Remembering Bert Weedon, Guitar Teacher To Rock Stars (And Many More)

Apr 23, 2012
Originally published on April 23, 2012 6:39 pm

Even if you've never heard the name Bert Weedon before, his death on Friday, at the age of 91, deserves a salute: a chiming, perfectly fingered D major chord salute.

Weedon became known in England as the first guitarist to have a hit on that country's singles charts, with his 1959 recording of "Guitar Boogie Shuffle." But his lasting legacy will be the slim guitar manual "Play in a Day." Weedon's instructional booklet, first printed in 1957, gave a generation of young Brits their first guitar lessons. Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Mark Knopfler and all three guitar-playing Beatles turned to Weedon's book after picking up a guitar.

You can listen to the music that these famous guitarists made in a report from All Things Considered (click the audio link to hear it), but just as important were the millions of other aspiring rockers who followed Weedon's instructions. As you can see in the video below, "Play in a Day" was reprinted many times, with many different covers, though always with the same basic idea inside: You've got to start somewhere — all you need is a few basic chords.

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The road to rock and roll stardom begins with a few simple steps.


BERT WEEDON: That the first chord.


WEEDON: Everyone learns that chord. This is the second.



A generation of British guitarists started off with those chords and that teacher, Bert Weedon. He was the author of a guide with the optimistic title: "Play in a Day." Weedon has died at the age of 91.

BLOCK: "Play in a Day" was first published in 1957. It became a seed from which rock royalty grew.


BLOCK: Eric Clapton strummed his first chords following Bert Weedon's book.


SIEGEL: So did Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits.


BLOCK: And George Harrison, Paul McCartney and John Lennon of The Beatles.

SIEGEL: Pete Townsend of The Who. The list goes on and on. "Play in a Day" sold millions of copies.

BLOCK: Weedon himself learned to play as a child. He bought his first guitar at age 12. He told the BBC he had a hard time finding a teacher and a hard time learning the style of music he wanted to play.

WEEDON: I eventually found a teacher, and he was an old gentleman, a very nice man. He said: What sort of music do you like? I said: I love jazz. And he said: Jazz? Jazz? I'm not going to teach you that rubbish.

BLOCK: Instead, Weedon was taught classical guitar. He learned jazz and rock later. He went on to perform with jazz artists such as Stephane Grappelli, and he accompanied the likes of Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney and Judy Garland.

SIEGEL: He rose up the British charts with this instrumental hit in the late 1950s.


SIEGEL: "Guitar Boogie Shuffle" made Weedon a rock guitar star. But his ultimate stardom came from "Play in a Day."

BLOCK: A legend, a wizard, a god. He was called all those things by now-legendary guitarists. And Weedon's love affair with the instrument never ended.

WEEDON: And it's a sexual thing, but it's also a beautiful thing. It's like a beautiful woman. You can cuddle it.


SIEGEL: Bert Weedon died last week after a long illness. He was 91.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.