When the neo-psychedelic folk-rock-blues group Chris Robinson Brotherhood came through the San Francisco Bay Area for dates supporting their eclectic new album Barefoot in the Head, leader Robinson (of Black Crowes fame) and guitarist Neal Casal stopped by the AG studio to play a couple of songs for Acoustic Guitar Sessions, and to talk about the cool old guitars they brought.
Chris Robinson: This is my 1959 Martin D-18 that I’ve had quite a long time. This guitar was purchased in 1992 in Los Angeles, when they used to have guitar stores all over the place; this one was from Guitars ’R Us on Sunset [Blvd.]. At that time I didn’t play any guitar, but my father [Stan Robinson] was a folk singer on ABC Paramount Records and I grew up with a 1953 D-28 in the home that he played all the time, so that was one of the resonant sounds I heard growing up. Eventually, when I was going to purchase something, I wanted something nice and something I could hold onto, and I told Albert [Molinaro, owner of Guitars ’R Us] I was looking for a dreadnought Martin, so he pulled a few down, and this is the one I’ve had ever since.
I don’t really know anything about it, except for the fact that this is the guitar that all the songs fall out of. I love the sound. It’s on all our records. When it’s time to write, this is the guitar that comes out—so I keep it away from all the other guitars so as not to be influenced by them!
It’s funny about guitars—when I was a kid and didn’t play guitar, I was so cavalier with this guitar. I’d take it around, throw it in a case, put it on the plane to Jamaica, take it on tour to Europe.… It’s like anything in your youth, looking back at the decisions you made—it’s horrifying! But I still have it and I love it; it’s my favorite.
Neal Casal: This is a 1952 Gibson SJ that I have not even had a year. There’s no particular search story for the guitar because when I ran across it, I wasn’t searching for a guitar. I’ve spent all the money I’ve made the last few years on guitars, amps, and pedal boards, and at the time I found this, I had sworn I was done buying any gear for a while. But a friend said, “Come into this incredible vintage acoustic store in Philadelphia with me!” I said, “I don’t want to go in there, man.” “It’s cool, you don’t have to buy anything.” I said, “All right, fine, I’m not going to buy anything.”
So I went in and I was looking around at these very expensive guitars that I’ve played before—Martins of [Chris’] ilk, different Gibsons. I was picking them and nothing was really calling to me, and I didn’t want anything to call to me. Then, just as I was leaving the guitar room to go into the mandolin room, this guitar caught my eye. I’ve always had a thing for Gibsons of that era, because the Everly Brothers and the Beatles and Rolling Stones records, and so many other classic groups and recordings had these. It was the last guitar in the row and just as I was leaving I thought, “Aw, let me just check that out for a second.” I hit one chord… and it was all over. My friend was there and he said, “You realize you have to buy that guitar now.” I was like, “Man, you made me come in here.”
But I forced myself not to buy the guitar at that moment. So I left the store without the guitar, but it wouldn’t leave my mind, so I bought it a week or two later. It was good timing because we were just about to make Barefoot in the Head, which was originally going to be an acoustic album. It turned out to be more than that, but there is still a lot of acoustic music on it, and this guitar made a really beautiful debut on that record. It’s a lifetime guitar, like Chris’. I’ll have this forever. It’s been a bit painful paying it off, but I’m a musician, we do this for a living, and it’s well worth having.
This article originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.