Bert Weedon, British guitarist whose how-to guide taught rock-and-roll royalty, dies at 91

April 21, 2012

Bert Weedon, a British guitarist whose popular “Play in a Day” instructional manual introduced a generation of rock-and-roll stars to the power of the guitar, died April 20 at his home in Beaconsfield, England. He was 91.

Friends confirmed his death to British news agencies but did not disclose the cause.

Long before he gained fame as the author of a top-selling guide to the guitar, Mr. Weedon was known as a versatile performer who could play virtually any style of music at a glance. He performed with such renowned jazz artists as Stephane Grappelli and George Shearing, accompanied singers Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney and Judy Garland, and was a regular on BBC broadcasts in the 1940s and 1950s.

Mr. Weedon was an early rock-and-roll guitar star in Britain in the late 1950s, with a series of instrumental hits that included “Guitar Boogie Shuffle,” “Apache” and “Nashville Boogie.” But when his instructional book was first published in 1957, he became something of a spiritual godfather to a generation of would-be guitar heroes.

Its title — “Play in a Day” — offered the hope of instant musical gratification. The lessons began at the most basic level, with an illustration of how to hold a guitar. Mr. Weedon taught novices how to get through many rock-and-roll tunes with three basic chords and included pointers on how to play a few basic tunes.


From the archives: Popular English guitarist Bert Weedon at his home in Wembley, chilling out on the floor with his guitar lying beside him. (Chris Ware/GETTY IMAGES)

His guide, which was updated through the 1980s, sold millions of copies, leading Britain’s Independent newspaper to call Mr. Weedon “the man who taught the world to play the guitar.”

Many top rock stars, including Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Keith Richards, the Who’s Pete Townshend and three of the Beatles — George Harrison, John Lennon and Paul McCartney — studied Mr. Weedon’s book.

“I like to think that I’ve helped in some way,” Mr. Weedon said in 1997, “to make the guitar the most popular instrument in the world.”

Herbert Maurice Weedon was born in London on May 10, 1920. His father was a subway driver and amateur singer.

Mr. Weedon was 12 when he bought a secondhand guitar. He wanted to learn to play jazz, but his first teacher — an elderly music-shop owner — refused to teach him anything but classical music.

“He picked up his guitar and played Chopin’s Prelude No. 7,” Mr. Weedon told London’s Daily Mail newspaper in 1995. “I had never heard anything so beautiful in my life. I sat transfixed and he said: ‘That’s what I’m going to teach you.’ And I said: ‘Yes, please.’ ”

By 14, Mr. Weedon was performing in dance bands. He was a featured soloist before World War II.

He volunteered with rescue units during the London bombing blitz of World War II and, after the war, replaced Django Reinhardt in a group led by Grappelli, a prominent jazz violinist.

As a member of a BBC band in the 1950s, he was known for his ability to sight-read any style of music from jazz to classical to flamenco to rock. He was the host of children’s television shows and performed with many acclaimed singers, including Sinatra.

“He asked me if I’d like to go and play guitar in America,” Mr. Weedon recalled in 1995. “He was the greatest pop singer in the world and I was immensely flattered. I thanked him very much, but I told him no. I said I’d rather be a bigger fish in a smaller pond.”

Mr. Weedon recorded well into the 1980s, and one of his albums from the 1970s, “22 Golden Guitar Greats,” reached No. 1 on the British charts, knocking Led Zeppelin out of the top slot.

His first marriage, to Doris Weedon, ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 53 years, Maggie Weedon; and two sons.

In 2003, he received a settlement after suing the BBC over a statement that Mr. Weedon had learned to play guitar “while a convict.”

“It may not always be fashionable in the rock music world,” Mr. Weedon’s attorney said at the time, “but my client is rightly proud of his unblemished past and does not want that legacy damaged at this late stage of his private life and professional career.”

Matt Schudel has been an obituary writer at The Washington Post since 2004.
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