Bruce Forman Interview with Jazz Guitar Life

So I’m driving up there and while I’m doing do it is like Barney Kessel is driving up with me and sitting right beside me! I’m experiencing these bolts of Barney and I can almost smell his after-shave! I mean it’s like weird and it wouldn’t stop. I was thinking ‘What’s that all about?!‘”

Bruce Forman

Jazz Guitarist Bruce Forman has been on the scene for a very long time and has – over the years – played with practically everybody and anybody, from Ray Brown and Richie Cole to Freddie Hubbard and the vocal group Rare Silk (Sugar anyone?). In this interview Bruce shares with us the details pertaining to his recent acquisition of Barney Kessel’s iconic guitar and his upcoming project which is to record a Poll Winners “reunion” of sorts style album with Bassist John Clayton and Drummer Jeff Hamilton. A most informative, insightful and entertaining read. This interview was held over ZOOM Monday, June 14, 2021


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Ed Note: If you’re pressed for time then just head on over to Bruce Forman’s Kickstarter page to see how you can contribute to this exciting and historic project…but don’t forget to come back later to read the interview 🙂 Reunion: Revisiting the Poll Winners

JGL: Hi Bruce and thank you for taking the time to chat with Jazz Guitar Life. It is greatly appreciated :

BF: My pleasure Lyle.

JGL: For the two and a half people who may not know who you are, can you give us an elevator pitch of who Bruce Forman is?

BF: Well I am a Jazz Guitar player who’s been on the scene for a long time, played with a lot of guys: Richie Cole, Bobby Hutcherson, Freddie Hubbard, Ray Brown and Roger Kellaway. I did a soundtrack for Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby). I have about twenty records of my own out. I have a straight-ahead Jazz band, which is now usually a trio. I have a Cowboy Jazz band called Cow-Bop. I have a one-man show called The Red Guitar which is based on the “Red Shoes” or the “Red Violin” about how the instrument sort of takes over your life. It’s a metaphor for music and I narrate the story as I play. I’m a writer as well and have novels out. I also teach. I’m on staff at USC right now and I started a national mentoring program many years ago and have given over 3,500 workshops to kids free of charge and a lot of those kids are out making music right now!

JGL: Beautiful!! So that whole Karma thing seems to be working for ya!

BF: Well, I mean it’s more like paying back than Karma. I’m really lucky to have been mentored by great musicians locally in San Francisco when I was coming up and then as I got on the scene nationally, having had a lot of my heroes take me under their wing and lead me down the right path so to speak. To me this is what the music is all about, it’s all about stories and WE are all about stories as human beings and that is what I am going for right now. Tell the story and let the music do what it has gotta do!

JGL: Wonderful! Speaking of mentors, Barney Kessel was a huge mentor in your life. Can you talk a bit about how you got to meet and play with him?

BF: Yeah, well you know, I listened to him a lot and he would come to town to play. I was always a precocious kid who wanted to meet him. Sometimes guys would do workshops before their gigs to raise a little bit of extra money I guess and we guitar players love to go to those so I met him at one of those. I got to play a tune with him and then a couple of promoters around town got me on the bill with him when he would come to town. I was kind of this young kid who was doing pretty well so we’d either play together or I would do the opening set. He liked me so he would at times let me play with him and the next thing I know we are doing tours of Europe and around the West Coast. Basically when someone asked him to bring a young guitar player along with him he picked me. He was really hard on me but at the same time super supportive.

JGL: Nice! How was he hard on you?

BF: Barney was an honest guy. He didn’t have the ability necessarily to say something in the nicest way possible. He would just say whatever he thought he had to say. So if he felt that I wasn’t playing enough chords he would say “Play some chords!!” It wouldn’t be like “Hey man, you sound great but I think you should add some harmony to that”…LOL…he wouldn’t say that…he’d say “PLAY SOME CHORDS!!”

JGL: LOL! Would he do that on the bandstand while you’re playing?

BF: Sure would. I remember once I was playing solo – you know, the part of the show were we each played solo – he would play amazing solo guitar and then I’d play something. Once I played “Round Midnight” and he looked me and said “You know, do you play piano?” and I said “yeah” and he says “You played that in E flat Minor, right?” And I said “yeah”. And he says “It’s the original key”. And I said “yeah”. And he says “You know how E flat minor lays on the piano right? It’s all the black keys and really works great you know?” I said “yeah” and then he said “Do you think if Monk were a guitar player that he would have written it in E flat minor?” And I said “No…” And he asked “What key do you think he would have written it in?” And I said, “Probably E minor!”…LOL. And he said “Yeah! Why don’t you play it in E minor?!”

JGL: LOL. Wow!

BF: Yeah, I mean he put me right on the spot in front of all these people. But the funny thing was that as soon as I stared the piece, this came out (picks up guitar and plays the first few notes with natural open string harmonics) which set me off in a whole other direction of sonorities and ways to play the tune. That’s the kind of stuff he would just say, you know. Why you doing that? You think about it! You don’t just do, you arrange, you strategize, you conceptualize, you play, you use motifs, you tell a story. It’s all this about this full thing, it’s not just playing a bunch of stuff that has already been played or licks over changes. That idea didn’t even exist to him!

JGL: Wow. How old were you when he was laying down these notions to you?

BF: Well I’d have to go back through the years to figure it out. Of course he seemed a lot older to me at the time, but when we first started I was in my early twenties.

We played together numerous times throughout our careers. I remember I was on the road with him, I wasn’t playing with him, but I was on the road with him in like a junket. The Great Guitars was one of the groups and the Monterey All Stars, which I was on, was one of the groups and that I think was somewhere in the late eighties, in Australia. That’s where the head-stock was broken on that guitar (Barney’s Guitar) which is now my guitar. I remember when the airlines busted the head-stock. Which was a drag because I couldn’t sit in with him anymore because he was using my guitar…lol!

JGL: LOL…yeah…at least you were there and able to lend him your guitar!

BF: Yeah. I think he was mad at me too because my guitar didn’t get…

JGL: That’s too funny! Actually in a recent photo of you holding the guitar, I had noticed that the headstock was all black and shiny and there was no brand logo or the black tape that was used at one point to cover the logo up. Was that due to an issue that Barney had against Gibson at the time?

BF: Ok…it started with the tape but it ended up where he painted over the logo or maybe when they re-attached the head stock they had done that. But yes, he didn’t like Gibson. He was angry at them and I’m sure this is well documented by other people because we didn’t really talk about it, but I do know that he never really liked the Barney Kessel Guitar for various reasons. My guess is he probably was not asked to contribute in the way of design and so when they showed it to him he was not happy. I think most people on Earth think it’s an ugly guitar!

JGL: Well it kinda looks like a fat-bodied SG to me…

BF: More like a ES-335 with the double cut-away and looks like a long horned steer!

JGL:LOL. Right! And didn’t Trini Lopez have pretty much the same guitar?

BF: Yes it was pretty similar except Barney’s had the Venetian cut-away and Lopez had the Florentine, and the split blocks were different but yes, they were almost the same guitar.

Barney didn’t like that and I don’t think any money came down like it was suppose to but really, I don’t know the whole story and I’m just speculating. I do know though that he just didn’t want to advertise for Gibson so he covered up the logo with tape and now the whole headstock is black.

JGL: Well thanks for that Bruce. I wasn’t sure of the details and is something I should investigate further ‘cause there is obviously a definitive answer out there.

BF: You know, I’m really torn by this whole thing because I’m not a gear-head. I’m a serially monogamous guitar player. I have a guitar and I just like THAT guitar! I’m a cowboy though. You put any guitar in my hand and I’ll play it, no problem! In terms of what guitar I use, I just want to have the same one every day. One that I am comfortable with and that I am use to, and that it does what I like. I don’t need to have the best, the newest. I don’t need to find another guitar somewhere. I just don’t have that particular DNA that so many guitar players do have.

In that way, Barney was the same as me. He had his guitar, he liked it, it worked and he didn’t really stray. I mean obviously, the reason why this guitar is so important and valuable is because it’s really the only one that he played. He got it in the early fifties or late forties, actually it would have been in the early fifties, and he played it all the way to when he had his stroke and had to stop playing. And yes, there was the Kay guitar that he took pictures with but he never played it. Then there was an Aria model for a while that the Japanese company tried to get Barney to play and yeah, there are some video clips and pictures of him playing it, but he maybe played that a week or two at the most. And the same with the Gibson Barney Kessel which he only took a few pictures with and I don’t think he ever played it. The rest of the time he played the guitar that everyone knows. Now there may be pictures of Barney playing my guitar during the time that his was broken…

JGL: Do you remember which guitar you were playing at the time?

BF: At that time I had the Bruce Forman model Ibanez.

JGL: Cool…and just for the record, what model exactly was Barney’s guitar?

BF: It’s an ES-350 that was completely “Frankensteined”. If anybody wants to know more about it, there’s a great YouTube video called “Barney Kessel Talks About His Guitar” (YT link) where he shows all the things he did to it and why. It’s really a charming video.

JGL Nice! I’ll include a link for our readers to check out. What about the Charlie Christian pickup…

BF: That was a modification. It originally came with one of those Alnico Elephant ear plastic things which were great pick-ups, but this Charlie Christian pick up is one of the real ones from the thirties with the big housing underneath, bolts in the face, it’s a nasty son-of-a-bitch…lol! And it must have been rattling at some point because there’s some tissue paper or a napkin that was shoved in around one of the sides and of course now it’s fossilised…

JGL: Right! LOL! You don’t wanna move it!

BF: LOL. Yeah! And besides the head stock, someone obviously had tripped on it because the whole side where the input jack is kinda caved in so there’s a metal plate holding it all together. There were also a lot of cracks which have all since been sealed but the guitar has definitely been through the war.

JGL: Wow! Given the iconic nature of that guitar do you get goose-bumps when playing it?

BF: Well at first I did. But don’t forget, I knew that guitar before I got it. For years after Barney passed, and even when he had his stroke, every time I was in San Diego I would visit and Phyllis (Bareny’s widow) would ask me to play his guitar to make sure that it was still ok, so I’ve played it a lot over the years. Of course at the time I did want the guitar but we figured it would go for a “gob-smack” amount of money which would take me out of the bidding. Phyllis did want me to have it but she also needed the money. Barney on the other, I don’t think would gave a shit one way or the other. To him that was a good guitar that he liked to play but we never talked about the guitar, we talked about music.

I’m that way as well. It’s funny actually because now I’m becoming this gear or guitar curator when of all the people I know I’m the least concerned with it.

I got this show called “The Red Guitar” and red is a color that is metaphorical for the story that I’m telling, and of course my guitar is red and it did change me because let’s face it, Jazz musicians and in particular Jazz Guitarists, have gotten kind of conservative over the years. This red guitar is almost Rockabilly but you know, it’s just a guitar.

JGL: I hear ya! Was it red to begin with or did you customize it?

BF: Well when I met it it was red and the reason why I picked it up and played it was because it was red. Everybody seemed to be ignoring it and I kind of got this Cowboy mentality that it was like a girl at a dance that no one wanted to dance with, which I felt was really wrong. So I picked it up and the thing was full of sound acoustically. I had been playing my Ibanez for twenty years and it was very much an electric arch-top with little acoustic qualities and this whole thing of feeling that vibration against my chest made me think that maybe I was ready to go in this kind of direction, so I bought the guitar.

JGL: Very cool. So, continuing on with gear, can we move forward to how you acquired Barney Kessel’s guitar?

BF: Well like I said, Phyllis had it but it was a big responsibility for her to hold on to it and maybe thinking that the longer she holds onto it, the less it may be worth. I mean I don’t know what was going on in her head but of course we know that the market sort of dips and swings and it’s all about timing. I seem to remember George Van Eps guitar going for a gob-smacked amount of money which of course was worth it and George, like Barney, kind of pretty much played that one guitar his whole career. So we figured it was going to be a retirement kind of thing. So when Phyllis told me that she was going to sell it I told her that I was not going t help her because A I wanted it and B because I couldn’t trust myself not to, in some way, “sabotage” the deal so that I would end up with it. I mean I can’t trust myself in those situations. Half the world already thought that I had Barney’s guitar already because I’m the one on Facebook posting my guitar right next to Barney’s guitar or there was some picture of me playing it. So everybody thinks “Oh, well Bruce has THAT guitar!” I mean it makes sense because I knew Barney and he liked my playing so it made sense but it wasn’t true.

So when Phyllis went to sell it I gave her the names of some dealers I thought were reputable and I had just been at the Heritage Auction where they sold all of Les Paul’s stuff. I went to the LA part of it because it was going on in New York and LA simultaneously and you watched it all on a big screen. So I figured that these people do high end stuff so I told her to call them and then I just walked away. I kinda said that I don’t want to know anything about it, I’m like done with this because it was hurting frankly!

She decided to go with the auctions and I did see a post or two about it on Facebook and probably most people thought that I was selling it…lol…who knows. And then it sold and it really didn’t sell for that much of a high price. For some reason either the advertising or the timing or whatever…I mean it didn’t go up in the stratosphere like we thought it would hoping for twice as much as the George Van Eps guitar sold for.

JGL: Do you remember how much it sold for?

BF: Yeah, but you can look it up.

JGL: Will do.

BF: The guy who ended up with it is really a great guy and kind of bought it to preserve it. To make sure that it didn’t get into the wrong hands; didn’t leave the country perhaps. I mean I didn’t know what he was thinking really but he intimated that he was buying it as much to save it as he was to collect it.

JGL: Was he a player as well?

BF: Yes he is a player and a Charlie Christian freak and from Oklahoma, like Barney was, so there was a real connection and I got to know him through email via Phyllis. So what ended up happening is that throughout the years if I was going through near where he lived I would email him and say “Hey, I’m coming through, maybe you’d like to come to the gig it would be great to meet you?” Never happened but we did keep in touch for many years, ballpark around five to ten years.

And then, this is what I call paranormal intervention…

JGL: Yeah! I was going to ask you about that!!

BF: LOL! You probably heard me mention it on my little video talk.

JGL: Yes! Exactly! LOL…

BF: Well, there’s this Jazz Club near where I live called the Kumba Jazz Center?? pretty well known place in Santa Cruz. It’s been going for like fifty years almost. Great presenting house for music and everybody has played there and I played there over the years. When I was just starting out I played there because I was living in San Francisco and my earliest gigs were played there. Well during COVID they started doing live streams to keep the club and the music flowing.

So I’m driving up there and while I’m doing do it is like Barney Kessel is driving up with me and sitting right beside me! I’m experiencing these bolts of Barney and I can almost smell his after-shave! I mean it’s like weird and it wouldn’t stop. I was thinking “What’s that all about?!”  And then when I got to the club I remembered that I had played there with Barney like thirty-five or forty years ago. So I figured “ok…that must be why”. But it just kept going almost like I was fixated on him, he wouldn’t leave me alone! So to kind of get it out of my brain I emailed the guy who had the guitar and said “Hey, I’m in this club and I’m having Barney Kessel flashbacks ‘cause we played here years ago. Hope you’re doing well and hope the guitar is ok and if you ever wanna get rid of it, please give me first crack.”

Well, when I got off the stage there was an email from him and it read “I’m thinking of selling off my collection and everybody wants Barney’s guitar but I don’t want to sell it to a collector.” For the same reason he bought it in the first place he didn’t want it to go there. He wanted it to go to a museum. He wanted it to get into the hands of someone who would continue on the legacy.  He said I’d love for you to have it, just give me what I paid for and you’d have to come get it, because he did not want to ship it, and he said, you’ll have to give me a lesson! That was the deal. So I got in the car and drove a couple of days and picked it up and now I got it!

JGL: Beautiful!!

BF: It was like Barney was telling me it was time for me to have the guitar and to get it. Actually, I had the idea to do the Poll Winners revisit long before Phyllis had sold the guitar and had approached Phyllis about the idea. She liked the idea but had some reservations about the fact that I would have to take the guitar out of the house, maybe have to get it set up, I mean up until yesterday it still had Barney’s 30 year old strings on it. So I told her that it had to be set up because the condition it was in playing it on her couch, well…it needed work. It was in the case for about twenty plus years! It didn’t need the neck reset but it damn well needed an adjustment and a clean up and new strings and all that. I could tell she was really uncomfortable with that because maybe of the resale value, maybe because of her attachment to Barney or maybe both. So I just decided to back off and never broached the subject again. Now that I got it though, I can do all that and that’s what we’re doing!

JGL: So when you were thinking about the Poll Winners revisited were you also thinking of John Clayton (Bassist) and Jeff Hamilton (Drummer) originally and had you already approached them?

BF: Yeah…I must have mentioned it to them because John already had Ray’s (Brown) Bass so it was just a matter of finding the drums and then we found the drums, so it was easy to say “Yeah, we have all the instruments”, which just gave us an excuse to get together and play!

JGL: And they are already tight as a rhythm section…

BF: Of course, and we’ve also played with each other in various ways. I’ve played duo a lot with John, he’s played on my records. I’ve played in Ray’s band with Jeff Hamilton as a trio. I’ve played with Shelly (Manne – Drummer) in the Monterey All Star Band. I mean we’ve all played with each other and with the other guys. And then when I was on the road with Barney they made a record with Barney back when they were in the Monty Alexander Trio. So we are all family and basically what we are trying to do is the kids get together and play their parent’s instruments. That’s pretty much the philosophy. We are not going to copy their music. We are not going to be doing their arrangements or their solos. We’ll do our stuff but we are going to do it in the same way that they did it. In other words, we are not going to rehearse, we’re gonna get together and pick tunes and put them together on the spot and record them. I mean, when I play I’m pretty much arranging as I go anyway so what people will hear are basically arrangements, but just not practised or rehearsed.

I want to say, while I always appreciated that about Barney, and to me that’s a real hallmark of Barney’s playing, I didn’t get it from him. I learned it from listening to Count Basie and Ahmad Jamal’s band! Just like Bird and the melodicism and freedom that took over my life, the other side, the motivic, the development, the arranging as you go, you know, the strategizing as you play, I got that from Count Basie and Ahmad Jamal mostly. Of course I appreciated it when I heard Barney doing it and got into Barney’s way of doing it because it was so interesting to me. And Barney even told me that one night over dinner as he said “You know I really dig where you’re coming from with Charlie Parker and Count Basie. It’s so obvious because that’s where I’m coming from to which is why we get along so well!”

He asked me once “Did you ever wonder why I picked you for this gig?” I mean here we were on this great European tour and I’m a guy from California and he could have easily picked a cat from New York or I can think of three or four guys that I would have called. So anyway, he said “I like you because you play the way I play but you don’t play like me.” You know, one of those cryptic comments. You’re coming from the same place I’m coming from but you’re doing it differently. That’s what he liked about me. He told me this the night Shelley Manne died. We played a set in Amsterdam I think or someplace near there and we got off the stage and they told us that Shelly had passed. And then we went out to dinner and I remember that conversation happening after that.

JGL: Wow. And there’s another connection with Charlie Parker and Barney. Did you ever get him to open up about those days?

BF: Oh yeah! It was not hard to do. If I played with Bird you couldn’t shut me up about it! LOL…

JGL: LOL! I can imagine. Are there any stories shared by Barney that pop up in your head?

BF: Just in general, just how you know, Bird was like God. I mean both Barney and Mundell Lowe (Jazz Guitarist) who played with Bird as well, that kind of was their saying. I’d ask them what was it like and they would say “It was kind of like playing with God!”

JGL: Wow. I can’t even imagine! So let’s talk a bit about the Kickstarter campaign you started for support on this way cool project.

BF: Well I’ve been making my own albums because the record company thing wasn’t a good deal anymore. The last few records I made were either squashed on the promotion side of things or they decided to promote somebody else. Then they would sell me back my records (vinyl) at a staggering high price which would prohibit me of ever making my money back trying to sell them at gigs.

JGL: Wow! I had no ideas…

BF: They would want what they called “wholesale” for them but after shipping and wholesale costs it was a losing proposition when trying to sell them on a gig whereas we got into the CD years and all of a sudden you could make them for a couple of bucks a piece so you at least had a chance of selling stuff. Recordings after Napster became more like business cards than things you could sell so it was easier to just be in control of the production, promotion and sales that you could do by yourself. And yeah, maybe DownBeat would look down their nose because it wasn’t a “record label” so you wouldn’t get a review or something but weighed against the amount of work and the lack of control, the monetary thing seemed much better as an entrepreneur. I’m talking 1998 or ’99 so that’s the way I have been going. So now that Kickstarter has happened it’s sort of changed the paradigm.

To be honest though, I didn’t like it at the beginning. It was kind of like that Wimpy guy from the Popeye cartoon: “I’d gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today!” That’s what these things felt like to me. It’s like wait a minute, we should invest in ourselves and then if we do well, people will support it. But it was going more and more to streaming and Spotify and you know, it’s like it’s not going to work that way. And so  I realized that I’m not really selling stuff through Kickstarter I’m asking for support and I’m giving back things that are of value for that support. In other words yeah, the CD is fifteen bucks. I’m not making any money there. I mean hello! I gotta record this stuff, I gotta master this stuff, I gotta mx this stuff, I gotta produce that stuff, I gotta ship that stuff, I’m not making a lot of money here! Yet if you help us you’re supporting the project and in so doing, I’m being really diligent about posting updates all the time and putting entertaining content up whether it be fun and funny or illuminating about Barney or the times. There’s some reason for posting stuff. Things you won’t know or things that will add to your day!

What I do like is that I’m publicising the record before I make it so that now when I make it I’m kinda like done and can go on to the next project! Because in the old days I’d work on the project, I’d make the project, and then, when I’m finally sick of it, I have to take three months or so and promote it!! So I’m liking the time line, the energy with this better. I’m of course touched beyond belief by the amount of support I’ve got and really hoping for a whole lot more thanks to people like you who are helping to spread the word because I have other ideas like this. Story telling, historical documentation and community building, all under one roof and I think in that case it fits in a philanthropy model like crowd-funding. And again, it’s all about story telling. I’m gonna have a story to tell but I’m not going to bother people. And to me that’s how I feel about my music, the way I feel about my writing, my performing, it’s all one big story. And honestly, it’s been daunting because I never thought I’d have to be a full time marketing representative.

I don’t know if you are aware of this but when the pandemic started I started a little home TV show called Grumps TV.

JGL: YES!! I’ve seen a few episodes…lol…

BF: I did them on Facebook Live and it all always kept crashing but I was smart enough somehow to film it while I was doing so that I could put the whole show on YouTube and of course all of the sillier parts is where I am fighting with the internet trying to get back on Facebook and I’m just completely angry but as soon as it is back I’m like the fun TV show host again…lol! This entailed writing parody songs, coming up with skits, coming up with a concept of the show. My wife is a great singer and a great performer so she was always in costume. We did this twice a week! Two one hour shows a week for many, many weeks. It was just basically my way of continuing to produce and create and play because I was shut out. It’s what kept me on Earth during that first transitional cold turkey time where there were no gigs, no playing and no hanging out.

So a lot of the skills I learned during this that time I’m just kinda putting to work creating interesting content while I’m telling the story. I’ll be honest, I’ve contributed to numerous crowd-funded projects, and I noticed that the artists’ don’t put many updates up. You know, they’ll beg you for the money, they’ll get your money and you will get a CD, which is fine, there’s nothing wrong with that. But in this case the story needs to be told and my part of the bargain is also really telling the story with all that I can get across. I want to prove to myself that this is a viable thing because I have at least two or three other projects like this just as epic in a similar vein as this project and involves a lot more great people just like John and Jeff. So if I can prove to myself that this IS a viable thing to spend a quarter of the year on, then I will continue to do it, which is why I placed a low threshold for funding the project so that it would not be too daunting. As a result, I’m hoping to get four or five times of what my goal was so that I can prove to myself that yes, I’m willing to go ahead, because I start the project there’s no turning back.

JGL: Can you talk a bit about these future projects?

BF: Not at the moment in case they don’t happen. The projects do involve numerous people who I respect and I’m not going to call them unless I believe that I can pay for it even if I am unable to raise the money through other means. So I need to be shown that we have a community that wants this kind of content.

JGL: Thanks Bruce, I have no doubt that you and your projects will garner the support of the Jazz Guitar community and Jazz Guitar Life will do what it can to get the word out J I realize that we need to wrap this up soon but I have a few more questions one of which is did I read correctly that you also have Barney’s original amp from way back in the day?

BF: I am not sure if it is THE amp but I do have one of them, which he used on a lot of his records. It’s a BR3 which is the one after the 150 and the 185 but it looks just like those amps, although this one (picks up the amp to show me) is in somewhat bad shape (it is). A friend of mine in New York who is a collector bought it originally from Barney’s son and then gave it to me to “hold on to” because he felt it should be with the guitar.

JGL: Will you be using that amp to record with?

BF: I can’t promise that I’ll only be using that amp given its condition. I’ll probably also use my Henriksen and I may use a direct signal as well if I feel that another amp is needed but I will record with it on some tunes.

JGL: Cool and do you have a tentative recording date set yet?

BF: Oh it’s not tentative it is set in stone! July 22 and 23 (2021)! Just a few days after our Kickstarter campaign ends on the 19th.

JGL: Nice! Will you be recording near your place?

BF: We’ll be recording in LA. The studio where they recorded the Poll Winners is no longer there which is fortunate and unfortunate. The unfortunate part is that it would have really been great to record there. The fortunate part is that we are now able to record it anywhere.

We thought of recording it at Capitol, which is a great room to record in, but that would mean that we would have to use their engineers and it’s really a high expense to record there. In contrast, the original Contemporary studios (where the Poll Winners was recorded) was just a little part of a warehouse cordoned off. It was the warehouse where they kept all the records and they would record at night when there weren’t any workers moving boxes around and what-not. They had this amazing recording engineer by the name of Roy Unan?? who was kind of like the Rudy Van Gelder of the West Coast. He had what many people considered to be really primitive ways of recording. He didn’t believe in big recording consoles and stuff. He wanted the cleanest and direct sound possible. The owner of Contemporary, a German guy named Lester Koenig had this amazing collection of microphones that would all be in a museum so Roy would use these amazing microphones and sometimes wouldn’t even use pre-amps. And those records sound great!

JGL: Agreed! Will you be recording digitally or analog?

BF: I think we’ll be doing both. We’ll definitely be going to tape but it would be stupid of us to not have it all backed up on a hard-drive.

JGL: CD and vinyl?

BF: Yes, both.

JGL: 8 Track? LOL.

BF: LOL and cassette…LOL And if I figure out how to do downloads we’ll do that as well although I am not sure. At that point people would probably just go to Spotify.

JGL: Yeah, I would imagine. I am not a fan of Spotify and don’t use it.

BF: I’m not either but I’d rather people get to hear the music than not.  Like I mentioned, it’s all about getting the support and what happens, happens.

JGL: Have you considered going out on the road with this particular project and with the same fellas?

BF: John and I have talked about it and have agreed that it would be a fun thing to do live once things begin to open up. And obviously a guitar trio is an easy thing to travel with. Of course those guys are busier than a one legged person in an ass kicking contest…lol.

JGL: I’m not surprised. They are – much like yourself – world class players.

BF: Oh yeah, unbelievable musicians and they all have their own story like I have mine with Barney. John with Ray and Jeff with Shelly, it’s a pretty deep long story which hopefully will be a large part of the content between now and the recording.

JGL: Just out of curiosity Bruce, have any guitar players reached out to you in regards to your now owning Barney’s guitar?

BF: Not really. Well…yes and no…lol. I called mostly the guys who I thought if I didn’t get it they should.

JGL: That’s a nice thing to do.

BF: There were a few guys I knew who, if Barney had said “If Bruce doesn’t get it, I want one of these guys to get it.” And I called all of them personally so that tey were the first to hear about the guitar. Every one of them was so supportive. They all unanimously said “You’re the guy that should have it!” So that was really beautiful.

I then posted on Facebook that the guitar was coming home and everybody was so supportive as well like “You’re the guy who should have it” and “I’m glad that it’s not sitting in a closet somewhere. This is the way it should be!” Just all this amazing love and I couldn’t be more touched, I just couldn’t. But I gotta tell you…I can’t help it, every time I pick up that guitar I have to play the intro to “Cry Me A River” LOL! I’m getting sick of it but I still can’t stop myself..LOL!

JGL: That’s too funny! That I believe begs the question, will Barney’s guitar be THE guitar you will play?

BF: No plans for that. The Red Guitar is still the guitar I would rather play. I went to a gig yesterday and brought the Red Guitar. I can see certain projects in the future like when we take the Poll Winners on the road then that will be the guitar I use. In a weird way Lyle, the Red Guitar has a story and Barney’s guitar is just chapter two of that story so I could easily see me travelling with two guitars although the logistics of travelling with two guitars is ridiculous. If you’ve ever flown on an airplane with a guitar it’s nearly impossible and then to take two!!?? Of course I would only do it if I could buy a seat for one of them which still means that I’d have to carry two guitars all the way throughout the airport, going through the gate and dealing with the people around the gate. Then having to make your way through the airplane…that’s a lot of freakin’ dues…LOL!

Now…when I got the guitar and drove back home with it, I did pick up a few gigs along the way. So I used the Red Guitar in the first set and opened the second set with Barney’s guitar and the story related to that. But even better, I let people sit in and let them play Barney’s guitar.

JGL: Wow! How cool!

BF: Yeah, so really great guitar players got to play it and I got to give them the thrill of actually playing a huge piece of history and now their DNA is mixed in those strings with Barney’s. We’re all kind of making a DNA Soup!

JGL: Well that sounds like a great dish to end the interview on Bruce…LOL. Thank you so much for taking the time to hang out with Jazz Guitar Life and I’ll post all the necessary links and videos to help spread the word even more. Take care and my best to all.

BF: Thank you Lyle, it was great talking to you and however you can help is greatly appreciated.

Please consider spreading the word about Bruce’s Reunion Project and Jazz Guitar Life by sharing this interview amongst your social media pals and please feel free to leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you 🙂

If you would like to support all the work I do on Jazz Guitar Life, please consider buying me a coffee or visiting the Jazz Guitar Life sponsors. Thank you and your patronage is greatly appreciated regardless if you buy me a coffee or not 🙂

About Lyle Robinson 353 Articles
Lyle Robinson is the owner/creator/publisher and editor of Jazz Guitar Life, an online magazine dedicated to the Jazz Guitar and its community of fine players worldwide.


  1. Hello Bruce My name is Martin, I live in the SF bay area and I would welcome the opportunity to see/hear you play Barneys guitar in any setting. I’ve read so many conflicting reports about the guitar, would you mind confirming that this ES-350 is veneer with a 25&1/2″ scale? Please put me on your list for any bay area musical endeavors. Thank You

    • Hi Martin and thanks for dropping by. Unfortunately I am not Bruce Forman…it is just a Jazz Guitar Life interview with him and not connected in any personal way. Please seek out his website and ask your question. I’m sure he would be more than pleased to let you know what you ask.

      Thanks again and take care.

      Lyle – Jazz Guitar Life

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