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Pee Wee Crayton

Connie Curtis Crayton, known as Pee Wee Crayton, was born in Rockdale, Texas, in 1914 and primarily influenced by some Texan guitar virtuoso, such as T-Bone Walker and jazzman Charlie Christian. In the beginning, he emulated T-Bone, playing his jazz-inflected blues licks on a big archtop Gibson, until he was given a Stratocaster and a tweed twin amp by the Fender factory, probably in 1954. Nobody could remember the circumstances behind this gift: how, where, or when Leo Fender or someone else from the factory met Crayton. Leo was indeed an enthusiastic country music fan, but this gift of such an early and special Strat to a bluesman seems odd in retrospect. Nevertheless, it was one of the first Strats given to a musician by Leo.

Crayton’s Strat boasted a custom-colour paint job and other special features. It was painted a bright red tone, a colour some have suggested was inspired by a Studebaker car. Bill Carson had a similarly coloured red Strat, which he termed “Cimarron Red,” probably inspired by the band Leon McAuliffe and His Cimarron Boys, as McAuliffe played a red Fender string-master. This red is very similar to what would years later be listed in Fender colour charts as Dakota Red. Crayton’s Strat featured a gold-anodized metal pickguard in place of the typical Bakelite plastic one. The rest of its features were in line with the Stratocaster's production features, including the chrome-plated hardware.

Crayton moved from Texas to California during the Depression years of the 1930s. That is where he started seriously playing the guitar. He was often known as T-Bone Walker Jr., a name that was somewhat teasing but had also prime promotional benefit. In later years, he and the real T-Bone shared the bills in hard-fought fret wars.

Crayton signed on with Modern records in 1948, playing T-Bone-inspired jump blues. One of his earliest songs was the instrumental “Blues After Hours” which hit No. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart. In the 1950s, he cut deals for other labels, including T-Bone’s one, Imperial, as well as Jamie and Vee-Jay.

Crayton’s 1955 song “The telephone is ringing” on Vee-Jay 214, featured in the album Pee Wee Crayton, maybe the first recording of a Stratocaster. Whether it is true or not, the song showcased a tone like no other songs recorded before. Crayton played his big bends and bluesy pentatonic riffs, punctuated by shimmer-ing ninth chords, with a unique, biting sound. The tone departed from T-Bone Walker’s archtop Gibson Es-5 with its woody, out-of-phase-pickup voice or Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown’s snarling Fender Esquire. it was a sound all its own.

Crayton was often pictured with the special Strat in hand, wearing a lean, shiny sharkskin suit, the consummate bluesman. He cradled it on the cover of his early eponymous Crown LP in 1960 and still held the guitar on the 1971 Vanguard album, Things I Used to Do. During the years in between, Crayton’s Strat had obviously been well used as it showed the signs of the elapsed time: the red paint chipped away, the neck and headstock smoke- and time-darkened.

Next player: Dick Dale