Alvino Rey (1908-2004) was a multi-instrumental inventor and popular bandleader whose most important and enduring innovations were the electrically amplified guitar and the pedal steel guitar. With King of the Guitar, Living Era has done a splendid job of gathering 26 selections recorded by Alvino Rey and his Orchestra between 1940 and 1949. Alvin Henry Mc Burney was born in Oakland, CA on July 1, 1908. Raised in Cleveland, OH, he began playing banjo in 1926. In 1927 he got his first musical job performing with the Ev Jones Orchestra. In order to raise the volume of his instrument so as not to be drowned out by this locally popular dance band, young Alvin removed the needle apparatus from his mother's phonograph and installed it just beneath the strings of his banjo. Also in 1927, Alvin Mc Burney moved to New York and joined the Phil Spitalny Orchestra where he did his best to fill Eddie Peabody's shoes, and began hanging out with the great Eddie Lang, who along with steel guitarist Andy Sannella and string wizard Roy Smeck inspired him to switch over to the guitar. It was Smeck who took the 19-year-old musician under his wing and initiated him into the mysteries of the Hawaiian steel guitar, an instrument he would eventually modify with foot pedals and tonality adjustment controls. In 1929, Mc Burney changed his name to Alvino Rey, a classier, more "exotic" handle in line with the public's growing interest in Latin American dance music. By the time Rey signed on with Horace Heidt's orchestra in 1934, he had begun to use the steel guitar almost exclusively. He also became closely affiliated with the Gibson Guitar Company; after he helped to design, perfect, and popularize Gibson's first amplified guitar, Alvino Rey's photograph appeared on the packaging of a very short-lived line of Gibson cigarettes. Rey's involvement with the Heidt band brought him into contact with the singing King Sisters. He married Louise King in 1937 and formed his own band in 1939. When the Alvino Rey orchestra began broadcasting over WOR in New Jersey, he had his wife sing into a microphone hooked up to his guitar, creating an unusual effect that must have startled his audience. This Living Era tribute album combines 14 of Alvino Rey's most innovative instrumentals with an accurately representative assortment of ballad and novelty pop vocals. Sometimes ridiculed and mimicked by other bandleaders, Alvino Rey modernized his ensemble during the '40s, hiring excellent jazz players like Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Ray Conniff, Billy May, Neal Hefti and Dave Tough. The next period in Rey's long career would involve an extended involvement in the world of televised entertainment and a crucial role in the development of space age pop and exotic lounge music. King of the Guitar provides excellent background context for Alvino Rey's latter-day tenure with the King Sisters variety show on ABC television, his important collaborations with Juan Garcia Esquivel, and his incognito adventures as Warner Brothers recording artist Ira Ironstrings.
AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf
feat: Buddy Cole