THE CRESTWOOD STORY

 

I was in Ann Arbor in the winter of 1973-74, home to visit family and friends on my first visit back after moving to Australia in '71. By then I was in a band called TV Jones, and I was on the lookout for cool guitars. Anyway, I was at the Campus Corners store on South University, looking at the notice board. There was a handwritten ad that read something like "MC5 Epiphone Crestwood guitar" and a phone number. I knew the band had split up and some of the gear would be out there for sale. Wayne and Michael, also Hiawatha Bailey, had been sent to the Federal prison in Lexington. Being a huge fan of the MC5, and a lover of great guitars, I called the number. It was Fred Stoll. I knew his sister in school. So I went down and bought the guitar, I wont say for how much but it was a good deal even for those days. The guitar came with a case with the MC5 stencil painted on it. Fred had got it from his pal David Swain, who had bought it directly from Fred Smith after answering an ad in the Ann Arbor News -- he thinks in 1970.  I took the guitar back to Australia. It was the finest guitar I had ever owned. I began playing it as my main axe throughout the Radio Birdman days. I've played it ever since.

 

The Epiphone Crestwood Deluxe was the top of the line solid body Epiphone back in the days when Epiphone was owned and built by Gibson. It was the Cadillac. It featured 3 mini-humbucking pickups, and a 3 position selector switch where you could get the neck pickup alone, the bridge pickup alone, or the bridge and middle pickup together. The way it was wired you couldn't get all three at once. It had an oversized batwing headstock, bindings, Grover machine heads. The particular model that Fred had was a very rare version that had a factory-installed Bigsby tailpiece instead of the standard Epi tailpiece. This conversion left a couple of extra screwholes in front of the bridge. To cover those up, a little black plate was put on that said "Custom Made". These guitars didn’t catch on, sales-wise, many guitarists opting instead for the similarly equipped SG Custom. Apparently they only made 200 of that model of Crestwood. According to Gibson, mine was made in 1966.

 

I am pretty hard on guitars onstage. The neck of the Crestwood had already been broken off once when it was being played by Fred Smith, and it broke off twice more on me. It was never deliberate. It is well known that the neck-body joint on those guitars is weak. With the body routing for three pickups, there is not really enough wood in there to hold it securely. It was that model's main design flaw. The last time it happened, in the early 90's, I left it with Dan Erlewine. He was the guitarist in the Prime Movers when Iggy was the drummer, and he was also at the same time my first guitar teacher at Herb David Guitar Studio in Ann Arbor in 1964. Dan later became a world renowned guitar luthier and repairman. He used to write the guitar repair and maintenance section of Guitar Player magazine. Dan did an amazing repair job on that guitar and fixed it up so the neck joint was bulletproof. I never had a problem with it from then on.

 

I became friends with Fred Smith a couple of years after I bought his guitar, and he would occasionally ask me to bring it along and play as a guest with Sonics Rendezvous on the song City Slang, which features a lot of guitar. Fred was always happy to see his old Crestwood.

 

In 1978 I was in London with Radio Birdman, and we ran into Iggy and his touring band which at that time included Fred Smith, Scott Asheton, Gary Rasmussen and Scott Thurston. Fred had some extra cash on hand, and asked me if I would consider selling the guitar back to him. By then I had played that guitar on several hundred shows and some recordings ... it felt like part of me. I wouldn't sell. He was understanding and good humored about it. We went out to dinner that night. Much later, after Fred passed away, my pal Scott Asheton told me that Patti wanted to get the guitar back as part of Fred's estate. Again, I had to respectfully decline.

 

When I was touring with DKT-MC5 in 2004, I played that guitar. It was a great, great honor to fill in with them. Of course, no one can ever fill Fred Smith's shoes, or play like him. I asked Wayne what he wanted me to do, exactly. He said "I'm hiring you to play your ass off". I said: "I can do that"!  Wayne remembered Fred's guitar well. He said that around the time I bought it, they also tried to sell his world famous American flag Stratocaster. And he told me that no one bought it! Unsold, it went into storage. He went on to say that he never found out what happened to it after that.

 

The guitar has become iconic over the years. People associate it with me, with Radio Birdman, and with the MC5. In Australia, Epiphone guitars became sought after. Players wanted that sound, and that look! By 2006, the Zeno Beach world tour, it was so beat-up and had lost so much paint that it began to have some tone problems when the bare wood would get soaked. I gave it a good rest, had it dried out and clear lacquer coated, and by the 2014 return of Radio Birdman it was ready to go back into service. Pulled it out of the case after 7 years, and it was still in tune.

 

 

 

PHOTO © ANNE TEK

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