The Wrecking Crew guitarist played with the Everly Brothers, the Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, and many more. He shares memories of hanging with Elvis, the Beatles, and the Stones, long sessions with Phil Spector, recording with Sonny and Cher, and spitballing now-iconic guitar lines ingrained in music history.
The Wrecking Crew was a group of Los Angeles session players who shaped hundreds of hit records in the '60s and early '70s. The list of guitarists often named as crew members includes Tommy Tedesco, James Burton, Glen Campbell, Al Casey, Barney Kessel, and Howard Roberts. More rarely mentioned is Don Peake, who was right there in the studio trenches with them, creating timeless tracks for Phil Spector and others. Peake later cut hits for Motown as well. If you listen to classic pop radio, you have doubtless heard the iconic opening wah-wah lick to Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" and the guitar line doubling the bass on the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back," but probably never knew it was Peake playing those parts.
Though he appears briefly in The Wrecking Crew movie, it's safe to say Don Peake's place in the world of historic session guitarists is shamefully unsung. It's long past time for this purveyor of iconic guitar parts to be recognized. While many of his peers have departed, Peake luckily remains with us, ready to relay some amazing stories, which he does in this Premier Guitar interview.
Don Peake was born in Los Angeles, California, on June 7, 1940. During high school, he played clarinet and sang with an a cappella choir. Picking up the ukulele at 16, he eventually moved to guitar. When word got out he could play Gene Vincent's "Be-Bop-A-Lula," it was recommended he try out for a gig with rockabilly singer Jackie Lee Cochran.
"I went to a night club called the Rag Doll," Peake recalls. "In the parking lot was a line of guitarists waiting to audition." Cochran fortuitously asked Peake if he knew "Be-Bop-A-Lula," and an affirmative answer helped him clinch the gig. Opening night, after playing that song, Cochran asked the young guitarist what else he knew. "Nothing," he replied.
Peake managed to keep the job, but to fill in the gaps he quickly signed up for lessons at Clara Joyce Sherman's School of Music in Hollywood. As luck would have it, his guitar teacher was Ray Pohlman, who would go on to be a regular guitarist and bassist in the Wrecking Crew. "Ray was a jazz guitarist who played with the Billy May Orchestra," he says. "He taught me to play and mentored me. I bought my blonde, 1946 Gibson ES-350 with the single pickup from him." A special guitar, indeed: The ES-350 Peake bought from Pohlman was a rare one-pickup jazz model made in 1946. Gibson started making the iconic two-pickup models in 1947.
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