Eddie Lang

Eddie Lang

Eddie Lang was a major jazz guitarist in the early 1900′s.  Born to a Italian family in South Philadelphia Eddie’s father was a banjo and guitar maker with an affinity for classical music.  Early on Eddie learned the violin, perhaps because of his father and it’s prominence in the classical world, but after eleven years or so he dropped it and moved to the guitar as his primary.    His interests didn’t stop at classical music though, he went on to play blues, jazz and contemporary styles as well.  Eddie was self taught on the guitar.  Perhaps that’s how he was able to pick up on all of those varied genres and create something that had not been heard before.

Prior to Lang’s emergence into the guitar scene in the early 1920′s the guitar was mainly seen as a accompaniment instrument and didn’t have much of a following.  Even after Eddie Lang was a well known name it would be years before he could to be the front runner of his own show.  This truly is unfortunate because a good deal of his music as gone unrecorded.  The labels felt there just wasn’t a demand for it at the time.  Despite all this Eddie’s style can be attributed as an influence of almost every single-string flat picker since.  Monolithic guitarists such as Django Reinhardt, George Can Eps, Roy Smeck and Carl Kress all show Lang’s impact in their playing.

Lang didn’t play alone though.  Besides playing with various big bands, orchestras and smaller outfits his right hand man was Joe Venuti an equally exceptional musician on the violin.  Eddie and Joe were classmates in grammar school and remained associated for the rest of Eddie’s life.  They first started playing together at local restaurants back in 1921.  Soon enough other bands asked them to take part and they were sit-in musicians with many groups.  This led to one of Eddie’s main sources of income as a studio musician.  Late in Eddie’s career he and Venuti were hired to play for a radio show ran by Paul Whiteman.  It was while performing on this show that Eddie met the popular vocalist Bing Crosby.    This was just before Bing Crosby’s rise to super stardom and the two formed a close friendship that would have Eddie acting as his musical adviser and regular ol’ pal.  This would last until the end of Eddie’s life a few years later.

Eddie Lang died at the age of 31 on March 26, 1933 from complications after a routine tonsillectomy.  It seems like such a silly way for someone with such substance to be taken from us.  It’s as if George Washington died from stepping on a nail.  C’est la vie, as they say.   There are plenty of Eddie Lang recordings to be found.  I have the one Yazoo put out and I’m quite fond of it although there are alot more out there.

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