A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE

Lo­cal luthier re­calls thrill of build­ing gui­tar for late mu­sic icon Lou Reed

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - FRONT PAGE - By Jen Zoratti

WHEN news broke that Lou Reed — the hugely in­flu­en­tial Vel­vet Un­der­ground leader, New York leg­end and rock ’n’ roll vi­sion­ary — had died last Sun­day of liver disease, the mu­sic world was left reel­ing. An out­pour­ing of thought­ful obit­u­ar­ies and nerdy think­pieces re­call­ing his mon­u­men­tal and far-reach­ing im­pact on mod­ern mu­sic fol­lowed. A host of mu­si­cians, in­clud­ing David Bowie, Mor­ris­sey, Patti Smith and Iggy Pop, have paid their re­spects; Ar­cade Fire even slipped in a Lou Reed med­ley that in­cluded cov­ers of Per­fect Day and Satel­lite of Love dur­ing its NPR ses­sion this week. Mem­o­ries are still be­ing shared.

Al­lan Beard­sell has his own per­sonal mem­ory of the ven­er­ated song­writer. About six years ago, the noted Winnipeg luthier — who has been pro­fes­sion­ally build­ing cus­tom gui­tars for nearly two decades — had a gui­tar com­mis­sioned by Reed him­self. Reed was in­tro­duced to Beard­sell’s work via a Van­cou­ver mu­si­cian and Ge­or­gia Straight mu­sic scribe by the name of Alex Varty, who owns an ex­ten­sive gui­tar col­lec­tion and has been a friend of Beard­sell’s for years. “Alex called me up and he said, ‘You’ll never guess who just showed up at my doorstep,’” Beard­sell re­calls with a laugh. “I don’t know how Lou heard about his gui­tar col­lec­tion, but there he was. I don’t make a tra­di­tional-style gui­tar and Lou is not a tra­di­tion­al­ist. Alex put one of my gui­tars in his hands and ap­par­ently he flipped out.” Varty told Beard­sell to ex­pect a call from Reed’s camp. “I didn’t think any­thing of it. A month later, I got an email from one of his gui­tar techs that said Lou was in­ter­ested in com­mis­sion­ing a gui­tar.” Af­ter a few weeks of email ex­changes, Beard­sell fi­nally sug­gested he should talk to Reed him­self. “A cou­ple days later, I got a call from Lou. In that thick Brook­lyn ac­cent of his he said, ‘Hi, it’s Lou — what do you need to know?’ “I’ve heard about other peo­ple hav­ing ex­plo­sive deal­ings with him, but he was re­ally nice to me, He seemed like a straight-up dude,” he adds with a laugh. Beard­sell doesn’t know what be­came of the fin­ished gui­tar — “an acous­tic gui­tar, which is un­usual.” He doesn’t know if it was used on any record­ings or pre­served as a prized ad­di­tion to Reed’s es­timable gui­tar col­lec­tion. “I don’t have any pic­tures or record­ings,” he says. Still, cre­at­ing a hand­made work of art for some­one who served as a per­sonal cre­ative in­spi­ra­tion is its own re­ward. “I was a pretty big fan. I lis­tened to his al­bums and I ap­pre­ci­ated his song­writ­ing. It was the ur­ban vi­sion he pre­sented that I found so fas­ci­nat­ing. He wasn’t the great­est gui­tar player or the great­est singer — but he’s a true artist. He re­ally said some­thing. I used to lis­ten to (1989’s) New York just about ev­ery day,” says Beard­sell. The luthier, who grew up in Van­cou­ver and later moved to Toronto, started mak­ing gui­tars out of scraps he col­lected from his job at a cab­i­net maker’s. “I made some real ash­trays at first,” he says, laugh­ing. In the years that fol­lowed, he made his liv­ing re­pair­ing gui­tars and build­ing the odd cus­tom piece for no­table Toronto mu­si­cians such as Ian Blur­ton. Beard­sell moved to Winnipeg in the mid-’90s to start his fam­ily, and turned his fo­cus to build­ing. He ran his busi­ness out of his Wolse­ley garage be­fore re­lo­cat­ing to his cur­rent St. Matthews Av­enue lo­ca­tion, which used to be the workshop of Thomas ‘Gar’ Gil­lies, the in­ven­tor of Gar­net Am­pli­fiers, which were favoured by the Guess Who. To have a mu­si­cal leg­end ask for one of your gui­tars is a unique kind of ca­reer af­fir­ma­tion. “It def­i­nitely makes you feel like you’ve made the right choice with your life. I don’t make my liv­ing off guys like that. My liv­ing comes from more ob­scure artists. Fa­mous mu­si­cians are not usu­ally in­volved with the equip­ment on that level be­cause they’re usu­ally en­dorsed,” Beard­sell says. “For Lou Reed to seek out a guy work­ing out of his garage in Wolse­ley, it’s pretty ex­tra­or­di­nary.”

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Beard­sell works on a gui­tar in his St. Matthews Av­enue shop.

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