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Barney Kessel

The Walnut Tree Pub and Restaurant in Yalding, Kent, UK was the venue for the first time I heard and met Barney. WHAT A PLAYER!. I had the pleasure of running him back to his hotel in London after the gig and from then on we were friends. That was a good 18 years ago. Sadly, Barney had a stroke in May 1992, but is still with us and lives in San Diego, California. I hadn't heard of Barney before the Walnut Tree and didn't know what a legend he was. But over the years I've got the full picture! Barney was one of the greatest jazz guitarists EVER. You can still get his stuff online if you like.

In this article I would like to talk about the unknown, personal aspects that I have had straight from the Guv'nor himself. He was born in Oklahoma City. When Barney was 16 years old, the 23 year old Oklahoman, Charlie Christian came by to see him play at a performance. Charlie was home for a vacation from the Benny Goodman band at the time. They jammed together for 3 days. Charlie told Barney "I'm going to tell Benny Goodman about you".

Barney's awards were many and included the Metronome, Downbeat and Playboy awards for several years. He worked on four films with Elvis (Elvis pretended.... Barney did it!). When I asked him WHO he had worked with? He told me, "All of 'em".... and he had!.

I saw him live many times. I would run him around a bit just for the pleasure of it. Several of the gigs, in Holland and the UK, with the "Great Guitars". Herb Ellis.... Martin Taylor at times and Charlie Byrd. You can't describe the music,.......it was FANTASTIC....TERRIFIC. But more than all that was what seriously impressed me about Barney was - HIMSELF. He was so unassuming. No big time stuff with him. He was a GENUINE person. He had a soft Californian drawl and could be REALLY FUNNY. His act included a few laughs and he enjoyed that part of it a lot. "I can see you are seriously underwhelmed" he would say.... things like that. After a gig somewhere, the audience would want to meet him, talk and get an autograph. Barney wouldn't disappoint them. He had time for everyone. He worked with Stephane Grappelli, Ray Brown, Oscar Peterson, Artie Shaw. (In the Gramercy Five - famous in it's day) and, as he says, with "All of them".

There was an international guitar festival touring several countries. All kinds of styles/kinds of music and all world class players all guitarists.... maybe 10 years ago? I went to see the show and was backstage with them all. Barney was the compare for the show. Then he was the last act to come on. ALL THE OTHER ACTS came into the auditorium to see him play. He was the tops...... you could just tell by the reaction of the others.

That buttons up Barney..... He was the guitarist's... guitarist. A lovely guy. A Superb player. Unassuming. Never to be forgotton man. Best wishes to you Barney...... and to all of your fans out there. I bet there are still THOUSANDS of then.

Any comments about this viewpoint I would gladly reply to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Barney Kessel
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