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Fire On the Strings

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Album Review

Once upon a time, hotshot guitar pickers were a valued, though perhaps underrated, part of the country-western scene. Jimmy Bryant accompanied Speedy West on a number of historic sessions in the '50s, and Hee Haw alumnus Roy Clark made his first mark on the guitar. Among guitar heroes of the era, none loomed larger than Joe Maphis with his trademark double-neck guitar, complete with his name inscribed on the fret board. Unlike the fingerpicking method favored by Merle Travis and Chet Atkins, Maphis preferred to string notes together in such rapid-fire succession that the title Fire on the Strings is more than just hyperbole. From the infectious boogie of "Guitar Rock and Roll" to the electrified bluegrass of the "Katy Warren Breakdown," these instrumentals are spontaneously bursting at the seams. It is curious that many of the arrangements add banjo and fiddle to the electric guitar, creating something akin to progressive bluegrass a few years before the term was in vogue. The title cut is a variation on the fiddle tune "Fire on the Mountain," and transforming fiddle tunes into guitar tunes surely formed part of Maphis inspiration. But his music cannot be pigeonholed as progressive bluegrass, country, or any particular genre. Instead, think of it as expertly played instrumental music brought to life by an energetic electric guitar. There are seven bonus tracks, including the Latin-tinged "The Rockin' Gypsy," that generously lengthen the album. While Maphis never became a household name, his rapid-fire style would influence numerous guitarists. To aspiring guitarist players and lovers of good instrumental work, Fire on the Strings shouldn't be missed. ~ Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr., Rovi


Born: 12 May 1921 in Suffolk, VA

Genre: Country

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

Joe and Rose Maphis were a popular husband-and-wife act in the late '40s and early '50s, singing traditional material backed by the amazing instrumental talent of Joe, who played everything with strings on it, especially the twin-neck guitar. The honky tonk anthem "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music)" was their big hit. Until his death in 1986,...
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Fire On the Strings, Joe Maphis
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