'..the music of the Negro people. It is my attempt to perform this music and, of course, to alter it to conform to my own condition of expression. Not all these songs are blues, as there are other musical influences in my life. In any case, my aim is to examine the world we live in . . to grasp reality"'(FG in the liner notes for '12 String Guitar (Folkways)'
August 26, 1925 – December 31, 2009
12 string legend Fred Gerlach died at Chase Health Care Center after a lengthy illness. He was born in Detroit, Michigan, grew up in New York City and moved to California in the late '50s. He was a veteran of World War II serving in the Infantry as a BAR man in Germany and the Philippines. He was a 12-string guitar player who recorded for Folkways Records and played concerts in the U.S. and England. He built guitars, built an airplane, loved to sail and was an Ivory Gungrip maker of great reputation. He was a good man...The San Diego Union-Tribune/Obituaries
During a 2 month USA/Mexico travel in Autumn '94 I came to visit Fred Gerlach in La Mesa/San Diego. In a phone call before he told me: "Have a look for a man with a basecap, that sais 'Dick Tracey' -that's me". When he introduced me to his family, he told his son (who played a rockband and had supported Led Zeppelin): "But this guy is coming because of me, not of You...."
(...It's not a good photo, but the only one of these days in '94, I just found in my "system")
I met a generous man, a craftsman, a storyteller, an unbelieveable 12stringer, a great guy - In fact, he is the link between the Leadbelly generation and the 60s of Fahey, Basho, Kottke, Lang, etc...- who made the mightiest 12string guitars, I've ever seen and played. I'll never forget: When he opened one of these cases and started to play that guitar, my hair were going like rockets up to the sky...
There is esp. one story, that seems to stand for that, what had happened to Fred:
He told me, when he came into a San Diego guitar shop in the '80s (I guess, I remember correctly), he found a guitar hanging at the wall, he built years ago, for $10.000. He asked the guy in the store about that guitar and got the answer "Oh man, that's an original Fred Gerlach..". He asked: why $10.000 and he got the information:" because, he's dead, man!"
Fred's reaction: "Aaaaaahhh,...." and he left the store. He was a legend and not many people had the idea, that he was living not so far - and what I've seen, very much alive, full of energy and ideas.
Now, Fred went home - is there the question, if he's crossing the bigger flea-markets now (like in '94), suddenly playing one of these cheap guitars, making people standing there with an open mouth......
..from the line notes for "12 String Guitar (Folkways)":
A 12-string guitar is hard to come by, Fred Gerlach wrote recently: "I went into one of the largest musical instrument stores in the country, and the manager assured me that no such instrument existed. On another occasion a maker of fine 12-string lutes (nylon strings) pictured for me a nightmare of explosive force required to hold twelve steel strings in proper tension. He envisioned bits of guitar and guitarist flying asunder. I have combed New York City pawnshops and music stores and have received a variety of comments ranging' from 'Sorry, we're out of them now. Won't a six-string guitar do? to 'Have you got rocks in your head, buddy?' In fact, it took me about a year after I had first decided to play a twelve-string before I found one. It wasn't a concentrated search, but it nevertheless indicates the general unavailability of the instrument."
In discussing the songs on this record, Fred expressed his profound indebtedness to the music of the Negro people: " . . . Now we come upon a larger truth . . the music of the Negro people. It is my attempt to perform this music and, of course, to alter it to conform to my own condition of expression. Not all these songs are blues, as there are other musical influences in my life. In any case, my aim is to examine the world we live in . . to grasp reality".... more, +illustrated discography
some private reactions + memories