Under Investigation: Howard Roberts

By Gress, Jesse | Guitar Player, April 2014 | Go to article overview

Under Investigation: Howard Roberts


Gress, Jesse, Guitar Player


"SIDEMAN, SOLOIST, EDUCATOR, INNOVATOR" READ THE SUBTITLE FOR THE June 1979 Guitar Player cover story that spotlighted the genius of the late, great Howard Roberts (1929-1992), one of jazz guitar's greatest figureheads. Roberts also knew how to handle a Telecaster and a fuzztone, and had a habit of injecting vitality into any musical situation.

As a sideman and member of the Wrecking Crew (the elite group of L.A. studio musicians that included Tommy Tedesco, Glen Campbell, Hal Blaine, and Carol Kaye), H.R. appeared on at least 250 recordings between 1950 and 1992. These included dates with June Christy, Pete Rugolo, Bobby Troup, Chico Hamilton, Russ Garcia, the Four Freshmen, Herbie Mann, Julie London, Peggy Lee (those are H.R.'s finger snaps on "Fever"), Mel Torme, Joni James, the Beach Boys, Sonny and Cher, Elvis Presley, Lalo Schifrin, the Electric Prunes, the Monkees,

Gerry Mulligan, and Jimmy Smith, just to name a few! Add to this another staggering list of approximately 215 film score credits (from Airport, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and How the West Was Won to Our Man Flint, The Pink Panther, and The Wild Bunch) and more than 50 TV shows, including (take a deep breath) The Andy Griffith Show, Batman, Bonanza, The Brady Bunch, The Deputy (the first and perhaps only TV western to feature a jazz-guitar-based score), Dragnet, Get Smart, Green Acres, Hawaii Five-O, I Dream of Jeannie, The Jetsons, Mission Impossible, The Munsters, The Odd Couple, The Partridge Family, Peter Gum, and The Twilight Zone, and you've got a strong contender for the world's most recorded guitarist. And that's not even counting Roberts' own catalog!

H.R. also made over 20 albums as a solo artist and with the Howard Roberts Quartet, including Mr. Roberts Plays Guitar and Good Pickin's [Verve], Color Him Funky, H.R. Is a Dirty Guitar Player, Something's Cookin', Goodies, Jaunty Jolly!, and Guilty!! [Capitol, reissued on Sundazed], the mind-boggling Antelope Freeway and Equinox Express Elevator [Impulse], and The Real Howard Roberts [Concord]. For an expanded listing of Roberts' credits and much more, go to www.utstat.utoronto.ca/mikevans/hroberts.html.

Roberts' work as an educator and innovator goes hand in hand. He was dedicated to sharing and disseminating his knowledge, and determined to improve and evolve guitar education. In 1971, H.R. began conducting intensive three-day seminars in cities across North America. The same year, he founded the Playback Music Publishing Company, which over the next three years published The Howard Roberts' Guitar Book, The Howard Roberts Guitar Manual: Chord Melody, and The Howard Roberts Guitar Manual: Sight Reading, with Super Chops: Jazz Guitar Technique in 20 Weeks following in 1978. Roberts also wrote the popular monthly Jazz Improvisation column that ran in GP from January 1974 through May 1989, and in 1976, he co-founded and wrote the curriculum for the Guitar Institute of Technology, a 48-week vocational guitar course (the first of its kind and now part of Musicians Institute) based in the heart of Hollywood. H.R.'s masterwork, The Praxis System--Guitar Compendium Volumes 1, 2 and 3, was published by Advance Music in 1989.

H.R. was instrumental in the design of several Howard Roberts signature models for Epiphone and Gibson during the '60s and '70s. These guitars were similar to a Gibson ES-175 modified with an oval soundhole and neck-mounted Johnny Smith pickup. Later Gibson collaborations included the Howard Roberts Custom and Howard Roberts Fusion models. H.R. also designed the Chroma guitar (which sported colored nylon strings and a small, hollow rectangular fiberglass body) and invented the Chroma Guitar System, a guitar-and-book package designed to give folks with severe physical impairments an opportunity to play. Roberts also played a '50s Fender Telecaster on countless sessions, and had a long-standing affair with "the black guitar," a much-modified early Gibson ES-150 acquired from Herb Ellis and currently owned by H. …

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