Johnny Smith, 1922-2013

Guild is saddened to note the passing of jazz guitar great Johnny Smith.

Smith, 90, died June 11, 2013, at his home in Colorado Springs, Colo., after suffering complications from a fall.

A master of composition, arrangement and technique, Smith is best known for his Grammy-winning 1952 cover of “Moonlight in Vermont” with tenor sax great Stan Getz. Smith also wrote instrumental guitar classic “Walk, Don’t Run” (1954), which became a quintessential surf-rock standard when the Ventures recorded it in 1959. In addition to Getz, he accompanied artists including Benny Goodman, Bing Crosby, Count Basie, Stan Kenton and many others.

The Washington Post noted that the “sumptuous melodic style, understated precision and remarkable consistency of Mr. Smith’s playing over the decades brought him countless admirers at the highest levels of his craft.”

Born June 25, 1922, in Birmingham, Ala., Smith taught himself guitar during childhood and had turned pro by his early teens during the Depression. He played cornet in the Army Air Forces band during World War II, after which he established himself in New York as one of the city’s top guitarists. Smith played with the NBC radio studio orchestra under conductor Arturo Toscanini. Onstage, he performed difficult compositions by Arnold Schoenberg with conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos, and he appeared often at New York jazz nightclub Birdland.

Mainstream success came with 1952 album Moonlight in Vermont and its title track, which was Smith’s breakthrough hit ranked among the top-selling jazz singles of the period.

Smith left New York at the height of his career, however, after the 1958 death of second wife Ann Westerstrom during childbirth. He decided to raise his daughter in Colorado Springs, where he had family. He opened a music store and taught guitar there (Bill Frisell was one of his students), aided at times by royalties from “Walk, Don’t Run.”

The Smithsonian Institution bestowed its James Smithson Bicentennial Medal on Smith in 1998 for his contributions to American culture.

Smith occupies a special place in Guild history for his 1955 guitar design that in essence made him the company’s first signature artist. Smith worked with Guild founder Alfred Dronge on the resulting guitar, called the Johnny Smith Award model. Decades later, Smith once again lent his endorsement to Guild for its handmade Johnny Smith Award by Benedetto guitar of 2002-2005.


Richie Havens, 1941-2013

Richie Havens

Guild is saddened to learn of the April 22 passing of the great Richie Havens.

Havens, 72, suffered a fatal heart attack at his home in Jersey City, N.J.

From small coffee shops to mammoth music festivals, Havens distinctively soulful voice and powerfully rhythmic acoustic style mesmerized countless listeners live and on record. He is perhaps most noted for the stunning solo performance with which he opened the three-day Woodstock Festival in August 1969.

Born in New York City on Jan. 21, 1941, Havens rose from the Greenwich Village scene of the late 1950s and early 1960s to become one of the folk music world’s preeminent artists. He scored major chart success as a thoughtful interpreter of songs written by others, including Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman” and the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.”

Havens remained a busy and beloved performer and recording artist for the rest of his life. He enjoyed a 45-year touring and performing career and released more than 20 albums.

Guild Guitars celebrates the life and work of Richie Havens, the greatest and most enduring ambassador of its name and instruments. Throughout his life, he touched the lives of many generations of players and fans with his music, and he will be missed.