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Perhaps the first modern electric doubleneck guitarist was Otis W. “Joe” Maphis, born in 1921 in Suffolk, Virginia. Equally at home on guitar, fiddle, banjo and mandolin, Maphis is frequently cited as a disciple of Merles Travis and regarded as the first guitarist to flatpick fiddle tunes. He worked extensively in his home area, quickly gaining a reputation as a hot player. He and his wife, Rose, relocated to the Bakersfield, California area, where Joe became an in-demand session player, working with such stars as Tex Ritter, Wanda Jackson and Rick Nelson.
In 1955, the enigmatic Semie Moseley, an unabashed Maphis fan, built Joe a doubleneck electric with one standard-sized neck and another in a shorter scale that enabled Joe to play mandolin-like passages. Maphis wasted no time in employing the instrument, both in the studio and live, where he was dubbed “King of the Strings.” Johnny and June Carter Cash were Maphis fans. Joe’s list of recordings both as a sideman and leader are impressive, and he also made many TV appearances on the Jimmy Dean Show and others. He passed away in 1986, and is buried next to Mother Maybelle Carter, on land owned by the Johnny Cash estate. His famous Mosrite doubleneck is now on display at the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Grady Martin was born in 1929 in Marshall County, Tennessee, and gravitated toward music at an early age. Martin took up the guitar, became proficient quickly, and dropped out of high school to work on a radio station in Nashville. Over the years, he became a busy Nashville session musician, an original member of the famed “A Team,” played the immortal guitar riff on Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman,” and was the perhaps the first guitarist to experiment with fuzz, when his amp malfunctioned during a Marty Robbins recording session.
Martin used a custom doubleneck made by Paul Bigsby from 1952 to 1954, as a featured performer on the Ozark Jubilee television show. The guitar featured a standard 6-string neck on the bottom, and a 5-string mandolin neck on top. During his long career, Martin played with Loretta Lynn, Sammi Smith, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly, Bing Crosby, Johnny Burnette, and many others. He is a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and was a member of Willie Nelson’s band for fifteen years until deteriorating health forced his retirement. Martin passed away in 2001.
Guitar prodigy Larry Collins was only 10 when he and his older sister Lorrie formed a duo, aptly named The Collins Kids. Larry was taken with the Mosrite doubleneck of Joe Maphis, and he and Maphis played together often. Semie Moseley was very happy to build one of his doublenecks for Collins, who quickly adapted his rock ‘n’ roll licks to the instrument. Born in Oklahoma in 1944, Larry and Lorrie (who played the girlfriend of Rick Nelson on the Ozzie & Harriet Show), enjoyed a great deal of national attention in the 1950s, but never scored a big hit, as many thought they would.
After the siblings parted ways in the 1960s, Larry kept busy as a songwriter, penning Tanya Tucker’s smash hit “Delta Dawn,” and others. Collins’ material has been covered by a wide range of artists, including Waylon Jennings, Helen Reddy, Bette Midler, Lou Rawls, Gary Puckett, Nancy Sinatra and Merle Haggard to name a few. In 1993, Larry and Lorrie Collins reunited and successfully began working the rockabilly festival circuit, both here and abroad. Larry’s guitar playing is better than ever, as evidenced by his many videos on YouTube.
Jimmy Bryant was another early doubleneck player. Born in 1925 in Moultrie, Georgia, Bryant initially played fiddle on street corners for tips during the Depression. After being wounded in World War II, he began concentrating on his guitar playing and moved to Los Angeles, where he worked in films and in the bars around the city. He met steel guitarist Speedy West, and the two formed a brilliant instrumental duo with jazz and country leanings. Their notoriety and success led to a lucrative career in recording studios for Bryant, although he was regarded as being temperamental and difficult to work with. Bryant played a custom Missouri-made doubleneck instrument called the Sratosphere that employed both 6- and 12-string necks with the doubled strings tuned in parallel fourths, which required the guitarist to adjust his technique to accommodate this odd tuning. Bryant recorded two songs, “Stratosphere Boogie” and “Deep Water” with this guitar, before he began favoring the more conventional Fender Telecaster. He was also photographed with Rickenbacker guitars. Stratosphere guitars sank without a trace after Bryant stopped using his. A heavy smoker, he died at age 55 of lung cancer.
Derek “Deke” Dickerson is a Missouri-born guitarist who covers a wide range of musical styles: surf, honky-tonk country, jazz, R&B, rock, rockabilly and more. He originally came to public attention as a member of Untamed Youth, an eighties punk/surf/garage band, and has since gone on to become a bona fide cult guitar hero. Dickerson owns a doubleneck electric called the TNM Custom that was built in 1957 by a protégée of Semie Moseley named Terry MacArthur, who was an enthusiastic 17-year-old at that point. He built two doublenecks, the second of which went to a local guitarist named Ernie Odom, who later traded it back to MacArthur for a Vox guitar (ouch!) sometime in the 1970s. Before doing that, Odom sanded the original sunburst finish off, and seemingly misplaced most of the parts and hardware, including the vintage Carvin pickups, the only aftermarket pickups obtainable at that point in time. The TNM languished in Terry MacArthur’s closet for 25 years until Dickerson bought the guitar from him. Over a two-year period, much horse-trading for parts, and three luthiers, not to mention literally thousands of dollars invested, the TNM Custom was totally restored to its original pristine condition in 2004. Dickerson had two new fretboards made with his name inlaid on both, and now uses the guitar regularly. Terry MacArthur was so jazzed with the restoration, he was inspired to begin building guitars again.
Speaking of hot country players, the remarkable Junior Brown, a native of Austin, Texas, is certainly the most visible modern country guitarist using a doubleneck. A prodigiously talented Tele-picker and lap-steel guitarist, Brown has been labeled a musical genius by Musician magazine, and the only living musician elected to Life magazine’s “All Time Country Band.” Brown invented a new doubleneck instrument in 1985, with the help of luthier Michael Stevens, called the “guitsteel.” Brown commented on his website, JuniorBrown.com, “I was playing both the steel and guitar, switching back and forth a lot while I sang, and it was kind of awkward. But then I had this dream where they kind of melted together. When I woke up, I thought, ‘You know, that thing would work.’ They made doubleneck guitars and doubleneck steels, so why not one of each?” Stevens recently made Brown a second guit-steel, dubbed “Big Red.”