Bert Weedon, the guitarist, who has died aged 91, inspired and influenced the first generation of British post-war pop musicians and, through his bestselling Play In A Day manual, showed them how to strum a tune, thus setting them on the road to stardom.
An unassuming musician of the old school, Weedon played the guitar with great technical accomplishment but — in the view of some — with all the individuality of a speak-your-weight machine. Consequently not everyone was a fan of the Weedon way, John Lennon, in particular, taking a dim view of his twangy guitar sound.
Nevertheless, many famous figures in rock music — including Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, Pete Townshend of The Who and Eric Clapton — honed their guitar skills by studying Weedon’s teach-yourself method.
Through his skimpy manual, which first appeared in 1957, Weedon introduced aspiring musicians to the three basic chords that underpinned most of the simple rock and roll hits of the Elvis era, and explained what to do next. As Clapton acknowledged: “I’d never have felt the urge to press on without the tips and encouragement that Play In A Day gave me.” With its red cover, illustrated with a photograph of Weedon with his big white Hofner guitar, Play In A Day sold some two million copies. Its sequel Play Every Day, and updated video and DVD versions continued to provide Weedon with a handsome income well into his old age.
As a television performer in the late 1950s, when he was in his thirties, Weedon cut a curious figure, looking more like a bank manager than a guitar hero. He had crinkly hair, beady eyes, a blob of a nose and a roguish smile, and invariably appeared in a dark suit and white shirt.
In the recording studio, Weedon provided the guitar intros, riffs and solos that punctuated many of the hits of the early stars of British rock and roll, such as Tommy Steele, Adam Faith and Marty Wilde.
Classically trained by a music teacher in the East End of London, Weedon could sight-read, which meant that he was regularly called in to provide guitar backing for many clueless young stars. He also owned one of the few electric guitars in Britain, having imported a heavy custom-made model that had cost him £40 in the late 1940s. In 1959 he had his own first chart success with Guitar Boogie Shuffle, which launched him on a life of touring with singers and groups a generation his junior, many of whom came to regard him as a father figure.
Rejecting their offers to share the drink and drugs lifestyle, the mild-mannered Weedon spent his free time visiting historical sites and scouring local markets to add to his collection of antique silver spoons.
Herbert Maurice Weedon was born on May 10 1920 at East Ham, London. His father, a tube train driver on the District Line, performed an amateur song-and-dance act with the guard of his train, under the name of Weedon and Walmisley. When Bert was 12 his father bought him his first guitar, from Petticoat Lane Market, for 15 shillings .
Having started playing the instrument in the classical style, he converted to the popular repertoire of the 1930s, forming his first dance band with a group of friends in 1934. Because it featured the local butcher’s son on drums, the band was named after the contents of the shop’s deep freeze, playing as Butch Townsend and the Cold Shoulders.
Weedon made his first solo appearance in public at East Ham town hall in 1939. During the Second World War he volunteered for the rescue services and served with them through the worst of the London Blitz. Fumes from German bombs are said to have given him lung problems , which he cured by sitting at the end of Southend Pier and breathing the beneficial vapours from the mud below.
His big musical break came after the war, when he joined Stephane Grapelli’s group as a replacement for Django Reinhardt, then progressed through the rhythm sections of various popular dance bands of the day, including those of Harry Leader, Lou Praeger and Harry Gold. By the early Fifties, Weedon was resident guitarist with the BBC Showband under Cyril Stapleton and worked on regular radio sessions.
Signed to EMI’s Parlophone label as a solo artist, Weedon’s first record, Stranger Than Fiction, was released as a 78rpm single in 1956. As the recording industry expanded, he was much in demand as a session guitarist, backing such stars as David Whitfield and Alma Cogan, as well as visiting American artists including Frank Sinatra, Nat “King” Cole and Judy Garland.
With the coming of rock and roll, Weedon also recorded with Laurie London, Marty Wilde and Cliff Richard. Although Parlophone released a further five of Weedon’s solo guitar singles during 1957 and 1958, none reached the charts.
His fortunes improved when he switched to EMI’s new Top Rank record label in 1959, his cover version of the American hit Guitar Boogie Shuffle reaching No 7 in the British charts in June that year. Further releases fared less well until, in August 1960, Weedon’s version of The Shadows’ chart-topping hit Apache reached No 24. The Shadows acknowledged their debt to Weedon by writing Mr Guitar for him. It entered the charts at No 47 in May 1961 and was Weedon’s last singles chart entry.
Throughout the 1960s Weedon released 14 further singles on EMI’s HMV label, and although two of them, Some Other Love and South Of The Border, came close in 1962, neither was a hit.
At the same time Weedon became a prolific broadcaster, appearing regularly on children’s television shows such as Tuesday Rendezvous and Five O’Clock Club, as well as on radio and fronting his own long-running ITV series. He continued to give live shows at theatres across Britain, and in February 1963 performed in the window of a garage showroom at Salisbury, Wiltshire, for the children of two mechanics who had repaired his broken car windscreen.
Abandoning the singles market, in 1970 Weedon signed to the Contour budget label, for which he recorded a series of themed albums ranging from The Romantic Guitar of Bert Weedon to The Gentle Guitar of Bert Weedon and Bert Weedon Remembers. These comprised cover versions of hits by middle-of-the-road artists such as Nat “King” Cole and Jim Reeves, and sold a quarter of a million copies apiece. In 1971, following a successful live appearance at a rock and roll revival concert, his album Rockin’ At The Roundhouse also proved a bestseller but, as a budget release, was excluded from the British album charts.
In the mid-1970s Weedon’s album on the Warwick label, 22 Golden Guitar Greats, struck a nostalgic chord with British audiences. Heavily promoted through a television advertising campaign, it topped the British album chart for one week in November 1976 and became the bestselling recording of Weedon’s career, earning him a gold and then a platinum disc and selling more than a million copies.
As a middle-aged grandfather, he continued to sell steadily in the nostalgia market, with the occasional backward glance to his rock and roll heyday, as in Rockin’ Guitars, his 1977 single featuring a medley of six rock classics. He continued to release an average of two albums a year well into the 1980s.
For many years Weedon was an active member of the Grand Order of Water Rats, the entertainment business’s charity, and was King Rat in 1992. He was appointed OBE in 2001.
He had two sons from his first marriage, and lived in Buckinghamshire with his second wife, Maggie.
Bert Weedon, born May 10 1920, died April 20 2012