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One Long Tune: The Life And Music of Lenny Breau

Elliott Simon By

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One Long Tune: The Life And Music Of Lenny Breau
Ron Forbes-Roberts
University of North Texas Press

Born on the cusp of the beat and hippie generations, guitarist Lenny Breau epitomized both but fit into neither. Hailed by many as the greatest guitarist of all time, he remains largely unknown outside of guitar circles and his murder at the age of 43 in 1984 is still unsolved. One Long Tune is an in-depth examination of both his phenomenal guitar technique and disastrous substance abuse.

Forbes-Roberts does a credible job of depicting the variables that fostered Breau's total devotion to his instrument and subsequent descent into heroin addiction. The author has interviewed over 200 people who in some way were associated with Breau. This material serves as the bulk of the chronology of Breau's personal life.

A guitar child protégé of a husband/wife country music duo, Breau quickly became part of the music business and mastered Chet Atkins' guitar method. Subsequently, he developed an extension of Atkins' style to capture on the guitar pianist Bill Evans' chordal voicings, and in the process redefined the instrument's jazz potential. A stuttering problem that continued throughout his life, an autocratic alcoholic father, an enabling mother and a '60s invincibility ethos that resulted, as it did for so many others, in crashing and burning in the '70s are all detailed.

Where Forbes-Roberts does his best work though, is in his technical explanations of Breau's unique guitar system and his comprehensive critical analyses of the artist's recording sessions. This includes the most complete discography yet published and meticulous breakdowns of Breau techniques such as his use of harmonics to create trademark "impressionistic chords."

A classically trained guitarist and academician, Forbes-Roberts expertly explores this style as Breau applied it to country, jazz and flamenco. Serious guitarists will revel in the author's musical analyses and fans will gain a better understanding of Breau's life and recordings.


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