Book Review: A Perfectly Good Guitar by Chuck Holley

All Photos ©Chuck Holley 2017
“…That guitar had songs in it from the minute she gave it to me.
I think every guitar has its own songs.”              – Carloyn Wonderland

They also have their own stories. That is the basis for A Perfectly Good Guitar. Author Chuck Holley brings us an interesting entry. The book is novel because it contains exactly what you think but in an unexpected way. It contains stories about guitars but there are nuggets of life, Love, loss tragedy, recovery and, overwhelmingly, hope. I found myself more than once sitting and smiling a little after reading one of the stories. The artists sharing their stories have varying degrees of notoriety. Instead of a book full of Jack Whites or Eric Claptons, you get true stories from people that are hard working professionals, artists who have a fantastic appreciation for the music they’re playing or writing. There are some artists in the book who openly admit that they aren’t very good guitar players but have had long and fruitful careers playing guitar.

In the summer of 2007, I was watching a local band play a gig in Cedar Falls, Iowa.  When the band was tearing down at the end of the night, I struck up a conversation with one of the guitarists. He was playing a well-worn Gibson Les Paul.  When I asked what happened to his guitar, he opened up with several tales which transpired since he purchased it in January of 1969. He pointed out the dents, nicks and scuffs on the body as he relayed each story.

A few days later, when I was reflecting on the conversation, it occurred to me musicians feel strongly about their instruments.  There are all kinds of objects which hold great value to people. My wedding ring, for example,  holds more value to me than any appraised value. I wondered if the same held true for guitarists so I approached working professionals to ask about that one special guitar.

– Chuck Holley on A Perfectly Good Guitar

There are so many things that A Perfectly Good Guitar gets right from page to page. One positive feature is that most artists’ stories are typically less than two pages. It makes reading the book enjoyable and easy. The stories contain bits of both educational and emotional information and often follow the archetype of the hero’s journey. As the artist recounts his or her story, they describe finding their sound or voice in the

guitar and, in doing so, finding themselves. As in the case of Rob McNelley, talks about his fathers white-blonde telecaster that he loved to play. It would have been easy for McNelley to leave it at that; instead he talks about a difficult subject. McNelley’s father passes away and the subsequent acqusition of his fathers guitar collection. All except for the guitar he loved to play so much. Spoilers, he gets the Tele, but how he gets it is just as amazing as him getting it.

“It’s been played and played and played. He brought it home and I played it all the time. In fact, when it was time or him to go on the road, he’d have to find the guitar because I would hide it. I’d put it under my bed or somewhere, hopefully, he’d forget it and not take it with him. 

Of course, he always found it.”    – Rob McNelley

To think a story like that could end up in so much joy was almost unthinkable. After I finished reading McNelly’s story I felt inspired, not toward any particular end (I gave my wife a huge hug when I saw her), but in general I shared in McNelly’s joy. Many of the stories from Holley’s book transport you, it’s marvelous.

…I decided I needed a guitar. I bought a Supro J.B. Hutto. A year later, I picked up fiberglass Airline. Both were made by Valco, a Chicago guitar manufacturer. I got them for almost nothing.

Those guitars were what was happening for me then and they were the blueprintsfor everything that I’ve played since.      

 -Dr. Dan Ivankovich

In another story, Chicago native, musician and surgeon Dr. Dan Ivankovich recounts how he discovered a passion forthe blues while recovering from a knee injury in college, and then working for the schools radio station. The two guitars he found would lead him to Chess Records and some of the greatest bluesmen to have lived. After becoming a surgeon Dr. Ivankovich became a health advocate for underserved communities, cummunities that often times housed the very blues artist that helped teach him. While that particular story doesn’t seem at face value so relatable, we can all recall a time or two we were given a hand from a friend or stranger.

There are also stories that are amusing, as in the case of Joanna Connor, a world-renowned Blues musician. Joanna is a crowd favorite and a local Chicago treasure known for her high energy and flawless performances.

The guitar was part of an endorsement deal with Gibson. I had moved to Chicago a few years earlier. I was only twenty-two, and everyone thought I was crazy. I was incredibly fearless back then. I think a lot of people dram of things, but don’t actually go and do it.

You have to take that step.   – Joanna Connor

Her story shows us sometimes even when things don’t go right, they really do. It shows us how a mistake on her guitar wasn’t a mistake at all and that being sent the wrong guitar from Gibson led her to her favorite guitar. The story is wonderful, with some really good chuckles and some cringful moments when she talks about having to sell guitars to feed her family. Selling guitars to survive is a sad reality that many musicians face, which may not seem so terrible, but for many of them, it’s not just a guitar they’re selling, it’s their life line. That sentiment is a common thread through the book. We all have something we feel that way about.

“The husk of the guitar was just leaning in the corner. It was one of the most worn Les Pauls I’d ever seen, but it was not broken.”    – G.E. Smith

The variety of stories, the personal connections and heartfelt messages of the stories in A Perfectly Good Guitar make this a must-read for Blues aficionados and music lovers alike. The stories evoke personal memories which caused me, the reader, to feel inspired to connect and share these stories with my community.  It’s rare to find a book that prompts me to engage with others instead of collapsing into it, but A Perfectly Good Guitar meets the challenge.

To buy the book or learn more check out:

Buy a Perfectly Good Guitar

You can also buy A Perfectly Good Guitar here.

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A PERFECTLY GOOD GUITAR: BOOK DESIGN

The cover design of A Perfectly Good Guitar is, from an artist’s standpoint, beautiful. It is a black hardcover book with a glossy full jacket wrap. I say beautiful from an artists stand point. It has a simple layout on the cover, five really fantastic photos, all taken by Chuck himself. The title nessled in mid-jacket in sans serif uppercase, with minimal graphic additions. The effort put into the jackets hierarchy, specifically  the readability of the all caps is amazing. The layout artist should be commended. Another interesting design element is how the focus of the cover really highlights the photos by giving the black bits of the cover more of a satin or matte finish.  This book itself really is a piece of art.

The inside of the book is every bit as good looking. The pages are broken up into 3rds. If you look at the body of copy you’ll see that it roughly makes up 2/3rds of each page. That copy is always on the most left of the left pages and right of the right pages. This simple design contributes not only to the beauty of the design but also enhances readability. Ever notice how sometimes if you’re reading in bed or in an unusually position the pages will flop around or make reading close to the binding difficult? A Perfectly Good Guitar avoids these readability issues while still retaining its artistic elements we as readers benefited from their expert experience. While black and red are aesthetically pleasing together, this color combination can be tricky to do well.  A Perfectly Good Guitar nails this perfectly.

Chuck Holley is responsible for each of the photographs in the book, and they are meticulously worked so they have a feel of candidness to them capturing the essence of each artist. Holley knows the secret for capturing truly beautiful photos of his subjuects and the book is litered with some of the most fantastic and intimate photos that will inspire you to go pick up a camera and create some of your own fantastic moments.

“ I have a great deal of respect for designers.  Most people don’t realize all of the decisions which go into book design.  A designer, in consultation with the editor and publisher, will decide if the book will be bound in hard cover or paperback and  the overall dimensions.  The designer chooses the type face, the size of the type, the color of the ink used, how photos are cropped and the paper used.  A Perfectly Good Guitar was designed by Lindsay Starr, one of the in-house designers at the University of Texas Press.    

In my first meeting with Lindsay, we discussed some of the qualities I like in a book.  For example,  I like a clean design which will lead the viewer through the layout.  I realize photographs must be cropped to fit within the parameters of the design.  I told her if she had to crop a photograph in a way which interfered with my intent, we would have to discuss options.  If necessary, I would re-crop the photo to fit with her design.  My photographs and her design have to fit hand-in-hand.

Lindsay’s design is wonderful.  But I have to say the entire team assembled by my editor, Robert Devens, did a terrific job.  I’m very proud of this book.”          

– Chuck Holly on the design of A Perfectly Good Guitar

Porter

Porter

Aaron Porter is a multimedia artist with a degree in Film and Animation. He has worked as a layout artist for Buddy Guys Legends for the last years as well as creating numerous works of art for the club. He also created Creepy Animals Alphabet Book an alphabet book for kids and adults alike at www.creepyanimalsbook.tumblr.com

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