Original Mosrite of USA Joe Maphis custom left handed guitar, from the
Ed Roman Custom Shop
This is a custom made lefthanded guitar we did in 2008 for a customer who was looking for an Original Joe Maphis Singleneck
guitar has played a
major role in virtually every musical style of the 20th century and
fortunately, this century has been rich in great guitar players : from
Django Reinhardt to Eddie Cochran, Cliff Gallup to Freddy King, Hank Snow
to Danny Gatton, Chet Atkins to Wes Montgomery, Hal Harris to Eric
Clapton, Hank Marvin to Robbie Krieger, Brian Setzer to Steve Ray Vaughan,
Mick Green to Glen Campbell, Nokie Edwards to Charlie Christian, Albert
King to Marcel Dadi, the list is endless.
They all had a distinctive sound, a style of their own and ultimately exerted a lasting influence on what followed. Most of them also spent a lot of time in the studios and on the road, backing up other artists. Thus, a singer's sound or a particular hit is often closely associated with the guitar player(s) involved : for instance, can you think about Ricky Nelson without thinking of James Burton ? But sometimes, it goes even further : can you talk about Country Music without mentioning Joe Maphis ??? For years, he's been dubbed 'King Of The Strings' and although quite a few others would deserve the same distinction, there's no arguing that Joe was - and forever remains - one of the most talented guitar players ever and one whose style can be identified at all times ; that may be the quintessential quality of a great musician.
was born Otis W. Maphis
on May 12, 1921, in Suffolk (Virginia) but was raised in
Cumberland (Maryland). He began playing fiddle at an early age but also
took up the piano - only to concentrate shortly on stringed instruments.
It's funny because of the similarity with another top guitarist [Jimmy
Bryant] who was also a good piano player - and almost nobody knew it !!
Joe quickly became proficient on tenor banjo, 5-string banjo, mandolin,
bass fiddle and guitar. He built up a large following through his radio
shows in Wheeling (West Virginia), Cincinnati ('The Boone County Jamboree'
on WLW) and even Chicago ('The National Barn Dance' on WLS).
Rose Lee Schetrompf was born on December 29, 1922 in Baltimore, Maryland and raised on a farm not far from Hagerstown, Virginia. Her Country music career started at age 16 when she played guitar and sang with an all girl group called 'The Saddle Sweethearts'. As Don Pierce (head of Starday Records) put it : 'Her clear, sweet voice has that 'ever lovin' twang of Country sincerity and she picks a mean rhythm guitar.'
Around 1951, the couple headed for California (following advice from Merle Travis) and it wasn't too long before Joe was in great demand on recording sessions. In fact, his considerable skills made him one of the busiest session guitarists on the West Coast (more on that later). When television came along, Joe & Rose Lee became fixtures on the Town Hall Party Show in Los Angeles. Their first recordings were made for the small Lariat label, but they were soon signed up by Okeh Records, a branch of Columbia which seemed to specialize in Rhythm'n'Blues but had a strong Country roster as well. They cut six singles for the label, including their biggest seller to date, 'Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music)' (1953, the same year they married). Their duets on these honky tonk songs were quite pleasant and Joe's playing was always the ice on the cake. In fact, Joe is as pure a Country musician as you can find ; his guitar lines were patterned after those played on fiddles and even when, later on, he attended Rock'n'Roll sessions, the Country essence of his playing always showed up. He developed a clean, precise, though sharp, picking style which, combined with his astonishing dexterity and speed, produced one of the most thrilling, memorable and influential guitar sounds ever. Cliff Gallup, Eddie Cochran, Gary Lambert, Larry Collins, Danny Gatton, are part of the legion of pickers who owe him a lot.
1955, Joe &
Rose Lee were moved to the parent company - Columbia - and cut more fine
sides until Joe came up with 'Fire On The Strings', which became his
signature tune. Apart from playing also banjo and mandolin on the track,
Joe used his double-neck Mosrite guitar to great effect. And thereby hangs
a well-known but remarkable tale ... After watching Joe on TV, a young boy
by the name of Semie
Moseley dreamed about making a guitar especially for him. With the
help of a preacher friend of his, he was able to meet Joe and agreed to
build a double-neck guitar with the top neck an octave higher. That
beautiful Mosrite guitar was presented to Joe on stage ; there was even an
'M' at the top of the peghead which stood for Maphis. Joe's incredible
technique allowed him to jump easily from one neck to the other, creating
dazzling effects which changed Country music forever.
In 1960, Joe parted company with
Columbia - although Rose Lee cut her own delightful album for the label
later in the year (with Joe backing her up). There was a lone but great
sounding 45 on Republic : Joe's version of the old Merl Lindsay number,
'Water Baby Boogie'. A stereo reissue of this track on a Sundazed CD in
1990 (CD HC 12001) allowed us to hear Joe's various guitar overdubs and
it's a joy to hear those cascading runs up and down the necks !! Now, who
plays piano in there ?? Around that time, Joe recorded that famous LP for
the Mc Gregor label, located at 729 South Western Avenue in Los Angeles.
Almost comprised of traditional country & folk tunes only, Joe's playing
is a joy to hear - especially since he did all guitar, banjo, mandolin and
fiddle parts. His double neck Mosrite, well to the fore on the outstanding
front cover, is used in several tracks - 'Square Dance Rock', 'Crazy
Pickin' (which goes a bit over the top) or 'Green River Rag' where Joe
does some real good Travis pickin'. There are times when you can clearly
hear the tape splicing : my question is, do stereo tapes exist ? The album
would no doubt benefit from clean stereo separation. From 1961 to 1963,
Joe & Rose Lee were under contract with Capitol. The two albums they cut
there were, again, fantastic !! First, there was that Bluegrass LP with
The Blue Ridge Mountain Boys ('Lonesome Train' contained a fine dobro solo
and I particularly liked Joe & Rose Lee's rendition of 'Little Rosewood
The next step would be at Starday
although Joe, Rose Lee and their three children (Jody, Lorrie and Dale)
did not leave their San Fernando Valley home to settle close to Nashville,
Tennessee - where the action was, then - until 1968. Joe worked many
Californian clubs during the '60s ; guitarist Walt Rogers recalls playing
with him at the 101 Club in Oceanside and at Bill Testers's 1440 Club in
As the sixties drew to a close,
Joe & Rose Lee remained active. They cut two albums and a
few singles for the Mosrite label, on which Joe's discovery, Barbara
Mandrel, had debuted : there was always the same tasty mixture of vocals
('Second Fiddle To A Guitar', 'Ole Jobro', 'There Goes My Everything') and
instros like 'Durango', 'Alabama Jubilee', 'Spanish Dobro' and a version
of 'Buckaroo' featuring Joe on fuzz guitar. Several sides were produced by
veteran Bill Woods, including 'Tunin' Up For The Blues'. Joe then appeared
on the Chart imprint (his single, 'Guitar Happy', is tremendous : wonder
who plays that dazzling steel on it!) before moving on to CMH in the late
seventies, where he cut another nice series of albums (sometimes with
Merle Travis, Grandpa Jones & others). The 'Grass 'n' Jazz' LP (see
discography) was an acoustic Bluegrass/Country Jazz effort , where Joe was
supported by a stellar cast of musicians : Johnny Gimble, Benny Martin,
Bobby Thompson, Harold Bradley, Josh Graves, Hargus 'Pig' Robbins & Buddy
Harmon. All those records are wonderful examples of Country music at its
best ; Joe's playing is always inventive while his and Rose Lee's vocals
stay well rooted in traditional styles - the whole thing sounding varied,
modern, though conjuring up what I would call 'prairie' images and
The original double neck Mosrite is now in The Country Music Hall Of Fame in Nashville
Joe Maphis didn't name himself "King Of The Strings", he
earned that title.