FEBRUARY 9, 2008
Al Zdan, E.H. Smith
A while back, I sent this picture to my pal, Steve Bartles (the bassist on John Platania - Lucky Dog).
A '57 Carvin--photo thanks to Peter at musurgia.com
He wrote back, asking if it was my Supro, a guitar I'd often talked about.
Nope, I responded, my father built that guitar. I'd learned to play his old small-bodied acoustic and I was chaffing at the bit for an electric guitar. Money was tight and Dad was handy with tools, so he decided to build me one.
Catalog page thanks to Kevin at the Carvin Museum
We probably ordered the pickups from this 1957 catalog sheet.
Supro Dual-Tone - Cherry Sunburst
PART 2: MY SUPRO
My particular model seems to be rare, but I finally found a pic on the web of a Supro Dual-Tone that looks nearly identical to mine. My Supro sported a two-teared pickguard, otherwise it looked just like this beauty. It had a contact-type pickup built into the bridge along with the two humbuckers. A great short-scale guitar. It's the one I used in nearly every band I played in while I lived in Alpena, including "Johnny Woytaszek & the Thunder Bay Polka Jax".
Me again with Dad's guitar
PART 3: THE NOMADS
This photo was taken at Al Zdan's store, Long Lake Supermarket, in probably 1958. Al is the other guy in the first photo. I was taking guitar lessons with a my first guitar teachers, Cootch and Mabel, and as I progressed, I taught Al what I'd learned. I remained the lead guitarist, but Al was an excellent rhythm player. Al began with that archtop guitar in the picture, but he switched to a double-neck Carvin-inspired guitar that my dad helped him build. My first band featured Al on his double-neck (short-scale bass on top and guitar below) with me on lead guitar and my pal, Bill Wright (now my brother-in-law) on drums. Bill was an excellent Hawaiian guitar player (now most often called lap steel), but we needed a drummer. Hawaiian guitar back then was for sissies. Al had a drum kit over at the store, so Bill became our drummer--learned it within a few weeks. He didn't need to be much of a drummer, since Al and I were greenhorn guitarists. What we lacked in technique, we made up for in innocence, blind ignorance and enthusiasm.
My guitar teacher, Clarence "Cootch" Couture and his wife, Mabel with her Oahu lap steel in 1964
Our first gig: New Year's Eve at the local Disabled American Veteran's Hall. Actually it was a bar. My father, a WW II vet, landed us the gig. We'd only learned a half dozen, maybe ten tunes. We needed a waltz, it turned out, so we played "Down in the Valley". The audience danced and when they weren't dancing, they drank. A lot. So, no one noticed the same handful of tunes being played over and over and over. When we finished up at the end of the night, the bartender, a beefy guy named Spigelmyre who ran the place, asked us how much we charged. We gave him blank stares. Huh, we're getting paid? Spigelmyre said, okay, how about fifteen bucks? He walked back to the bar, leaving three grinning teenagers tossing back Vernor's Ginger Ale. Wow, five bucks apiece! We couldn't believe our good fortune. The bartender returned to our table and handed us forty-five bucks. Fifteen smackaroos EACH! Fame and fortune was just around the corner. We learned some more songs, bought matching bolo ties and came up with a cool name. "The Nomads". The perfect name for a band that had never traveled thirty miles beyond Alpena.
Historians write endlessly about artists from the late 50's. You know, those country hicks who became cool, like Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins & Elvis. Yeah, they were great musicians, but isn't it time to finally recognize those boys from Alpena: Elwood Smith, Bill Wright and Al Zdan? The Nomads.
© 2023 Elwood H. Smith