I hope I’m not the only person that has this problem. Sometimes a piece of music will get in my head and I can’t rest until I have tracked it to its source and listened to it enough times to expunge the demon. And it’s always some arcane scrap of song that generally has no relevance to the here and now. The latest such invasion came from listening to Connie Francis’ Lipstick on Your Collar on an oldies station, and really for the first time appreciating a wild guitar solo in the middle of what is more or less a nonsense song. For those who remember it, Lipstick starts out with a chorus of nasty female voices chanting Nyah Nyah Nyah Nyah, at one of their friends who has just learned her boyfriend has two-timed her, But almost immediately a guitarist breaks in with a short musical phrase that suggests there may be an adult in the room. The guitar fades into the background until just about the one minute mark when Connie sings:
Bet your bottom dollar you and I are through,
Cuz lipstick on your collar told a tale on you…
And then follows 25 seconds of pure guitar heaven as the soloist punches out what has been described as one of the great guitar solos of the era and one that stands up well today despite the juvenile tune that surrounds it.
Who was the virtuoso? Well it turns out it was George Barnes—almost forgotten today, but in his day was in the same league or better than the Charlie Christians, the Les Pauls, the Django Reinhardt’s and the rest of those great jazz guitar pioneers of the 30’s and 40’s . It is believed Barnes made the first electric guitar recording ever around 1933. He can be heard accompanying Big Bill Broonzy around the same time. At age 14 he has his own band. He recorded prolifically through the early 40’s and quickly became a hot item on the New York and Chicago jazz scene playing with the top artists of the day. As the 50’s came along George Barnes was working with Decca records both as a recording artist and a session man. But like many of his fellow jazz musicians Barnes also supplemented his living as a New York studio musician, playing on hundreds of albums and jingles from the early 1950s through the late 1960s. His guitar can be heard on Patsy Cline’s New York sessions from April 1957 Barnes participated in hundreds of pop, rock and R&B recording sessions: he was a regular guitar player on most of The Coasters’ hit records produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, ” and he can be heard on The Drifters’ version of “This Magic Moment” and Jackie Wilson’s “Lonely Teardrops, where he provides a tasty pizzicato guitar accompaniment. He also played beautiful guitar accents on Sarah Vaughan’s “Broken hearted Melody” And then on April 15 1959 in a session at Metropolitan Studio (NYC) produced and conducted by Ray Ellis, he provided the legendary guitar solo for the Francis hit. He even tracked TV and radio commercials including a series of jingles for New York radio station WMCA and many others. Still George was at heart a serious jazz musician and innovator. He once put together an ensemble to record the Bach Fugue in “G” Minor. In his later years Barnes moved to California, recording and staging jazz festivals and keeping busy right to the end. He was only 56 when he died in 1977. To cite as his legacy the Connie Francis solo may seem to trivialize the career of one of the top musicians of his era, but hopefully it also serves to bring a belated new appreciation of the enormous body of work, created by George Barnes.
By: Charles Westover