We’re talking Memphis back in the day, when the steamy birthplace of blues & rock ‘n’ roll was still a secret mecca for the best players of all stripes and spots – where living legends found refuge in St. Blues’ waiting curves and sonic versatility.
They knew, as did countless others who made the pilgrimage to the melting pot of American music, that to evoke the spirit of Memphis, only an instrument crafted by artisans raised on Memphis’ mojo would suffice.
Fittingly, it all started across the street from Graceland. The custom work that Charles Lawing and Tom Keckler were doing at Mike Ladd’s Guitar City in the late 60s on what is now Elvis Presley Boulevard was a powerful magnet for musicians touring through Memphis. When Led Zeppelin came to the States, Jimmy Page let them overhaul one of his guitars. He was so impressed by their work, he asked them to refurbish all of his instruments, and the buzz continued to spread. They even built a one-of-a-kind guitar as a gift to Elvis from his father, which he can be seen playing in “Aloha from Hawaii.”
The original Bluesmaster, the signature St. Blues model, was designed by Lawing and Keckler before Keckler left to help start Schecter Guitars in Los Angeles. For years, the unique shape, classic vintage appearance and playability of the Bluesmasters on display at Strings & Things in Memphis drew a lot of interest from passing guitarists, which led to the creation of the St. Blues guitar line in 1984.
The Bluesmaster alumni roster is deep and impressive: Bono, Eric Clapton, Albert King, Elliot Easton (the Cars), Marshall Crenshaw, Jeff Carlisi (.38 Special), Billy Squier, Martin Briley, John Ashton (the Psychedelic Furs), Elvin Bishop, Glenn Frey (the Eagles), Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and many more.
The guitars were a critical smash, but a lack of capital forced the founders to shelve the line in 1989. Interest in St. Blues has never waned, however, and in the years since, the St. Blues founders have received several calls and e-mails a week from previous owners, distributors, retailers, and collectors worldwide wondering what happened to the line.
In 2004, Vintage Guitar magazine wrote several articles about the legacy of St. Blues. Based on this interest and the rich history, several Memphis entrepreneurs created Legendary Gear to restart production in 2006. With Keckler and Lawing back in as advisors, Legendary Gear hopes to return St. Blues to its original prestige among the world’s best players.
Today, every new St. Blues guitar comes kicking and screaming into this world a reincarnation of that same gritty soul – the love child of Delta blues, rockabilly, soul and rock ‘n’ roll. And every new St. Blues will always have its roots in this hallowed ground.