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One Long Tune

The Life and Music of Lenny Breau

Ron Forbes Roberts

Publication Year: 2006

“Mr. Guitar” Chet Atkins called Lenny Breau (1941-1984) “the greatest guitarist who ever walked the face of the earth.” Breau began playing the instrument at age seven, and went on to master many styles, especially jazz. Between 1968 and 1983 he made a series of recordings that are among the most influential guitar albums of the century. Breau’s astonishing virtuosity influenced countless performers, but unfortunately it came at the expense of his personal relationships. Despite Breau’s fascinating life story and his musical importance, no full-length biography has been published until now. Forbes-Roberts has interviewed more than 175 people and closely analyzed Breau’s recordings to reveal an enormously gifted man and the inner workings of his music. “Lenny Breau was, and will always be, a great treasure. We need him today more than ever.” —Mundell Lowe

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Title Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. v

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pp. vi-vii

Back in the 1960s in New York when I was writing a lot of fiction and practicing a lot of guitar, I invented in a short story a guitarist whom I conceived of as using harmony in the manner of Bill Evans. In fact, before it was published (in some now-forgotten magazine), I showed the story to Bill. ...

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pp. viii

This book could not have been written without the input of every one of the two-hundred-plus interviewees who kindly shared with me their anecdotes and observations of my subject. I’d like to thank the following people for their specific contributions to this book: ...

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pp. 2-4

Apart from a bell-bedecked washboard that he strummed in his parents’ country band, Lenny Breau’s first instrument was a child-sized, secondhand accordion that his father bought for him at a flea market. Lenny, then five years old, was delighted with the gift, even after discovering that one of its keys produced no sound ...

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Chapter 1. On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine: ca. 1916—October 1948

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pp. 5-29

The towns of Auburn and Lewiston face one another across the Androscoggin River thirty-five miles due north of Portland, Maine. Most of the squat, red brick mills in both towns are deserted now, but for more than a century after the Civil War a ceaseless stream of textiles, building supplies, footwear, and other commodities ...

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Chapter 2. Song of the Prairie: December 1957—April 1960

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pp. 30-44

Winnipeg, a gritty prairie city with long, frigid winters and oppressively humid summers, is located in the exact east/west center of Canada, sixty miles north of the Manitoba/North Dakota border. In 1957, it was a sprawling railroad town with a large meatpacking industry and a rich cultural scene that included ...

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Chapter 3. Lullaby of Birdland: April 1960—May 1962

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pp. 45-67

Known to his friends as “Shap,” the high-rolling, loquacious Jack Shapira was a pianist who had led a number of dance bands in Winnipeg during the 1940s and ’50s, and later had a career in television and radio production at the CBC. Shapira was not a jazz musician, but loved the music and wanted to start a club ...

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Chapter 4. Out of Nowhere: November 1961—May 1963

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pp. 68-91

Joey Hollingsworth, a young African-Canadian dancer from southern Ontario, was already familiar with Lenny’s reputation when he came to Winnipeg in October of 1961 to play a two-week engagement at the Town and Country Inn. The summer before, he’d met Ray St. Germain in Toronto where Lenny’s ...

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Chapter 5. Workin' Man's Blues: June 1963—December 1967

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pp. 92-121

Lenny returned to Winnipeg with little more than his leather suit and a recently acquired hipster patois heavy on expressions like “dig it,” “like man,” and “cool.” Valerie was now living in an apartment on Jamison Street, a few miles from downtown Winnipeg, and that’s where Dave Shaw brought Lenny after picking him up ...

Photo Section follows page 121

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Chapter 6. Days of Wine and Roses: January 1968—September 1972

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pp. 122-165

Judi Singh, long restless with Winnipeg, moved to Toronto in late 1967 on the understanding that Lenny would soon follow. Lenny had made several trips to the city during the past two years but because of his past experiences there had qualms about relocating permanently to Toronto without promise of steady work. ...

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Chapter 7. Turn Out the Stars: December 1972—1976

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pp. 166-184

After leaving Richard, Lenny returned to Winnipeg to visit his children. On December 13, in search of heroin, he connected with a drug dealer in a downtown tavern, and the pair took a cab to a drug house in Winnipeg’s North End. Lenny scored and returned to the cab, but as the vehicle pulled away, it was stopped by ...

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Chapter 8. Back in the Saddle Again: July 1976—May 1980

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pp. 185-226

This time around, no film crews greeted Lenny in Nashville as they had when he’d arrived in the city as the enfant terrible of guitar eight years earlier. Even Atkins, who was tied up with business, was not on hand to meet him when his plane touched down at the Nashville airport one day in early July 1976. ...

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Chapter 9. Cold, Cold Heart: May 1980—November 1983

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pp. 227-257

At the time Lenny was learning Tal Farlow’s licks in the late fifties, Farlow had become so soured on the dreary machinations of the music business that he retreated from the jazz scene at the height of his fame. While he played the occasional date and made a few records during the 1960s and ’70s, Farlow ...

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Chapter 10. Meanwhile Back in LA: November 1983—August 1984

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pp. 258-271

Scott Page says that in mid-1983, the Breaus lived for a time with a friend in an upscale home off Barham Boulevard in the Hollywood Hills area of Los Angeles. However, when they returned to live in the city that fall, their lodgings were considerably more humble. The Breaus spent their first month in Los Angeles ...

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pp. 272-273

Like his father before him, Lenny Breau died in penury and his remains lie in an unmarked grave at the Forest Lawn cemetery in Glendale, California. Richard and Darci Cotten covered his funeral costs with money raised through a memorial benefit at Nashville’s Blue Bird Café. Other memorials took place in Winnipeg, ...

List of Quoted Interviews Conducted by Author

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pp. 274-276


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pp. 277-296


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pp. 297-302


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pp. 303-306


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pp. 307-325

E-ISBN-13: 9781574413403
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574412109

Page Count: 344
Illustrations: 20 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2006

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Subject Headings

  • Breau, Lenny.
  • Jazz musicians -- United States -- Biography.
  • Guitarists -- United States -- Biography.
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