By Willie G. Moseley
Acclaim Press; 2022
Reviewed by Doug Simms
This book is a relatable look at one guitar and bass enthusiast’s musical journey, with plenty of deep dives into the instruments themselves. The fact that the player/collector is Mike Huckabee, former two-term Arkansas governor, twice presidential candidate, and now TV talk show host, makes for a lot of interesting instrument acquisitions and musical opportunities.
If you’re wondering what you might have in common with Mike or his guitars (he has 70 in his collection), you’ll quickly find yourself identifying with his musical journey. The collection is unique, often based on Mike’s earlier experiences and ownerships that he had to give up due to financial needs in the 1970s. Like Mike, many of us have had to sell our guitars to make ends meet, always hoping to regain them later in life. Mike and I were born a few weeks apart, so reading this was like a step into my own past, with all the 1960s youthful wonder at the exploding rock scene, the bands, and guitars they played. It’s easy to identify with Mike’s early beginnings as a musician, excited about even simple inexpensive guitars that created the foundation for a lifetime of playing and collecting. I relived the excitement and curiosity of the early Silvertones, Harmonys, and Epiphones that were almost attainable with my meager teenage budget.
There’s a lot more to enjoy here than just going on a boomer guitarist nostalgia ride. The instruments are clearly the stars of the show, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better guide than the author, Willie G. Moseley. His vast knowledge and storytelling about the American guitar and bass industry are remarkable, and he is well known among guitar connoisseurs. As the Senior Writer for Vintage Guitar Magazine, he has written hundreds of detailed articles about guitars and guitarists since joining the staff in 1989. He has authored 16 books, mostly about guitars, and is also News Editor Emeritus for the Tallassee Tribune newspaper. Whether they came from the Sears catalog or a high-end custom shop, he makes Mike’s instruments interesting. The detailed specifications and builder history will also appeal to guitar enthusiasts, whether beginning players or seasoned collectors.
You’ll also get to know Mike’s musical pals and guests with his TV show band. In addition to guitar and bass virtuosos like Vic Wooten, Doyle Dykes, and Steve Wariner, there’s a surprisingly varied range of other musical guests and friends discussed. These include Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad), Jeff Carlisi (38 Special), James Burton, Phil Collen (Def Leppard), Gene Simmons (Kiss), Richard Young (The Kentucky Headhunters), Vince Martell (Vanilla Fudge), Ted Nugent, and Brian “Head” Welch (Korn).
Willie brings out the unique nature of Huckabee, the man, the politician, and the musician who has had many great musical opportunities. These include guest playing in many bands and receiving many honorarium guitars (two-thirds of his collection are gifts) for speaking and participating in political, fundraiser, and business events. Mike comes across as fun and interesting and doesn’t play favorites with his instruments for their playability or nostalgic significance. He too has stopped at pawn shops when traveling to see what he might find.
The instruments are organized in an encyclopedic manner, starting with Mike’s starter Sears Supertone Gene Autry Round-Up acoustic guitar and including electric and acoustic basses and guitars and a few oddballs. While you won’t find unicorns and holy grail guitars, you will find a great group of “everyman” players in the list, running the range from inexpensive catalog guitars to good beginner guitars to established music industry standards to high-end custom builds. You’ll see and find mention of most of the major names in guitar building from the 1950s onwards (Harmony, Kays, Silvertones, Mosrites, Fenders, Rickenbackers, and Gibsons). Guitar gear nerds will really enjoy the many photos and Willie’s detailed descriptions and stories. From the affordable to the high end to the quirky and unusual, Willie goes into detail describing each instrument’s builder, history, features, tone, and playability, even pointing out where modifications were made that took them away from their original condition. For those not familiar with guitar terminology, construction, or parts, there is a comprehensive glossary at the beginning.
In this book are many of the conversations we would have had were we to meet Mike at the neighborhood music or pawn shop, surrounded by guitars and basses and talking for hours about our favorite bands and instruments. We get to tag along on his journey of acquiring, losing, then reacquiring the meaningful instruments of his life. There was also a welcome absence of politics, pointing out that musicianship is a great equalizer and common ground.
If you’re a guitar or bass enthusiast, I encourage you to pursue Willie’s other writings in his books and Vintage Guitar Magazine articles. You’ll learn a lot about music history, guitar builders, and interesting people.
Doug Simms is a guitarist and IT/website company owner in Prattville, AL. His hobbies include antique bottle collecting and playing guitar and bass. He’s especially fond of a 2014 Collings i35 Deluxe guitar and 1977 Alembic Series I bass and is working on his chops to deserve either of them.