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Gibson Guitars

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On the mantle above my fireplace there sits an old picture of my grandfather, Joe Dee Adams, Sr. The picture was taken some time during the Great Depression when he was a professional musician. It was actually his promo picture for the radio show he hosted on WSGN in Birmingham, Alabama. In it, he is holding an old Gibson acoustic guitar.

No one in our family has any idea what happened to that old guitar. It was lost along with his purple heart from World War I some time before he passed away in the fall of 1978. His death was just a year or so after I bought my first guitar. After my grandfather passed away, I remember my father saying how unfortunate it was that he never had a chance to hear me play. He could have taught me a thing or two in his later years.

Just a few years later, Dan Fogelberg wrote a song called “Leader of the Band.” It was a wonderful tribute to his father. Dan always felt that his father was a vastly superior musician and he felt guilty over the fact that he (Dan) became richer and more famous than the older Fogelberg.

Less than ten years after Dan wrote that song I found myself playing music for a living. I remember playing one night in a bar called the C&G in Greenville, Mississippi. Without really thinking about it beforehand I started telling the audience the story of my grandfather’s short career as a musician.

My grandfather used to play with the likes of a young Red Foley. He was that good. And then he quit playing because he needed steady work to support a family. Later, Red Foley would become a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. He even got two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – one for recording music and one for television. But my grandfather would die in an old run-down house in Tarrant City.

The line that separates fame from obscurity is a thin one that is often drawn by the hand of fate. I suspect that most people already know that about life. And I think that is why some people were visibly shedding tears that night when I finished telling my grandfather’s story and then starting playing “Leader of the Band” in my grandfather’s honor.

So many great musicians, both well-known and unknown, have played those great Gibson guitars over the years. From Chet Atkins to B.B. King to Roy Orbison to Jimmy Page to Slash – the list seems almost endless. How many greats have we never heard because they never caught a break in the industry? God only knows. And I mean that literally.

The number of great musicians playing Gibson guitars could soon be diminished thanks to the Obama administration. The Obama Department of Justice recently raided Gibson’s Nashville plant seeking allegedly illegal rosewood that was used to make Gibson fingerboards. The problem was that the fingerboards were supposed to have been fitted with inlays in India before they were shipped to America. Gibson is now in trouble for doing the work here. And the government has seized massive quantities of Gibson’s work materials.

Many have asked this pointed question: Is the Obama White House committed to shipping American jobs oversees to India?

The answer to the question is simply “no.” The Obama administration does not oppose keeping jobs in America. Its conduct is simply a function of the fact that it opposes businesses that are run by Republicans that donate heavily to Republican candidates and causes. But the administration is not opposed to using the Department of Justice to wage political warfare on private businesses. The Republican Gibson CEO is simply the target of government conduct that is more in line with Third World practices than with enlightened democracy.

It would be tempting for Republicans to simply bash the Obama administration and Eric Holder for this most recent politically motivated transgression. But that is not enough. Gibson Guitars needs our help and they need it now.  And that help can only take the form of buying Gibson guitars.

Personally, I was on the verge of buying a maple-top Taylor t5 until the recent raid on the Gibson Nashville plant. But I am now going to take that money and buy a Gibson J-45 that looks a lot like the old guitar my grandfather used to play. I know many readers cannot afford to buy guitars that run between two and three thousand dollars. But most can afford to buy the fine Epiphone guitars that are also made by Gibson.

Veteran guitar players are not the only ones that should be buying these all-American made guitars. Novices should be buying them, too. Those who have long wanted to learn to play guitar should use this as an opportunity to end their procrastination.  Others should be buying them for their children and grandchildren. Christmas is just around the corner.

Regardless of what model they choose, new Gibson owners should remember to take a picture of their new purchase. And they should display it prominently on the mantle above their fireplace. New pictures of new guitars eventually become old pictures of old guitars. They can only be distinguished by the stories they have told and the ones that they will tell.

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