Booker T. Washington White’s 1933 National Duolian “Hard Rock” Resonator guitar, made in USA, serial no. C7094, gifted to his transatlantic friend, Keith Perry, a Newcastle, UK based photographer in May 1976.

Booker White

Booker “Bukka” White (12th November 1906 or 1909 – 26th February 1977) was an influential African-American Delta Blues guitarist from Mississippi, USA, active from the late 1920s until his passing in 1977. He was best known for his slide work on National Resonator guitars and recordings put out by early labels including Victor, Vocalion and Okeh. His musical career started by playing the fiddle at square dances with a change of instrument after his father gifted him a guitar on his ninth birthday. Booker honed his craft in the following years and cites Charlie Patten as a big influence, who he also claimed to have met. Both Booker White and Son House (with his National Style 0) are both considered pioneers of Delta Blues slide guitar and a main inspiration for the fascination with National resonator guitars as we know it today.  Son House himself was likely influenced by the great man if Booker’s word is to be believed, quoted as saying “Son House got that slide from me, he wasn’t using no slide when I run up on him. He wasn’t using even the bottleneck, too. And after, the next time I’d see him, he had a bottleneck. And so he’s been bottlenecking ever since”.

Booker first recorded in 1930 for Victor who released two records under the name “Washington White”. Some years later, whilst serving time for assault in Mississippi State Penitentiary (Parchman Farm) he recorded some of his best-known work including “Shake ‘Em On Down”, which is considered definitive. His experience at the State Penitentiary is written about in “Parchman Farm Blues” which was released in 1940.

Bookers chances of commercial success in the 1930s largely ended with his imprisonment in 1937. During this time the music world had quickly moved on. His classic brand of country blues was now considered outdated, especially when artists such as Muddy Waters would burst onto the scene with amplified electric blues. However, in time, the recordings made by booker in 1940 would be considered the greatest of all blues music. In the February 2010 issue of ‘Downbeat’ magazine, Frank-John Hadley stated that Booker’s 1940 Vocalion recordings arguably rival Robert Johnson’s body of work in artistry and poignancy.

Bob Dylan’s 1962 cover of “Fixin’ to Die Blues” aided the rediscovery of Booker in 1963, where he found fame within the Folk Revival scene of the 1960s. This later fame and subsequent touring allowed Booker to travel the world and it was the 1967 UK “American Folk-Blues Festival” which set up what would become a long-distance friendship between Booker White and Newcastle based photographer, Keith Perry.

Hard Rock

On Monday 23rd October 1967, Keith Perry attended the American Folk-Blues Festival at Newcastle City Hall. Even though he was only 24 years old, his profession meant that he was already well acquainted with two world-famous musicians on the bill, Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry. Keith recalls that Brownie met him at the stage door before the concert and said ‘Come through, I want you to meet a real legend of the blues’. Keith walked though and was staggered to see Booker White sprawled out on a piano stool. Keith had a chance to chat to booker and take pictures of him in the dressing room and on stage. A second meeting between the pair happened in November 1970 when the American Folk-Blues Festival arrived at the Sunderland Empire. Again, with Brownie, Sonny and Booker all in tow, more backstage images were taken. Following this, Brownie came over on tour again in 1973. He asked Keith if he had ever kept in touch with Booker. Keith said that he hadn’t, and Brownie encouraged him to send over some of the photographs that he had taken, as he was still enjoying his rediscovered fame. Brownie gave Keith Booker’s Memphis address and he sent Booker the photographs as Brownie has suggested, along with a letter offering to send over a tape of all his old recordings. Keith had heard that he didn’t have copies himself. It wasn’t long before Keith received a hand-written letter from Booker, so set to work compiling a tape of Bookers recordings from the 1930s and 1940s. At the end of each letter, Keith noticed that Booker had included his home telephone number. Keith began to phone Booker and the pair would have many long conversations. Within the space of a few months a special transatlantic friendship had developed.

In 1976 during an informal call with Booker, Keith had touched on the subject of acquiring a National guitar. Keith’s friend Jim Murray had one at the time, which was the first that he had seen in the UK. Keith was looking everywhere for a similar model and said to Booker ‘If you ever hear of a guitar similar to yours come up in the States, I’d be very interested to know about it.’ To Keith’s amazement Booker responded, ‘Well, you’ve been good to me. You’ve sent tapes and photographs over to me. If you send me the cost of postage and packaging, I’ll give you my old guitar’. This was an opportunity that Keith simply could not turn down. This wasn’t any old guitar, it was Bookers prized working instrument. One that had been by his side for three decades. “Hard Rock”, as it was affectionately named, was Booker’s instrument of choice and best suited to his brand of aggressive slide playing. Booker once said “It is loud, I don’t need no mike and also I play so rough. I would have busted many a guitar, but this one can stand rain and punishment. I stomp them, I don’t peddle them”. Whether travelling the world or sat on a stool on Leath Street entertaining neighbours and friends, Hard Rock was Bookers constant companion. Hard Rock Café founder Isaac Tigrett recalls “I spent many an hour on Bukka’s front porch listening to him play that guitar at his home in Memphis”. Although the roots of Hard Rock Café’s name are unknown, it is an interesting connection between the founder of the world-famous chain and the name of Booker’s main instrument.

Strapped for cash at the time, Keith arranged a bank loan to cover the cost of shipping and insurance and transferred the money to Booker’s account. Three or four weeks later, on Friday 21st May 1976, Keith received a call from the Newcastle airport customs department that the guitar had arrived but that the import duty needed to be settled. Keith went to the airport to collect the guitar and settled the import duty later that evening. When Keith arrived home, he unpacked the guitar and found it exactly how Booker had left it. Within the case was Booker original strap, slide and tone-bar. On the handle was a shipping label bearing Booker’s address from when he had travelled with the guitar during the 1960s. The guitars side bearing Booker’s original set list held on with scotch tape. A letter shortly arrived from Booker, anxious to hear news about his beloved Hard Rock. By this time, he had acquired a new instrument, a National Style 0, which he named “Lovene”. Booker used this guitar as his instrument of choice for a little under a year until he sadly passed away in February 1977.

A Holy Relic

Already steeped in history, Hard Rock’s story does not end there. Whilst Keith mourned the loss of a hero and friend, he was keen to not shut the guitar away, but to put the instrument into the hands of musicians that he felt would appreciate its rich history and value. Keith, through his photographic profession, documented many meetings between Hard Rock and famous names such as Mark & David Knopfler, Don McLean, Lonnie Donnegan, Bill Wyman, Brian Johnson, Dave Stewart and Derek Trucks.

One very special meeting happened on 18th April 1984, when Keith met Booker’s cousin, none other than the great B.B King at a hotel in Gateshead. B.B King recalls ‘I remember this guitar when I used to come up to Memphis to make the big time’. ‘Booker used to keep this guitar on top of his wardrobe’. This would have been in the 1940s. Keith’s photograph of B.B King with Hard Rock features in B.B Kings Autobiography ‘Blues All Around Me’. In the Autobiography he describes the guitar as a “Holy Relic”. B.B King also cites Booker as being one of his three main influences along with Django Reinhardt and T. Bone Walker. On a side note, a famous mural of B.B King with Lucille, which resides on a building in Inianola, Mississippi, mimics one of Keith’s original photographs.

Another special series of events in Hard Rock’s journey was when Keith had the chance to offer Eric Bibb the opportunity to see the guitar. On Thursday 10th May 2001, Keith went to see Eric perform at Newcastle Opera House. After the show, encouraged by his son Richard during an autograph session, Keith asked Eric if he liked Booker White’s music. After Eric responding that he was a big fan, Keith told him about the guitar and would be happy to show it to him the next morning if he’d like. The following day, Eric and Keith met and in awe of the instrument Eric explained “I can feel and song coming on”. This was around the period that Eric wrote the song ‘Tell Riley’, which was a heartfelt tribute to B.B King written from the viewpoint of Booker White. Eric was honoured to be able to play a guitar that was Bookers main instrument and that B.B King had described as a Holy Relic. Before parting Eric mentioned to Keith that he would like to come back and record with the guitar and that they should keep in touch. Five years later, on 14th October 2006, Eric was performing at The Sage, Gateshead and met with Keith the next day to reacquaint himself with the guitar. He told Keith that he would like to write a song about the guitar and again come back and record with it.

It was a further two years before work would commence on the project. On Monday 1st September 2008 a session was booked at Broadwater Studios, Gateshead, for the recording to take place of Eric’s tribute, simply entitled ‘Booker’s Guitar’. Eric had already sent Keith a demo recording of the track as well as hand-written lyrics to sit in the case with the guitar.  The song was recorded in 6 takes and became the opening track of what inspired an entire album – ‘Booker’s Guitar’. The album was released on 26th January 2010. Keith was delighted that Eric had chosen one of his images for the cover. The album went on to achieve critical acclaim and worldwide success, most notably, Best Blues Album in Downbeat’s 58th Annual Critics Poll. On 3rd May 2010, Eric recorded a video short at The Sage, Gateshead. The video shows Eric playing and talking about the guitar and can be seen online via – https://vimeo.com/87030985

The Guitar

Booker’s Hard Rock is a 1933 National Duolian, a unique transitional model which featured the larger body and ‘rolled in’ f-holes that are found on subsequent smaller Nationals made from 1934 onwards. The serial number (C7074) confirms Hard Rock as a 1933 model, even though production of this particular instrument continued well into 1934. This short-lived transitional model, which combines the best of previous and subsequent models makes the ‘33s the most desirable of the Duolian model.

Bookers guitar features:

  • Open head stamped ‘National Duolian’ to the face. Heart and sunray charms, that were added by Booker. The tip of the head stamped ‘ C7094, Made in USA, PAT. 806756, Other PAT Pend’
  • 19 fret fingerboard, significant wear in places to both board and frets. Some of this wear was caused by Booker when he would slap the guitar at both ends. A technique he called ‘Spanking the baby’. Brownie McGhee recalled that he did it to “impress the ladies”.
  • Body – Original crystalline-grey “frosted Duco” finish striped and re-chromed. Carried out by Booker in 1972 as he wanted the guitar to “shine like new”. Various dings and tarnishing. The side of body bearing Booker’s original set list, still intact and held on with scotch-tape.
  • Relined case and bearing an air luggage tag to the handle. The tag inscribed with Booker’s street address in Memphis, Tennessee.
  • Accessories including Booker’s slide, tone-bar and leather strap., held within the case pocket.
  • Known repairs – Neck to head join with ad-hoc repair (date unknown). Adjustments to the bridge during Keith’s ownership, carried out by Steve Philips (Notting Hillbillies).

Provenance

The provenance that accompanies the guitar is extensive and has been carefully put together within a large portfolio folder by Keith Perry. This folder includes:

  • A hand-written letter from Booker White to Keith Perry, dated 23rd October 1973, thanking Keith for the pictures and wishing him well, stating that he is looking forward to seeing him again in the future. Original envelope included.
  • A hand-written letter from Booker White to Keith Perry, dated 11th December 1973, thanking Keith for the tape recordings and wishing him a Merry Christmas and New year. Original envelope included.
  • A hand-written letter from Booker White to Keith Perry, dated 10th May 1976, anxious to hear news that the guitar had landed safely in the UK. Original envelope included.
  • British Airways import shipping documents, dated 21st May 1976. Together with a business card for ‘James E. Greene, Jr., Alexander Exports, Memphis, Tennessee, USA.
  • Eric Bibb’s hand-written lyrics for ‘Bookers Guitar’, gifted to Keith Perry to thank him for the use of Hard Rock and inspiration it gave him.
  • Two photographs of Booker taken by Keith Perry at Newcastle City Hall in 1967. One on stage and the other backstage
  • Photographs of B.B King playing the guitar, taken by Keith in 1984. A copy image taken from B.B King’s autobiography, depicting King with Hard Rock is also supplied.
  • An image of Booker White holding Hard Rock. This was taken just before he sent the guitar over to Keith and depicts Booker’s final farewell with the guitar.
  • Photographs of Mark Knopfler playing the guitar in 2001. Taken by Keith and used in the media. Two newspaper cuttings are also included.
  • Photographs of Mark and David Knopfler with the guitar, taken by Keith, circa 1978.
  • Photographs of Bill Wyman holding the guitar in 1999. Taken by Keith Perry at Lordenshaws, Northumberland National Park in 1999. Also included is a Northumberland National Park pamphlet bearing Bill Wyman’s autograph
  • Photographs of Brian Johnson (AC/DC) playing Hard Rock, taken by Keith Perry at his home.
  • Photographs of Don McLean playing Hard Rock at Newcastle City Hall. Taken by Keith Perry in 1980.
  • Photographs of Booker white and Brownie McGhee. Taken by Keith Perry at the Sunderland Empire in 1970
  • Photographs of Lonnie Donegan and Hard Rock. Taken by Keith Perry at Hardwick Hall in 2002.
  • Selection of photographs of Eric Bibb and Hard Rock. Taken by Keith Perry during various meetings.
  • Photographs of David Ginola, ex footballer and long-time fan of the blues. Taken by Keith Perry in 1995. Also included is a Sun newspaper clipping which used the photograph.
  • Photographs of Dave Stewart and Siobhan Fahey with Hard Rock. Taken by Keith Perry in 1992.
  • Photographs of Derek Trucks with Hard Rock. Taken by Keith Perry at Newcastle Academy in 2009.
  • Various photographs of B.B King with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, plus others. Taken by Keith Perry at Newcastle City Hall in 1967.
  • Cuttings from various publications relating to Booker White and Hard Rock.

Further provenance includes copies of several publications relating to Hard Rock, including:

  • Peter Daniels – ‘The Legend of Booker’s Guitar’, paperback, 2014. Peter Daniels wrote this in-depth book to document the entire history of the Booker White and his career, Hard Rock and how it came into the hands of Keith Perry, and the story that followed up to the release of Eric Bibb’s ‘Booker’s Guitar’. Peter Daniels is a good friend of Keith Perry.
  • B King with David Ritz – ‘B.B King, the Autobiography, Blues all around me’, hardback, 1996. This is the autobiography that includes Kieth’s picture of B.B King with Hard Rock. Personally signed “To Keith, all the best to you, B.B King.
  • Charles Sawyer – ‘The Arrival of B.B King’, paperback, 1980. Personally signed “To Keith, thank-you, B.B King, Booker”
  • Keith Perry’s back stage pass to a B.B King concert.
  • A CD album of ‘Booker’s Guitar’ by Eric Bibb.
  • Vintage Guitar Magazine, Volume 30, number 11, September 2016. Featuring Hard Rock, pages 92 – 95.
  • Guitarist Magazine, April 2010, Featuring Eric Bibb and Hard Rock, pages 60 – 63.
  • Acoustic Magazine, May 2010. Cover story featuring Eric Bibb and Hard Rock, pages 26 – 30.
  • Properganda Magazine, Issue 15, 2010. Review of ‘Booker’s Guitar’, page 4.
  • Downbeat Magazine, 58th Annual Critics Poll, August 2010. Eric Bibb’s ‘Booker’s Guitar tops the critic’s list of Blues albums.
  • Guitarist Magazine, August 2015. Featuring Hard Rock, pages 88 – 93.
  • Guitarist Magazine present ‘100 Great Guitars, 2017 Edition’, page 162 & 163. No. 72, National Resonator. Featuring and image of Hard Rock.
  • Guitarist Magazine presents ‘Original Historic Hardware – 66 Guitars That Made History’. Featuring Hard Rock, pages 18 – 23.
  • Guitarist Magazine presents ‘Buy & Play The Acoustic Guitar’. Featuring Eric Bibb, pages 92 – 96. The feature mentions Hard Rock.
  • Guitarist Magazine presents ‘Blues – The Blues Player’s Quarterly’, winter 2016 edition. Featuring Hard Rock, pages 102 – 109.

Estimate £80,000 – 120,000

All Images (c) Keith Perry Pictures