. I borrowed it for a weekend’s gigs, not knowing exactly how I’d use it--I was just attracted to it. It showed its age: the binding yellowed, the finish on the back of the neck worn away in places, pick-guard gone, battle scars here and there. The heads on the original tuning keys were brittle and weak as chalk.
I loved the chunky low end and the responsiveness of the P-90. When I got back, Pat agreed to sell me the guitar, for what now seems like a bargain: $350.
But I’d been trying to figure out a way to play solo gigs, beyond the usual acoustic-through-the-P.A. kind of sound--which I was hearing a lot of in Nashville at that time, and which always sounded thin to me, no matter how good the guitar or the sound engineer. And I wanted a sound that reflected where my songs were coming from--a lot of the songwriters/performers who influenced me played electric guitars: Chuck Berry, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Muddy Waters, Elmore James.
To make it adaptable to more of my songs, I put it in open-D tuning, using a capo and gradually finding other chord shapes/voicings that took advantage of open strings. I love the wideness of the sound when I mask the 3rd of the chord--playing all 1s and 5s. For the solo gig I use a blackface Princeton (the one with white knobs--’63?) and, if it’s appropriate for the room, a second amp: an old Epiphone Pathfinder or a late 40s Gibson BR-9 that’s been modified to accept a non-fieldcoil speaker. Tremolo, a little delay from an old Boss DM-3 pedal, and that’s it.
Though I originally bought the guitar as a way in to playing solo, it’s greatly influenced my songwriting--since circa 2001 most of my songs have been written using it. Eight of the twelve tracks recorded for the new release, 'Gloryland,' are songs written on the 125; it’s also one of the main guitars used on the record."