Anton Goudsmit, Bruut, Grady Martin, Graham Gouldman, guitar instrumentals, Instrumentally Yours, Joel Paterson, Kurt Lanham, Rich Arithmetic, surf guitar, Tabants, The Babalooneys, The Resonars, The Surfragettes, Tremelo Beer Gut
There aren’t enough superlatives in the thesaurus to really capture how great Grady Martin was. He played all those super rumbly rockabilly riffs that elevated songs by Johnny Horton, Pasty Cline, Marty Robbins, and many others. It is rumoured that he played the anchor lead line on Roy Orbison’s monster hit “Oh Pretty Woman.” You can hear a sampling of those riffs in the compilation video below. Sadly, Martin never released a solo album of instrumentals that really did justice to his genius for guitar technique. His 1965 album Instrumentally Yours (from which we’ve copped our post title) buries his guitar work under a cheesy torrent of strings. So as a tribute to this great performer we’re featuring a bevy of melody-rich, guitar-based instrumentals on today’s post.
Tuscon’s The Resonars are not known as an instrumentals band but they offer up a nice acoustic guitar ramble on their 2008 album That Evil Drone. “Yes Grosvenor” sounds more like something you might hear on a Bruce Cockburn album than the Ventures but it’s bright and sprightly, kicking off with a “Norwegian Wood “feel before heading in a more studied folk direction. Denmark’s Tremelo Beer Gut shift things to a more smoky night club scene and max out the rumble on their guitars with “Shabby Moscow Tremelo” from their 1999 album The Inebriated Sounds of … They make shabby the new cool. Next door in the Netherlands Bruut and Anton Goudsmit hit the surf with the aptly named LP Go Surfing. The sound is very Ventures but with a jazzy tinge, particularly on their swinging rendition of “Music to Watch Girls By.” Located in LA but named for an eastern European car, Trabants fall somewhere between Ennio Morricone and Herb Alpert on the spaghetti western guitar spectrum. Their 2018 release Nel Cuore Di Una Terra Selvaggia (In the Heart of a Wild Land) conjures desert landscapes and mad dashes toward moving trains on “Theme for Savage Land.” Seriously, this recording must be haunted by The Man With No Name. Bellingham Washington might not seem like surf territory but Rich Arithmetic will change your mind with his languid, one-off surf single “Saving Sunset (Last Surf the Day).” The song plays up all the usual surf guitar motifs but also drifts into surprisingly melodic directions. Get your wet suit ready.
Chicagoan Joel Paterson looks more like a 1950s accountant than a guitar god. But man can he make that instrument sing! In 2019 and 2020 he brought out two albums of Beatles instrumentals Let It Be Guitar and Let It Be Acoustic Guitar that breathe new life into your fab faves. Both records are highly listenable, covering a broad range of the Beatles canon. But here I’ll just focus your attention on Paterson’s delightful treatment of “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” with its super-enriched Bakersfield sound. In 2021 the endlessly talented Graham Gouldman decided to bring out an album of instrumentals as a benefit to raise money for musicians hurt by the pandemic lockdown and break in touring. No Words Today is lovely collection of delicately rendered covers, except for one new original tune “Resonator Rock.” The guitar here almost sounds like a banjo and the slide guitar adds to the downhome southern feel. The Babalooneys hail from Quebec City, Quebec but you don’t need to parlez Francais to catch the drift on their mostly instrumental EP The Babalooneys Are Here! “Bikini Drag” combines killer surf riffs with that sense of 1950s drag race menace. Floridian Kurt Lanham has a light guitar touch on his instrumental covers, sketching out the bare elements of the melody line with an artful grace. Listen to how he transforms the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” damping down the exuberance to better feature jauntiness of the melody. We wrap things up in party mode with Toronto’s incredible surf guitar demons The Surfragettes. Their new album Roller Fink is a feel good trip around the roller track, with inspired covers (e.g. Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” and the Beatles “She Loves You”) and strong originals. To help you ease on your skates I’ve chosen “Warm Up,” a track that oozes the melodious warmth and confidence of rock solid instrumentals bands like Los Straightjackets.
My favourite lead guitar players know how to ‘serve the song’ with their playing. For them, it’s more about melody than some ferocious onslaught of notes. Grady Martin influenced generations of players without ever really taking the spotlight for himself. In that he was, indeed, instrumentally yours.