FAMILY OF MAN
We get up close and personal with the war-torn guitars belonging to Deke Leonard and Micky Jones from Welsh rockers Man
Man were originally formed in the late 60s and, with their artful meld of blues, art-rock and extended live jams, have often been compared with fellow psych-rockers The Grateful Dead. Sadly, both long-standing guitarists in the band are no longer with us, Micky Jones having died in March 2010 and Deke Leonard in January of this year. On 10 June, a memorial concert was held for Deke at The Princess Royal Theatre in Port Talbot and Guitarist was invited to Swansea’s Sonic One Studios to view a range of instruments owned by Deke and Micky that were being prepped for the gig.
Micky’s son, George Jones, was our guide to the instruments’ history – a former member of the Man band himself and now playing with the aptly named Son Of Man, intent on keeping his father’s and Deke’s music alive. These guitars represent a diversion from our usual Historic Hardware fodder: no museum pieces or glass case dwellers here. These are instruments that have spent years on the road, modded, prodded and proudly bearing all the scars associated with life in music’s front line.
One of the curious things about this guitar is that there is no neck date – possibly lost when it was stripped of its original finish around 50 years ago. “It’s always been known as a ’61 Strat,” George tells us, “but I did a bit of research and I think it’s a transition – a ’60/’61. It’s hard to tell, but it’s definitely from one of those two years. The guitar previously belonged to John Cipollina from The Quicksilver Messenger Service and it was originally Fiesta Red; you can still see specks of it down by the springs round the back. It was purchased by my father from John in 1974 on Man’s first tour of America.”
It was love at first sight for Micky: “He put his hand on the neck and knew it was ‘the one’,” says George. “He went to see John and said, ‘This guitar is perfect, it’s mine. How much do you want for it?’ John said $100 and they struck a deal.”
A bargain, then! So what other mods has the guitar had in its lifetime? “It’s got Gibson 1960s gold ‘top hat’ knobs on it and it had a leather scratchplate on it,” says George. “Micky swapped out the scratchplate for an original ’63, the neck was shaved down so much that you can see the truss rod through the back of the neck and it’s being held in by some epoxy resin. My luthier said you can’t make a truss rod adjustment because the epoxy will pop out! It’s a C-shape neck, but it’s extremely thin. The tuners are Grovers and I emailed Grover years ago and they said that they’re actually off a banjo and are extremely rare.”
Is the guitar still in use? “It was off the road for a long time, but was used on the latest Son Of Man album. It’s really nice to get it back into working condition. It’s a very delicate guitar, so I’ve been very cautious about taking it out, but I do use it a lot.”
Deke was closely associated with the ’63 Les Paul Custom, bought in London in 1972 or ’73. George explains: “The bullseye is Deke’s third attempt at painting it. First of all, he painted a picture of Napoleon on it and if you see some footage on YouTube of the farewell at the Roundhouse concert from 1976, he painted a tribal effect on it and then he painted the bullseye – a long time before Zakk Wylde, I think!”
“He put his hands on the neck [of the 1960/’61 Strat] and knew it was ‘the one’” geOrge jOnes
Has the guitar been modded in any way? “Absolutely no modifications whatsoever, as far as I am aware. He took the pickup covers off – they’re long lost – but the knobs and the hardware is all-original. It’s tuned to open G and, unfortunately, is unplayable at the moment as a guitar in standard tuning because the neck has warped, so it needs a neck reset, but Deke had been using it in open G for about 30 years.”
The ‘Bullseye’ has original PAF pickups and bears Deke’s favoured version of open G tuning: GGDGBD (bass to treble). One mystery remains, however. “It’s got a name written on it – John J Welch – and myself and Deke’s widow, Mary, have been trying to find out who he is. We’ve looked on Facebook, but nothing… It was common back then for people to have their names on their guitars and cases, but we’ve no idea who John J Welch could have been.”
This guitar has been in the wars, having suffered three neck breaks in its lifetime. “It’s fallen off the stage, it’s had a stage curtain fall on it, a cymbal dropped on it and when dad stepped on stage and started playing, it broke at the 12th fret,” says George. “It’s got a different headstock on it – I believe the neck and the headstock are from a Gibson acoustic – and I think Micky, tiring of the breakages, asked a luthier in London to make the guitar stronger. So it’s got two truss rods – they’re inaccessible, you can’t get at them – but the neck is solid and somehow they managed to put the original Brazilian rosewood fingerboard back on, which is incredible. It’s not had a refret since then, but it’s getting very low. It’s got original PAFs on it. They’re overwound: the neck is 8.7k, the bridge is super-hot at 8.9k. It’s got a Bigsby B7, which wasn’t original to the guitar… It’s a bit of a mongrel guitar, to be honest, but it works!”
Unbelievably, the guitar cost £55 when it was bought from a guitar shop in Newcastle in the early 70s. “Micky originally had a Gibson 335, but, unfortunately, on tour with Deep Purple in Switzerland in 1971, it got stolen from the back of the van – the only thing that got taken. Micky’s had lots of lovely guitars over the years, but according to legend, that was ‘the one’. A beautiful guitar. He needed a new guitar and so the first person he called up was Alan Rogan, Pete Townshend’s guitar tech, who went on a mission to find Micky a new guitar. He went up to a shop in Newcastle – he heard they had a Gibson SG up there – and I think Micky, being a Jerry Garcia fan, was veering that way. Micky gave Alan £50 and he went into the shop, tried the guitar, loved it and went to buy it, but the gentleman behind the counter said, ‘That will be £55, please.’ Alan said that he had £50 and that he’d travelled a long way, couldn’t they come to a deal? But the guy said no, he wanted £55. Alan left the shop and was sitting in his mother’s house with no guitar – and Micky needed one quickly because they were getting very busy. So he looked around his mum’s house and in the corner of the room he saw a trumpet, so he half-inches his mum’s trumpet, goes down to the shop and part-ex’s the trumpet and 50 quid and gets the guitar!
“Years later Alan invited me backstage to go and see The Who and asked me to bring the guitar,” he adds. “So he opened up the case and the American road crew came over and they said, ‘Is that the trumpet guitar?’ Alan said, ‘They all know the story…’ and he was looking at the guitar and said, ‘You know what? My mum’s still alive and she still asks where that trumpet is!’
deke’s 70s Fender teLecaster
The 70s Telecaster was bought to replace Deke’s treasured ’59 Tele that was stolen in 1993. George takes up the story: “I believe
geOrge jOnes “Alan half-inches his mum’s trumpet, goes down to the shop and part-ex’s the trumpet and 50 quid and gets the guitar!”
the Telecaster is from either 1976 or ’77,” he says. “It was bought in 1994, completely stock and was to replace the beautiful 1959 Telecaster Custom that was stolen in Austria in ’93. Deke had that guitar for a very long time and was devastated. I was very young when it happened, but I remember the look on his face – like he’d just lost a child. It’s very hard to find another ’59 and you’d be talking serious money, so I think it was just finding something that felt as close to that and as reasonably priced as possible.”
What about the original ’59? What’s the story there? “It was bought from Ivor Mairants’ shop in London in 1962,” says George. “It had been at the back of the shop for two years as no-one was playing Telecasters back then, except Mick Green in Johnny Kidd And The Pirates, who’d let Deke have a play of his when they played in Llanelli. Deke was electrocuted once when his roadie dropped his Vox amplifier down the stairs and knocked the earth out. He was holding the mic and the guitar and he was hospitalised. The neck of the guitar was destroyed and deep grooves cut across the body and scratchplate, so Deke had to replace the neck with a 70s Strat neck, which you can see on some videos on YouTube. Deke really butchered that guitar: he cut two holes in it, he also painted a bullseye on it. He met Steve Cropper once, who was horrified!”
Finally, a guitar that George bought to honour his late father’s original 335 that was stolen in 1971. “It’s a stock Rich Robinson ’63 reissue, small block inlay with a factory fitted Bigsby,” George tells us, “and I was after one because it was Micky’s original guitar in Man, used to record the first three albums. There’s footage of Micky using it on The Beat Club and it looked huge on him because dad was so tiny. I’ve always been after one because all the guys in the band said that the Strat is lovely and the SG is lovely, but the 335 is really the one that got away. It was the nicest guitar he ever had and he really missed it.”
Guitarist would like to thank Tim Hamill at Sonic One Studios, Swansea for the use of his premises for this article
“I’ve always been after [a 335]… The Strat is lovely and the SG is lovely, but the 335 is really the one that got away. It was the nicest guitar [Micky] ever had and he really missed it [when it was stolen]” geOrge jOnes
4 1. The 1960/’61 Strat had already had several modifications when Micky Jones bought it from John Cipollina while Man were on their first US tour in 1974 2. The Strat’s volume and tone controls have been swapped for 1960s Gibson gold ‘top hat’ knobs...
George Jones is determined to keep the spirit of his father’s music alive with his band, the aptly titled Son Of Man