Guitarists who Accompanied Ken on his recordings


Andy Nelson (Circa 1945)

Andy played on numerous recordings with Ken but his main LP was Hawaiian Magic. Other tracks include, Put Your Little Foot and Golden Sails. We found web pages dedicated to Andy and wrote to the author for permission to use the above photo and some text to include here. As it turned out Larry Grinnell turned out to be Andy's nephew and had already written a biography on Andy which is available in the Adobe Acrobat Reader format (pdf). Larry has also kindly sent me some interesting information on Andy's life and his connection with Ken during these recordings session which you can read below:

Hello Bill, 

How nice to hear from you. To my knowledge, Andy only did one album with Ken Griffin--the original Columbia 10 inch LP was titled "Hawaiian Serenade" (if memory serves). It was reissued in the 1970s (where I found it in a "cut-out" bin at a San Antonio, Texas record store) under a different title, and pieces from the original album have been reissued in other collections over the years. I'm guessing he did that album just before he left the performing business for a lucrative job in sales with Chicago Musical Instruments Co., the parent of Gibson and (after 1957) Epiphone. Andy worked as a salesman and clinician, doing shows in Gibson franchisee music stores throughout the U.S. (and Canada, I think). It took him two years to do a complete circuit. Following ten years with CMI, he went to CBS/Fender guitars, as a regional sales manager. He held this position for five years until he had to retire due to several heart attacks and subsequent (then experimental) coronary bypass surgery. Due to provisions in his disability insurance policy, he was unable to perform for pay in public until his 65th birthday. Once he reached that point, he resumed a moderately successful performing career with his third wife, a singer, and did so literally until the day before he died from sudden massive coronary failure in November, 1995.

 During his professional playing years from roughly 1938 to 1955, he worked with a number of greats and near-greats, based in Chicago, Illinois and later Cleveland, Ohio. His stint with the Cleveland, OH-based Tune Toppers lasted about five years, and included numerous appearances on radio and television. His biggest fame, however, came from his years as a clinician with Gibson and Epiphone (roughly 1955-1965). I still hear from friends and fans who saw him at those clinics, and who marveled at his playing ability, as well as his rapport with the audience (a very useful thing as a salesman, don't you think?).

In his last years, I attended a number of vintage guitar shows with him. When he began to play, all other activity in those huge halls ceased and everyone, from young rock-and-roll fans to people in their 70s (and beyond) found their way to the booth where Andy was playing. I have never seen anything like it. If other players weren't available, he'd just play with a simple rhythm machine (providing bass and drum support).

If I am not mistaken, the Hawaiian guitar Andy used for that session was one he built for himself back in the 1950s. It was a beautiful piece, with some very striking woods (flamed maple, to my recollection) and a gorgeous sunburst finish. I believe he fabricated the pedal and knee-based actuators in the manner he wanted for himself and his style of playing, and not necessarily in the "standard" way. Through the years of ownership, he made minor improvements to the controls and the like, including the use of Gibson control knobs for the electronics (the same type as used in 1950s-period guitars), and may have changed the pickups for more modern units at some time. He may have also used non-standard tunings, but I really don't exactly remember a lot about the specifics of that instrument. I only heard him play it once, at his North Fort Myers, FL home.

I believe Andy sold that Hawaiian steel guitar, along with a number of his more conventional (and very desirable) guitars to Roger Binnette, a vintage instrument collector who lives in upper New York state (I do not have contact information on him), in the mid-late 1980s. Regarding his session with Ken in the mid 50s, I am merely assuming that Andy was hired as a session player--that he had probably not worked with Griffin extensively before or after. There may or may not have been time for extensive rehearsals prior to the session. Players of Ken and Andy's caliber did not often require a lot of rehearsal before "laying down tracks". Andy was then as later a great sight reader (something he learned from years of schooling at Chicago's Lane Institute), so if there were decent charts prepared beforehand, he would not have needed a great deal of preparation. He had worked with organists before, in the Jerry Shelton Trio, and the Jerry Shelton Whispering Rhythms groups (the trio recorded a number of 78 RPM records on the Mercury label, and the Whispering Rhythms group recorded at least one transcription for Armed Forces Radio on a large 16 inch 33 RPM transcription disk). Shelton, I believe, was the accordionist -- I do not know who the organist was. Prior to his employment with CMI, he was a fairly busy session player in Chicago (where he also played on the Leroy Van Dyke "Auctioneer" session for Dot Records).

 Thanks again for thinking about Andy.

 Best regards,

 Larry Grinnell.

My thanks to Larry for the interesting details about Andy and of his successful career in the Guitar field. I was sorry to find that Andy had Died at Cape Coral, Florida, on November 20th 1995, of a sudden heart attack, aged 73. However it is nice to know that he went on to be very successful and that he is still remembered by present day guitarists. The photos above was taken from the web site http://www.classicjazzguitar.com/articles/article.jsp?article=49  for which I thank Larry for the permission to include it here. On this web page you will find the link to Larry's excellent biography of Andy, for downloading in the Adobi Acrobat Reader (pdf) format. Its quite large and takes a while to download, but well worth it. The web page about Andy is part of the classicjazzguitar.com web site, if you go to their home page you can learn more  about Andy and other well known guitarists.

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Carl Ascercion:  No details. If you can help add some information about Carl it would be very welcome. He played guitar on Ken's Sugar & Spice LP.

26.03.03 Update: From Wilfred HÝstland)

Earl Backus: No Details.

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