Heroes: Eddie Lang

By Obrecht, Jas | Guitar Player, March 1998 | Go to article overview

Heroes: Eddie Lang


Obrecht, Jas, Guitar Player


Eddie Lang was the most progressive American guitarist of the Roaring Twenties With unparalleled technique and imagination, he easily held his own alongside the era's brightest stars--Bix Beiderbecke, King Oliver, Bing Crosby, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Joe Venuti, and Bessie Smith, to name a few.

The son of an Italian luthier, he was born Salvatore Massaro in South Philadelphia in 1902 and took his stage name from a basketball hero. Lang studied solfeggio and violin and began improvising with violinist Venuti in grammar school. After playing banjo during the early '20s, he switched to guitar circa 1924, when he joined the Mound City Blue Blowers, an uptown version of a black jug band. By 1925, he'd settled in New York, where he quickly became the city's top session guitarist, cuttings stacks of'78s with the Jean Goldkette band, Red Nichols and the Five Pennies, singers Al Jolson, Ruth Etting, and Ukulele Ike, and many others. Lang's full-bodied tone, pulsing rhythms, horn-like phrasing, large intervals, and innovative solos caused countless banjo players to switch to the Gibson L-5, his guitar of choice.

"Eddie was the pioneer," insisted George Van Eps, who played with him. "It's very fair to call Eddie Lang the father of jazz guitar. …

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