Sometime in March 2016, I journeyed to a small town near Shiner, Texas to meet up with family members. It was a long-awaited vacation that we had really been looking forward to. Around ten of us descended upon my brother-in-law’s parents’ place, which is located far out in the Texas countryside. It’s a ranch-style homestead with plenty of acreage for good old Texas fun (shooting guns, fishing, barbequing, riding four-wheelers, getting dirty, etc.). The only “in-town” plan we had was to visit the Shiner Bock brewery; about 45 minutes away. I never expected what would happen during our journey.
The Shiner brewery tour was awesome. I’m a long-time fan of the Shiner family of beers and had wanted to visit for at least a decade. During our Shiner visit, my brother-in-law received an invitation from his biological father (who also lives near Shiner). He wanted to meet with us while we were in town at a local tavern. We obliged, and had to use the GPS to find the place. I can’t remember the name of the tavern (no sign outside), but we would have easily passed it without realizing if not for the GPS guidance.
We entered the tavern and I was instantly taken back in time (as was my father, who was also with us). Apparently hanging out in small taverns during our youth runs in the family. Everything reminded me of the “dives” I used to play when I was a full-time musician: the smokey atmosphere, the REAL (not digital) jukebox, a well-used pool table, faux-wood paneling, and tons of vintage wall decoration (mostly 1970’s-80’s beer promotional ads). The place felt as small as my office cubical, but I knew these walls had stories to tell.
One item that stood out to me was what appeared to be a vintage Fender Bassman “Silverface” guitar amplifier and speaker cabinet sitting against the back wall. While my family concentrated on ordering drinks and frozen pizzas, I sprinted toward the amp. I knew it either had to be a vintage model or a vintage reissue, because a lot of guys modified these amps to have “master volumes” in the 80’s (to achieve guitar distortion). This one was vintage (1970’s) and all stock – no master volume. I had to play it.
The bar owner was the only worker present. She was a friend of my brother-in-law’s father and seemed to be happy we were there. She sat with us like family. I asked her, “Do you happen to have a guitar around? I’d love to hear that Bassman in action.” She said, “Actually, yes I do. It’s in the back; I’ll go get it.” On her way past the bar counter I asked if she knew what kind it was. My heart nearly stopped when she answered while walking away from me… “It’s a 1959 Gibson-something… I’m not really sure.”
Let’s break for a minute. In general, a 1950’s Gibson ANYTHING is a treasure, as far as guitars go. Obviously the models range, as do the values; but to find one out here in this tiny, no-sign tavern (middle of nowhere, Texas) has to be a one in a million shot.
She returned with the guitar and I immediately cleared the pool table to inspect it (the pool table had the best available lighting in the room). After looking up the serial number and locating a few key features, I was able to authenticate the guitar. It was a 1958 Gibson ES-125 model; and it appeared to be all original. It was vintage beauty: original aged tobacco sunburst finish, no breaks or cracks, original “dog-eared” P-90 pickup, original tuners, even rusty – yet still useful – strings. At this point in life, I had played guitar for about 20 years, but never one this old. One does not simply walk into a Guitar Center store and find such a specimen. I plugged it into the Bassman, and the sound was magical.
A few minutes into playing the guitar I received song requests from the family (as they are prone to do any time I pick up a guitar), but my mind went blank. The only song I could think of was “Born On The Bayou” by Creedence Clearwater Revival (I’m a Louisiana native, so it’s naturally a standard).
My mind went blank again. I couldn’t believe the amount of iconic guitar history I held my hands: an all-original 1958 Gibson running through a 1970’s Fender Bassman. I’m an insurance agent in the middle of nowhere, Texas. How in the world did this happen to ME? These rights are usually reserved for more accomplished players, rich collectors, or famous people. The list of more deserving candidates is very long.
Next to the Bassman sat another, more modern Fender tube amplifier. I can’t recall the model, but it was probably made in the 1980’s because of the high-gain features. I played the Gibson guitar through this amplifier as well. Again, I was blown away by the sound. The guitar felt as though it could play all by itself, but had only been waiting for a kindred spirit to plug it in.
After about an hour, my family coaxed me back to the table for pizza. My hands were still shaking as I reluctantly placed the guitar back in it’s case and handed it back to the owner (who had made it crystal clear the guitar was NOT for sale, but invited me back any time I wanted to play it).
At that point, only one thing could calm my nerves – an ice cold Shiner Bock.