Vintage Guitar - January 2018 - open - 94

go to the warehouse and see if you can
find that 345?"
Simmons entered to find the building
chock full of pianos, artwork, and a lot
of whatever else had captured Russell's
fancy through the years. Tucked away
on a high shelf with other guitars, the
345 obviously hadn't been touched in a
long time.
"I took it into Leon's house and opened
the case," said Simmons. "Right away,
I noticed the strings were rusty and it
needed a setup. I might've actually worked
on it right there - it's hard to remember
because it was so surreal. I was touching
Freddie King's guitar!"
Simmons took the guitar home,
whipped it into playing shape, then
returned it to Russell's house. He figured
that would be the end of the story.
"But then maybe a month later, Leon

King with a 345 on the cover of his
1971 album, Getting Ready.

brought it up again after a show. He said,
'How would you like to have it?' I said,
'I'd love to, but I'd never expect you part
with it.' But he
f igured Freddie would have
wanted it to be
played instead
of being stored
away."
W he n t he y
returned to
Russell's home
i n Colu mbia,
Tennessee, the
two went back
to t he w a re h ou s e . L a t e r
that day, Sim-

VINTAGE GUITAR

94

January 2018

Special thanks to Dave Cothran. Freddie King
was profiled in the December '01 installment of
Wolf Marshall's "Fretprints" column and Dan Forte's
"Check This Action" column in September, 2011.

Chris Simmons: Leigh Ann Edmonds. Freddie King, 1960: Gisbert Hanekroot/Zuma Press.

Chris Simmons onstage with the 345, and King with one in 1970.

mons dwelled a bit on what had gone
down. He stared at the guitar in disbelief
and eventually picked it up, plugged in,
and propped himself in front of a mirror
"...pretending I was Freddie King." He
noodled some, and even played along
to Freddie songs on his stereo, all the
while hearing nuances of King's tone.
For a couple months, he kept the guitar
at home - safe and sound.
"Every time we'd go on the road, I'd
think up excuses to not take it out; 'It's
too important... I'm not comfortable with
it, it needs a re-fret, it might get knocked
over, might get stolen...' And I didn't want
to re-fret it because those were probably
the frets Freddie played."
But Russell called him out.
"He finally asked, 'Where's that guitar?
I gave it to you because Freddie would
want it to be played, so do whatever you
gotta do. Its value is not in its history, it's
in what you do when you play it.'
"That is wisdom," said Simmons.
He had the 345 re-fretted and removed
the original pickups, pots, switches, and
Vari-Tone. In their place, he installed
four-lead Schaller Golden 50 pickups so
he could wire the "spin-a-split" mod to
produce single-coil tones. With the selector in the middle position, he says it gives
a nice, biting out-of-phase sound, and
there's now a master Tone control where
the Varitone's chicken-head selector used
to reside.
The guitar has since seen a lot of stage
time. Midway through his set each night,
Russell would spotlight Simmons playing
it on a classic blues bit. In his own shows,
Simmons plays it regularly, most nights
jamming on "I'm Tore Down."
Every so often, he gets to share his good
fortune on a deeper level.
"When I talk to fans at a gig, if someone
mentions Freddie or says they dig his
music, I tell them, 'I have something you
might like to see!' and I let them check out
the 345 - hold it or play it if they want.
The guitar has such great mojo, and I
really like to let them catch a little of it.
"For me, the guitar is a symbol of Leon's
love. It was sometimes hard to tell with
him, because he wouldn't say much about
how we all played together. But getting the
guitar showed me something. It started
to sink in that, 'Hey, I'm playing with
Leon Russell and I'm doing a good job.'"


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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Vintage Guitar - January 2018 - open

Contents
Vintage Guitar - January 2018 - open - Cover
Vintage Guitar - January 2018 - open - IFC
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