Leonard Harold Breau (August 5, 1941 – August 12, 1984) was an
American-born guitarist and music educator. One of the most admired
guitarists of his generation in musician's circles in Canada and the
United States, he was known for blending many styles of music,
including jazz, country, classical, and flamenco. Inspired by country
guitarists like Chet Atkins, Breau used fingerstyle techniques not
often used in jazz guitar. By using a seven-string guitar and
approaching the guitar like a piano, he opened up possibilities for
1.1 Canadian country
1.2 Turning to jazz
2 Posthumous honors
3 Technique and guitars
5 See also
7 External links
Breau was born August 5, 1941, in Auburn, Maine, but moved with his
family to Moncton,
New Brunswick in 1948. His francophone parents,
Harold "Hal Lone Pine" Breau and Betty Cody, were professional country
and western musicians who performed and recorded from the mid-1930s
until (in Hal Breau's case) the mid-1970s. From the mid to late 1940s
they played summer engagements in southern New Brunswick, advertising
their performances playing free programs on radio station CKCW
Moncton. Their son began playing guitar at the age of eight. When he
was twelve, he started a small band with friends, and by the age of
fourteen he was the lead guitarist for his parents' band, billed as
"Lone Pine Junior", playing
Merle Travis and
Chet Atkins instrumentals
and occasionally singing. He made his first professional recordings
Westbrook, Maine at Event Records with
Al Hawkes at the age of 15
while working as a studio musician. Many of these recordings were
released posthumously on the album Boy Wonder.
The Breau family moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1957, and their new
band performed around the city and province as the CKY Caravan. Their
shows were broadcast live on Winnipeg's CKY on Saturday mornings from
remote locations. One of their regular listeners was Randy
Bachman, who was sixteen years old at the time. On one occasion
Bachman bicycled to a Caravan performance in his West Kildonan
neighborhood and ended up meeting Breau. Breau and Bachman soon became
friends, and Breau informally began teaching Bachman, who has since
described those lessons as "the beginning of my life as a guitar
Turning to jazz
Around 1959 Breau left his parents' country band after his father
slapped him in the face for using jazz improvisations on stage. He
sought out local jazz musicians, performing at
Winnipeg venues Rando
Manor and the Stage Door. He met pianist Bob Erlendson, who began
teaching him more of the foundations of jazz. In 1962, Breau left for
Toronto and created the jazz group Three with singer and actor Don
Francks and Eon Henstridge on acoustic bass.
Three performed in Toronto, Ottawa, and New York City. Their music was
featured in the 1962 National Film Board documentary Toronto Jazz.
They recorded a live album at the Village Vanguard in New York City
and appeared on the
Jackie Gleason and
Joey Bishop television
shows. Returning to Winnipeg, Breau became a regular session
guitarist, recording for
CBC Radio and CBC Television, and contributed
to CBC-TV's Teenbeat, Music Hop, and his own The
Lenny Breau Show.
In 1963 and 1964, Breau appeared at David Ingram's Fourth Dimension at
Pembina Highway in Fort Garry, a suburb of Winnipeg. Every
Sunday night was a party open to all. Another regular at the club on
Sunday nights was
Neil Young and his band with Vancouver CKNW's Rick
Honey as his drummer.
In 1967, recordings of Breau's playing from
The Lenny Breau Show found
their way to Chet Atkins. The ensuing friendship resulted in Breau's
first two albums,
Guitar Sounds from Lenny Breau and The Velvet Touch
Lenny Breau – Live! on RCA.
He lived in various Canadian cities until returning to the U.S. in
1976. For several years he moved between Maine, Nashville, Stockton,
California, and New York City, eventually settling in Los Angeles in
1983. These years he spent performing, teaching, and writing for
Guitar Player magazine. A few more solo albums were issued during
his lifetime, in addition to albums recorded with fiddler Buddy
Spicher and pedal steel guitarist Buddy Emmons.
Breau had problems with drugs beginning in the 1960s which he managed
to control during the last years of his life. On August 12, 1984,
his body was found in a swimming pool at his apartment complex in Los
Angeles, California. The coroner reported that Breau had been
strangled. Breau's wife, Jewel, was the chief suspect in the case but
she was not charged. He is interred in an unmarked grave at Forest
Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery.
Many live and "lost" recordings have been issued since Breau's death.
His studio recordings have also been reissued. Due to efforts by Randy
Bachman of Guitarchives, Paul Kohler of Art of Life Records, Tim
CBC radio and others, a new generation of listeners has
access to his music.
Breau was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of fame in 1997.
A documentary entitled The Genius of
Lenny Breau was produced in 1999
by Breau's daughter Emily Hughes. It includes interviews with Chet
Atkins, Ted Greene, Pat Metheny, George Benson, Leonard Cohen, and
Bachman, as well as family members.
George Benson said "He dazzled me
with his extraordinary guitar playing... I wish the world had the
opportunity to experience his artistry." The biography One Long
Tune: The Life and Music of
Lenny Breau by Ron Forbes-Roberts was
published in 2006 containing interviews with nearly 200 people and a
CBC Radio presented a documentary on
Lenny Breau entitled "On the
Trail of Lenny Breau" (the title is in reference to Breau's parents'
song "On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine"). It was first broadcast on
September 13, 2009 as part of a regular weekly program called Inside
the Music. It was narrated by Breau's son, Chet. The one-hour
feature was produced in
Montreal by John Klepko.
Technique and guitars
Lenny Breau's seven-string electric guitar
Breau's fully matured technique was a combination of Chet Atkins's and
Merle Travis's fingerpicking and Sabicas-influenced flamenco,
highlighted by right-hand independence and flurries of artificial
harmonics. His harmonic sensibilities were a combination of his
country roots, classical music, modal music, Indian, and jazz,
particularly the work of pianist Bill Evans. Breau often adapted
Evans's compositions, such as "Funny Man", for guitar. Breau said in
relation to this, "I approach the guitar like a piano. I've reached a
point where I transcend the instrument. A lot of the stuff I play on
the seven-string guitar is supposed to be technically impossible, but
I spent over twenty years figuring it out. I play the guitar like a
piano, there's always two things going on at once. I'm thinking
melody, but I'm also thinking of a background. I play the
accompaniment on the low strings."
He had two custom seven-string guitars made, one classical and one
electric. At the time, no company made a string that could be tuned to
the high A on his classical guitar. Breau used fishing line of the
correct gauge until the La Bella company began making a string for
him. The electric guitar was made by Kirk Sand, also with the first
string being a high A.
Guitar Sounds from Lenny Breau (RCA)
The Velvet Touch of Lenny Breau – Live!
The Velvet Touch of Lenny Breau – Live! (RCA), (1994)
Minors Aloud (
Buddy Emmons with Lenny Breau) (Flying Fish; Art
of Life, 2005)
Five O'Clock Bells
Five O'Clock Bells (Adelphi Genes, 1987)
Lenny Breau (Direct-Disk Labs, 1985) Adelphi, 1999) (Released as
Lenny Breau Trio)
The Legendary Lenny Breau... Now!
The Legendary Lenny Breau... Now! (Sound Hole)
Mo' Breau (Adelphi Genes, 1981)
1981: Standard Brands (RCA) (with Chet Atkins)
When Lightn' Strikes
When Lightn' Strikes (Tudor, 2005) (Art of Life) (Released as
Swingin' on a Seven-String)
1984: Legacy (Relaxed Rabbit) (also released as
Live at Bourbon St. by
Guitarchives in 1995)
Quietude Electric Muse (also released as
Live at Bourbon St. by
Guitarchives in 1995)
The Living Room Tapes, Vol. 1 Livingroom (with Brad Terry)
(1988) (Musical Heritage Society, 1995) DOS
Last Sessions Genes
The Living Room Tapes, Vol. 2 (Musical Heritage Society, with
Live at Bourbon St. (Guitarchives)
1997: Cabin Fever (Guitarchives)
1997: Chance Meeting (Guitarchives)
1998: Boy Wonder (Guitarchives)
2000: Live at Donte's (String Jazz)
Pickin' Cotten (Guitarchives) (with Richard Cotten)
The Complete Living Room Tapes (Art of Life)
The Hallmark Sessions
The Hallmark Sessions (Art of Life) (recorded 1961)
At the Purple Onion
At the Purple Onion (Art of Life) (with
Don Francks and Eon
2006: Mosaic (Guitarchives)
LA Bootleg 1984 Linus Entertainment
Music of Canada
Music of Canada portal
Music of Canada
Canadian Music Hall of Fame
^ Forbes-Roberts, Ron (2006). One Long Tune: The Life and Music of
Lenny Breau. University of North Texas Press. p. 10.
^ "Lenny Breau". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 11 May
^ a b c d e f g h Forbes-Roberts, Ron (2006). One Long Tune: The Life
and Music of
Lenny Breau ([Online-Ausg.]. ed.). Denton, Texas: Univ.
of North Texas Press. ISBN 1-57441-210-8.
^ a b c "Breau, Lenny". canoe.com. Retrieved 11 May 2008.
^ Forbes-Roberts, pp.41-42
^ McClellan, John; Bratic, Deyan, eds. (2004).
Chet Atkins in Three
Dimensions. Pacific, Missouri: Mel Bay Publications.
^ Atkins, Chet (July 1986). "The Genius of Lenny Breau". Frets.
^ a b Ferguson, Jim (November 1984). "
Lenny Breau Remembered". Guitar
^ "Guitar Star Found Dead".
Winnipeg Sun. 14 August 1984.
^ "While his guitar not so gently wept". The Globe & Mail.
^ a b Lieberson, Richard. "Lenny Breau". AllMusic. Retrieved 6 July
Lenny Breau -
Jazz Guitar -
Lenny Breau Documentary - The Genius of
Lenny Breau - DVD". Softandgroovy.com. Archived from the original on
2015-09-04. Retrieved 2015-08-01.
^ CBC Music: Inside the Archives Archived 2016-03-01 at the Wayback
^ Ricci, Michael (8 September 2009). "On the Trail of Lenny Breau".
All About Jazz. Retrieved 11 August 2017.
^ Drake, Gayla. "Builder Profile: Kirk Sand Guitars". Premier Guitar.
Retrieved 19 June 2014.
NEMS Book Early
Lenny Breau at the
Wayback Machine (archived October
The Genius of
Lenny Breau (PDF document) Retrieved July 3, 2009.
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