CLEARFIELD – The Books-Sandwiched-In series for 2017 at the Joseph & Elizabeth Shaw Library got off to a guitar strumming start with Jerry Zolten, an associate professor at Penn State.
Zolten, also an author and producer of American roots music, participated in a documentary on the Martin Dreadnought guitar. It was this film “The Ballad of the Dreadnought,” which he shared with a spellbound audience.
The Martin Dreadnought guitar, made in Nazareth, Pa., is the iconic acoustic guitar used by such music greats as Hank Williams, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley and Paul McCartney to name just a few.
It celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2016, and the documentary was produced as part of that celebration. The film traces the rise of the Dreadnought from selling only a few guitars in its first 20 years to becoming one of the most popular guitars in the world.
Introduced in 1916, the Dreadnought was a large bodied guitar, unlike the smaller guitars in use at the time. According to Zolten, this new design, which produced a bigger sound, would shape the sound of American music.
The Dreadnought guitar, named after a British battleship, gained national visibility in the 1930’s. In 1933 Gene Autry “The Singing Cowboy” ordered a custom-made Martin Dreadnought.
This was the first D45, customized for Autry with his name in pearl inlay on the neck. One of the most valuable acoustic guitars in the world, it is displayed in the Gene Autry Museum.
Country, blue grass, folk, rock – the Martin Dreadnought played an important part in the growth and sound of all of these musical genres. Its wide-spread appeal was evident in the documentary by the variety of musicians, including Crosby, Stills & Nash, Steve Miller, Rosanne Cash, Del McCoury and Vince Gill, who shared their love of the instrument.
According to the film, in the 1980’s, keyboards brought about a drop in the popularity of acoustic guitars. But since that time, there has been a resurgence.
One musician interviewed in the film commented, “If you can’t play a song on an acoustic guitar, it’s probably not a very good song.”
Following the film, Zolten fielded questions from the audience and drew chuckles from the group with some additional Dreadnought anecdotes. He also brought his own Dreadnought guitar and played it briefly. Zolten presented the library with copies of Martin: The Journal of Acoustic Guitars featuring the Dreadnought guitar. “The Ballad of the Dreadnought” can be viewed online.
The public is reminded that the Books-Sandwiched-In series will continue at 12 p.m. March 29.
Jayme Stonbraker, Shaw librarian, will review Between Shades of Gray and Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys.
Reservations for the program may be placed at the front desk of Shaw Public Library or by calling 814-765-3271 prior to 5 p.m. March 27.