PAUL’S FIRST “AIRLINE” GUITAR
Let me tell you, how I first acquired my old Valco J.B Hutto ” Airline” fiberglass electric guitar….First, I’ll explain how I met Karl Howell (who is a major ‘player’ in the story)
Karl pulled up in a gun metal coloured old Corvette and brought in his guitars and amp
My band ” The Action” was auditioning guitarists (in the fall of 1980) we placed an ad in the local newspaper in the ‘musicians wanted’ section. We received a few replies and after trying out some guitarists, we audtioned “Karl”…he pulled up in a gun metal coloured old Corvette and brought in his guitars and amp. He played in a similar style as Jeff Beck (not really what we had in mind..but we “‘clicked” anyway. Karl was a cool, bright guy.
Karl seemed to have a lot of money, with no “visible signs of support”
He was into guitar collecting in a BIG way, so we had a lot in common. We spent a lot of time discussing guitars and equipment. Karl seemed to have a lot of money, with no ‘visible signs of support”, we were too polite to ask where he got his money from, and probably better off not knowing where it came from anyway….In 1982 my new band “Number One” scored a GREAT gig – we were asked to open for Rory Gallagher (my all-time favorite guitarist, and the reason I got into music as a “profession”) at the great Montreal club, “The Spectrum” the day of the gig. We arrived at the club early..I brought some of my nicer guitars and amps with me to show Rory…it was a big thrill to see him walk up to the stage to do his soundcheck! I hadn’t seen him since ’73 when I first met him at “The Colonial Tavern” in Toronto.
We watched Rory do his LONG soundcheck and when he played his song “Secret Agent” he used a guitar that he had just bought…it was a beautiful, red Airline guitar (known as the “J.B.Hutto” model to collectors)…not only did it look like a million bucks, but it sounded like a million too…I thought to myself that I would have to try and get one for myself somehow (of course this was before the computer age and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to find one (I’d never even seen one before!!) We had a great time at the gig and it just thrilled me to see Rory, backstage, playing my old ’61 pink Strat with it’s matching pink strap!!!
it just thrilled me to see Rory, backstage, playing my old ’61 pink Strat with it’s matching pink strap!!!
A few days later, I received a phone call from my friend James Green (who lived in Montreal, and played with the band “The Blushing Brides“…he told me that he knew where I could find an Airline guitar just like the one I had seen Rory Gallagher play at the Montreal gig!! James also told me that the collector in Montreal (a Jewish Dentist!!) had ALOT of cool, rare, vintage pieces…the wheels started turning in my head, and I called Karl Howell (who I had always kept in touch with after the demise of The Action). I told Karl about The Dentist’s guitars and we made a deal…if Karl bought some guitars from The Dentist, Karl would buy the Airline guitar for me ,as a ‘commission’, for turning him on to The Dentist’s collection.
he reached under his car seat, and pulled out a woolen hockey sock…it was FULL of cash – as thick as two phone books!
I got The Dentist’s phone number and called him, we set up a meeting at his house in Montreal for the following week. Karl picked me up on the day of the meeting, and we drove to Montreal – it was a cold,winter day, and the wind was howling as we drove to Montreal. I asked Karl how he was going to pay for the guitars, and he, and reached under his car seat, and pulled out a woolen hockey sock…it was FULL of cash – as thick as two phone books! Again, I (wisely) didn’t ask where the money came from….we arrived too early in Montreal to go to “Dr. M’s” so Karl and I had lunch in one of those old Canadian/Quebec taverns that you don’t see anymore…man! We were excited to see those guitars!!!
it was just like Rory’s guitar … like a beautiful Christmas ‘candy cane’!!
After lunch, we drove to The Dentist’s house…after introducing ourselves, we followed The Dentist downstairs to his basement studio…he had an expensive, professional recording studio, with beautiful vintage guitars all over the place! As Karl and he talked and looked at some of his (expensive!) guitars, I amused myself looking around for ‘my’ Airline guitar. I finally had to ask “Dr.M” if he could find it and show it to me…when I first saw it standing up in a corner of the studio, I was just blown away…it was just like Rory’s guitar and in perfect original shape! The red painted body and neck and the white trim, made it look like a beautiful Christmas ‘candy cane”!! I picked it up, and thought: “I’m not leaving this place without it-no matter what”!!
The Dentist was holding his head in both hands walking in circles ’round the studio…”I’ve got a headache…I can’t decide”…”oh yeah…can you throw in that Airline guitar?” The Dentist was so ‘shell shocked” by now, that he replied ok…take it too”
As I held ‘my’ Airline, Karl and The Dentist started “talking turkey”…Karl had already picked out about a dozen ‘pieces’, and now came the time to discuss the price!! I had to laugh (to myself) as the price kept on going up and down between The Dentist and Karl. “Ok, will you take $35,000 for the lot”? The Dentist was holding his head in both hands walking in circles ’round the studio…”I’ve got a headache…I can’t decide” (sort of talking to himself out loud)….”no….I won’t take 35 (k) …I want 50K…this went on for about 1/2 hour…it really was hilarious…as it wasn’t my dough! But The Dentist couldn’t resist what he’d seen in Karl’s big ‘sock’!! They finally met ‘1/2 way’…then Karl said to The Dentist: ‘oh yeah…can you throw in that Airline guitar’? The Dentist was so ‘shell shocked” by now, that he replied ok…take it too”! It was mine!!!…I could hardly believe that I had the guitar and that it was ‘free’!
The Dentist’s father looked at Karl and I (unshaven and scruffy looking) and replied uneasily, “what safe????”
We had to pick up a guitar that Karl had bought but not seen…it was over at The Dentists father’s house (mansion!) in “Westmount”(an exclusive area in Montreal)…we drove over – convoy style to The Dentist’s father’s house. When we showed up at the front door, The Dentist’s father opened the door (where was the butler? I thought….) The Dentist said to his father…”hi Dad…I’m here to put some money in the safe”…The Dentist’s father looked at Karl and I (unshaven and scruffy looking) and replied: “what safe””???? We went to a room where there were still more cool guitars…We spied two! black Everly Brothers acoustics…first ones we’d ever seen…The Dentist took a photo with his “Polaroid” of Karl and I playing them…We did look a bit rough…no wonder the Dentist’s father uneasily said…. “What safe?? We do’t have a safe”!!! We packed up Karl’s car and drove back to Ottawa…what a carload we had!! A 50’s “flame top” Les Paul, old Strats, a cool old Rickenbacker, AND my Airline!! What a great day it had been!!
We arrived back in Ottawa around midnight…I took my new guitar over to our drummer’s house (Where we rehearsed) and plugged it in, for the first time…man it sounded fine!! The next morning, our drummer called me…”thanks for waking the whole family up last night with your guitar, Paul”!! I was so proud to play my new guitar everywhere…let me tell you, it sure turned a few heads!! And it still does!! Throughout the years I acquired two more guitars of the same model…when we played with Johnny Winter at the “National Arts Centre”…he told his road manager that he wanted to” meet the guy with the cool red guitar”.
when we played with Johnny Winter at the “National Arts Centre”…he told his road manager that he wanted to” meet the guy with the cool red guitar”
In 1985 we met Rory Gallagher again and I showed him my Airlines(he autographed one for me) he said that my guitars were “smashing”!! Throughout the years, I tried to keep in touch with Karl…but he went down the ‘wrong’ road and never came back…a real pity…. because that guy had a lot of potential…bright, good looking, cheerful…I went to visit him when he was “incarcerated” in Kingston Penitentiary, and believe me, it took something out of me, when I walked through those Gothic Gates at the entrance to the ‘pen’ and saw Karl in the ‘yard’….he drifted in and out of the prison ‘system’ for the next decade…I didn’t see him much….it was sad when I heard that he’d died from an overdose…Well, as I write this over 30 years later, I still have that guitar and it brings back so many nice memories of the good times Karl and I had together.