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Guitar veteran Bob Summers has distinguished bloodlines

Bob Summers is scheduled to perform Feb. 8 at Red White & Bluezz.

January 31, 2014|By Jonny Whiteside
  • Veteran guitarist Bob Summers hits the stage at Red White & Bluezz in Pasadena on Saturday, Feb. 8.
Veteran guitarist Bob Summers hits the stage at Red White… (Courtesy of Deborah…)

When veteran guitarist Bob Summers hits the stage at Pasadena jazz joint Red White & Bluezz next Saturday, it'll be much more than a hometown hoedown. The 74-year-old Pasadena-born musician's family helped pioneer the Los Angeles music scene, performing gospel, country, pop and rock 'n' roll, almost from the ground up.

Summers' parents were singing spirituals on KPCC in the 1930s and his older sister Iris regularly performed with Singing Cowboy star Jimmy Wakely as part of western vocal trio the Sunshine Girls. By the late 1940s, Iris was far better known as Mary Ford, the singer whose luminous pipes launched some 10 singles, recorded with her husband, guitar legend Les Paul, to the top of the charts.

"Les was living in Beverly Hills," Summers said. "And Mary, who was a very good guitar player herself, was a fan of his and already had quite a few of the Les Paul Trio records. He had heard her singing and playing on the radio, gotten our phone number and called the house. She answered it, and when he said 'Hello, this is Les Paul,' she said, 'Oh yeah? This is Duke Ellington!' and hung up on him!"

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Of course, Paul immediately called back, initiating one of American music's most fertile and influential partnerships. It soon would also directly inspire Summers. "Mary had a little Martin guitar," he said. "When I was about 7, I had picked it up and started. Never took lessons, I learned by ear — just like Mary and all of us in the family had.

"At 12 or 13, I set up a little studio in the garage and started recording. I had two mono tape machines and began doing background tracks for friends who sang and wrote songs. And I started recording the way Les and Mary did, sound on sound, adding bass, drums and piano, for a fuller sound."

After graduating high school, Summers, by now a guitarist of formidable prowess, opened his own professional studio. "First thing I knew, I produced a record on a singer named Larry Hall and the song, 'Sandy,' became a hit — in a few months he was lip-synching to it on American Bandstand."

Summers' talent and career did not go unnoticed in Hollywood. "At 21, I signed to Capitol Records to do a few singles, what they called teen music. It was just guitar stuff and it all developed from there."

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