PAUL VERNON CHESTER
Louis Gallo - Guitarist &
· Number 254 (D Hole), previously owned by Louis Gallo
The story of gypsy jazz is brimming with anecdotes and fascinating episodes that embroider its rich legacy, with new facts and enticing stories happily unfolding as a matter of course. I was fortunate enough some years ago to have been offered, by a good friend of mine, several issues of BMG (Banjo, Mandolin, Guitar) Magazine, an absolute must in its day for all players of fretted string instruments. Amongst its many absorbing pages nestled a wealth of fascinating information on guitar method, banjo playing, ukulele performance technique, classified ads and so on. In its teacher adverts, the name Louis Gallo would appear every issue. Adorning the front cover of the July Edition of 1972 (10p) was an intriguing black and white photograph of a distinguished and dapper Anglo-Italian gentleman of mature years sporting a Maccaferri, against a backdrop or more accurately an ‘Alladin’s cave’ of assorted guitars, including a Maccaferri concert and what looks like a Selmer transitional model, more of which later. Centre background , to the right of his face hangs a painting, the visible portion of which depicts a "bella ragazza" dressed in the traditional costume style of southern Italy, strumming her guitar. The chord held by the painted muse is mirrored by our subject, who frets the same chord shape on his Maccaferri, as he confidently gazes towards the reader.
The noble statesman in the photo was none other than the respected teacher, mentor, performer, Django scholar and acoustic guitar aficionado, the ubiquitous Louis Gallo. Having recently thumbed through my BMG collection I naturally spent a little more time studying this particular front page image of Louis and recalled that in the 1970’s his name was often associated with that highly significant Maurice Summerfield venture, CSL Guitars. Impressively, it was he who breathed new life into the Maccaferri legend through the production of detailed replicas of the originals, many of which are still in circulation. These ‘Maccaferris’, produced by Ibanez under Maurice’s supervision, were approved and endorsed in the first instance by Mario Maccaferri himself. Indeed, several of the guitars were signed by him. In this connection, advertisements appeared at the time, often in this and other publications, showing Louis Gallo offering his endorsements of these new Maccaferri guitars.
On revisiting this (now vintage) publicity I was keen to investigate Louis and his association with Mario Maccaferri and was aware that he had a son Ramon (Ray), a respected and highly experienced guitarist of repute himself and perfect testimony to the skills of his father as teacher. Although I had never met Ray, I did make contact relatively recently through email and telephone conversations. He was immensely helpful in providing further insights into his father’s link to Mario Maccaferri, CSL guitars and Django.
Louis was a fellow Italian and friend of Maccaferri and Ray recalls spending time at Maccaferri’s home with his father. Amongst the many strings to his musical bow, Louis had also been a dealer in fine acoustic instruments. Indeed, this aspect of his work involved a long association with Clifford Essex Music in London. Louis’ dealership interests meant that he handled many original Maccaferri guitars amongst others. Clifford Essex also employed another Italian, Marco Roccia a master luthier and interestingly, Louis and Marco visited the Selmer factory at the end of its guitar production, purchasing several Selmer guitar parts. These were later assembled by Marco for Clifford Essex and were ostensibly ‘new’ post-factory Selmers. As many of you may be aware from Francois Charles superlative 'tome' on our favoured instruments, Marco Roccia also converted several Eddie Freeman 4 string tenor guitars to 6 string instruments using original Selmer necks, obtained from the factory. Many of these instruments are also still in circulation and bear Marco’s name and often the label of Clifford Essex. Mario Maccaferri was obviously closely associated with the success of the CSL guitars with Louis adding additional weight to the venture with his knowledge of Maccaferri guitars and all things Django.
I asked Ray in our conversation if his father had ever met Django. It transpires that Louis and friend, Len Williams (father of classical guitar giant, John) were set to interview the great gypsy backstage after the Hot Club’s performance at the Wood Green Empire, London in the 1940s for a review. Len was editor of the guitar periodical Modern Guitar and later Fretted Harmony magazine. However, as was the tendency in those days, whilst the performers were receiving their tumultuous applause at the end of a fantastic display of virtuosity, audience members would start to leave the Theatre in order to ensure they caught the bus home! Transport was very different in those Days.
Django, who was used to a level of adulation normally afforded a Prince, noticed that certain audience members were leaving the theatre before he had left the stage, becoming incensed! How dare they! He was not amused and took this ‘insult’ very personally indeed. Our two intrepid reporters, having noticed this from their seats eagerly but nervously made their way to the master’s dressing room, aware to some extent of Django’s displeasure. Len as magazine editor went on ahead. Django was in no mood to be interviewed, full stop. The tantalizing piece here though is that Louis could closely see his hero through the open dressing room door, almost within touching distance, but would never meet him! A memory of tantalizing proportions!
Getting back to that front page photograph of Louis. I have been fortunate enough to have played the very guitar held by Louis and can confirm that it still is a stunning and quite exquisite instrument, complete with sound chamber. It has an amazing voice. Also the oval hole Selmer, with what looks like a transitional neck, standing on its upper bout in the background is probably a Marco Roccia built instrument. In fact I think it may have been owned and played later by Diz Disley
Check again the fascinating photo of Louis Gallo above and follow the link to his Website below. © Paul Vernon Chester.
History of Cool Guitars - Preview contains many photos of Mario Maccaferri throughout his career including one with his broken hand in plaster that ended his virtuoso performance career. This article also contains rare pictures of Louis Gallo
Louis & Ray Gallo Guitarists Louis Gallo was a respected guitar player, teacher and composer. He was one of the first guitar players in London to acknowledge Eddie Lang's plectrum guitar music. He dedicated original guitar solo's to this style. He also wrote many other compositions for plectrum guitar and fingerstyle. Louis was a great teacher and expert on all things Django.
Impromptu jam session on the Summerfield stand at the British Music Fair, London c. 1976. Left to right: Louis Gallo, Ray Gallo (playing an oval sound hole CSL Gypsy, Ike Isaacs and Maurice Summerfield - who donated this image
Gallo was also a great friend of Mario Maccaferri and did much to promote the 1970s CSL Maccaferri remakes. These were the brainchild of Maurice Summerfield, produced by Ibanez and approved by Maccaferri himself. The early models are much sought after instruments. Ray has some photographs of his father with Mario Maccaferri which may soon be available. These have not been published before! In addition Louis was a big friend of the Luthier, Marco Roccia who worked for Clifford Essex music shop in London. He it was who made 'Selmers' from remaining parts available when the Selmer guitar factory closed. Louis Gallo and Marco went to France to buy remaining parts stock amongst other Luthiers who sought after the residues.
Acknowledgements to Ray Gallo (Ramon)
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