The guitarist's Play In A Day manual guided many an aspiring rock star to greatness.
I never used Bert Weedon’s Play In A Day book, which perhaps explains why it took me 15 years to get to grips with the guitar, and why my playing remains so rudimentary. The list of rock stars who have declared that the guide written by Weedon – who died yesterday – gave them the first grasp of their instrument is a testament to its practical genius. It is one of the sacred tomes of the birth of British rock.
What Weedon’s book really did was cut through the preciousness that almost inevitably grows up around any musical or artistic discipline. A guitar has only six strings, and with just three chords you can play almost every blues and rock and roll song ever written. Whether they will sound any good is another matter, but at least they’ll sound like something.
“It’s such a tactile instrument, it moulds into your personality,” says Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. “Even in people who have been playing for a short time, you can recognise their character in their playing. Watch kids play, you’ll see their attitude coming through that guitar.”
Despite its title, however, Weedon’s book is not quite the crash course it promises, which is, perhaps, why it remains a favourite of the kind of guitarists willing to put in hours a day practising their scales, with Mark Knopfler and Sting among its latterday advocates. “Bert’s approach was very much of his day,” according to Neville Marten, editor of Guitar Techniques magazine. “He presumed intelligence on the part of his reader and assumed that he or she was prepared to take a journey that might take some time to complete. It was based on reading notation and on learning 'band’ style guitar, which might involve playing rhythm or taking single-line solos. It was about learning the art of being a musician.
“Today’s learner is drawn to the internet. On YouTube, they can see players showing them how to break down this song, that riff or solo. They very rarely think about notation and there seems little intent on making people better 'musicians’.”
In fact, that change was already well under way by the late Sixties, with the popularity of rock music partly to blame. For one thing, you could see more and more guitarists playing right in front of you. My father learnt to play by following a TV series, frequently blaming his inability to master a piece on the fact that he had missed episodes two and five.
In a straw poll of musical contemporaries, I couldn’t find a single guitarist who had even perused Weedon’s book – despite its two million sales – although everyone knew it by reputation. “It was already a bit arcane by the Seventies,” says session guitarist Reid Savage. “We were learning by copying Hendrix and Page, nobody wanted to read an old book by a guy called Bert promising to teach you how to play like Hank Marvin.”
Mind you, Jimi Hendrix famously commented that “I’ve been imitated so well I’ve heard people copy my mistakes.” Maybe it’s time to dust Weedon’s manual down.