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Bill Carson

Bill Carson was a true journeyman musician of the electric guitar and a significant name on the scene at the time Today, he is best known by Fender fans today for its frequent appearance in the written history of the development of the Stratocaster. He undoubtedly played a significant role in making the Stratocaster today's icon, but he also deserves recognition for his musical career.

Carson, born in Meridian (Oklahoma) in 1926 and raised in Amarillo (Texas), eventually moved to California which was, at that time, the land of western swing. Shortly after his arrival in Los Angeles, Carson established himself as a reliable A-list sideman playing with the big names on the scene, including Spade Cooley, Hank Thompson, Lefty Frizzell, Wade Ray, and others. At the time, the lap steel player was often the star of the guitar world, since that instrument could be easily amplified, before the solid-body Spanish guitar came along. For this reason, Carson’s playing style and sound were very similar to the clean, fluid approach of the steel players. He often found work for steel-style parts on guitar to double his session fees. Back in the day, however, even those performances were barely enough to keep a musician afloat. Carson, like so many others, needed a solid “day job” to support his guitarist career. He succeeded in turning this job into his quest for a better instrument and forged a forty-year career as a result.

As legendary as the Fender of the early 1950s might seem to its fans today, it was part of a pretty small world. Carson was fond of telling the story of how he visited the Fullerton factory in 1951 in search of a Telecaster and an amp and was greeted by Leo Fender himself. That was the beginning of a relationship that made Carson not only the iconic Fender player that we all know but soon a field-tester of guitars in development and an actual Fender employee. In the beginning, Carson worked on the assembly line while maintaining his musical career as a gigging and recording guitarist. Afterwards, in 1957, he moved up the ladder at Fender as a production supervisor, head of artists relations and, finally, sales manager. Nonetheless, Bill Carson’s name had been established in Fender's history largely for his contributions to the design and development of the Stratocaster in 1953 and 1954. Among the major improvements that he is likely to have influenced - at least in part, if not wholly—were the inclusion of a vibrato unit (Carson liked to use it in conjunction with a volume pedal to emulate pedal-steel sounds) and the comfort-contoured body. The enduring image of this Strat pioneer might be from the oft-published promotional photo of the guitarist in cowboy garb, with a Cimarron Red Stratocaster in hand (turned black in a black-and-white image) and a two-toned boot perched upon a narrow-panel tweed twin Amp. Bill Carson worked at Fender well into his seventies, before passing away on February 15, 2007, at the age of 80.

 


Next player: Eric Clapton

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