The ultimate forgotten hero - the originator....

oldsoutholdsouth New
edited July 2012 in Archtop Eddy's Corner Posts: 52
Nick Lucas! Born: Dominic Nicholas Anthony Lucanese, August 22, 1897, Newark, New Jersey

(my opinion) Nick Lucas was the grandfather of jazz guitar. He was the first major American performer to sing and play guitar at a high level. His singing is not to everyone's taste, but it was trained and always on key. His guitar playing was spectacular. He grew up on classical music, Italian folk music and probably heard a lot of gypsies as well. When jazz began, he took the chordal style of jazz piano and adapted it to guitar.... thus, the jazz chord was born. He had a great walking bass and chord style, using his thumb for the moving bass. His runs were lightening fast and phenomenally articulate. Eddie Lang (the father of jazz guitar) cited him as a major influence. He played almost entirely with down strokes, reminiscent of rest stroke picking. He was so good that Gibson begged him to let them build a signature model. Many historians say that the guitar may have gone extinct were it not for Nick Lucas. Sales of guitars wee dropping off as Broadway, Jazz , light opera and classical dominated the new media of radio. Nick Lucas inspired countless musicians to buy guitars (then considered mainly a folk instrument) and adapt banjo and piano music to the 6 sting. The Nick Lucas model guitar was an excellent round hole acoustic that remained popular for generations - Bob Dylan played one, among many others. His songs were incredible hits. He was featured in some of the first musical films (including Busby Berkely's great "Gold Diggers" - he was another genius). He published several books on playing guitar that informed millions, including Joe Pass and Doc Watson.

So, what happened - why was he forgotten? Well, musical tastes changed. Record companies forced out the older players to sell new records from younger players.... same old story. But, one unique aspect affected Nick Lucas has to be considered. In the 60's, Tiny Tim (a huge Nick Lucas fan) began a fairly popular novelty career mimicking Nick Lucas's songs. Tiny Tim was... just plain weird. Nick Lucas appreciated Tim and they were friends, but Tiny Tim almost single-handedly blemished Nick Lucas' reputation. His exaggerated falsetto, effeminate mannerisms, pale make-up, side-show marriage to a much younger girl and ukulele strumming (he was also a fan of" Ukulele Ike", Cliff Edwards) left the impression in the minds of a generation that Nick Lucas, whose signature song was "Tip-toe Through The Tulips" was an odd novelty.

Perhaps most insultingly, his landmark guitar instrumental compositions, "Picking the Guitar" and "Teasing the Frets" the atom splitting moments in the founding of jazz guitar, were left out of Mel bay's Masters of the Plectrum Guitar and no transcriptions are available in print or online int he year 2012.

Eddie Lang was a Nick Lucas fan, Django was a Nick Lucas fan.... let's restore his legacy. Here is a link to the (fairly) new Nick Lucas tribute website:

Here are some youtube videos:

Here is Nick Lucas on the Liberace Show - you can clearly see him play all but part of the best break on his signature song... lots of opportunity to learn from this video... really top notch piano as well: ... sonalities

Here is the (almost complete) Nick Lucas Collection from 1925 - 34: ... s1925-1934
You can listen to or download all of these songs for free - 136 songs!

From Wiki: "In 1922, at the age of 25, he gained renown with his hit renditions of "Picking the Guitar" and "Teasing the Frets" for Pathe Records. In 1923, the Gibson Guitars proposed to build him a concert guitar with an extra deep body. Known as the "Nick Lucas Special," it has been a popular model with guitarists since. In the same year, he began a successful career in recording phonograph records for Brunswick and remained one of their exclusive artists until 1932.
By the late 1920s, Lucas had become well known as "The Crooning Troubadour" due to the success of the recordings he made for Brunswick Records. In 1929, he co-starred in the Warner Brothers Technicolor musical, Gold Diggers of Broadway, in which he introduced the two hit songs "Painting the Clouds with Sunshine" and "Tiptoe Through the Tulips". The latter became Lucas' official theme song. The same year, Lucas was also featured in the studio's all-star revue, The Show of Shows. Lucas turned down Warner Bros.' seven-year contract offer, which went instead to fellow crooner Dick Powell.
In April 1930, Warner Bros. bought Brunswick Records. Due to their appreciation of Nick Lucas, Warner Bros. provided him with his own orchestra which was billed on his records as "The Crooning Troubadours". This arrangement lasted until December 1931, when Warner Bros. licensed Brunswick to the American Record Corporation. The new owners were not as extravagant as Warner Bros. had previously been and Lucas lost his orchestra and eventually left Brunswick in 1932 to go freelance. He made two recordings for Durium Records in 1932 for their Hit of the Week series. These would prove to be his last major recordings."

If nothing else, give the instrumentals and songs like "Among My Souvenirs", "My Blue Heaven" "All of Me" and "Painting the Clouds with Sunshine" a listen.... that is just really, really nice music!


  • swing68swing68 Poznan, Poland✭✭✭ Manouche Modele Orchestre, JWC Catania Swing
    Posts: 120
    Fantastic find!

    One question though - do we know that Django really was a fan? Don't recall seeing that in the usual sources, and he was less than complimentary about Eddie Lang on occasion.

    That said, the usual narrative about him gaining his jazz sensibilities mainly from Louis Armstrong recordings and from the Paris jazz community of the 30s, and inheriting his guitar technique from musette seems a bit deficient. Is there anything on record about the early US guitarists' influence on Django?
    The war on Am7 and Cmaj7 begins here ...
  • oldsoutholdsouth New
    Posts: 52
    I don't know if there was a direct influence, like if Django played their records repeatedly to learn their solos.... I doubt that. I'm just going by my ear, which is subjective - I hear echoes of Lucas and Lang... even the Farr brothers in Django's playing, especially in the first Hot Club albums. IE, sting bending, blue notes and other American guitar sounds and arrangements. Regardless, common sense would way that there was at least an "aha" moment when he first hear jazz played on the guitar. An knowing Django's healthy ego, it was probably more of an "Aha! I could do that... better than anyone!" As they say, it is only bragging if it isn't true and in Django's case, it certainly would be accurate - even an understatement.
  • Lango-DjangoLango-Django Niagara-On-The-Lake, ONModerator
    Posts: 1,655
    Totally awesome, oldsouth! This is why the Flying Spaghetti Monster gave us the internet, so we could have access to obscure, pointless, amazing stuff like a complete archive of Nick Lucas recordings!

    As a big Eddie Lang fan, I can certainly hear a lot of similarity between Lucas and Lang, but who influenced who?

    It seems likely that Django was aware of Lucas... I know he was aware of Lang, because I have one recording where he directly quotes a bluesy Lang lick with a long string bend... I wish I could remember the name of the tune but I have it on cassette and now I can't play my cassettes anymore!

    It is kind of easy to laugh at Lucas' singing, but hey, YOU try to simultaneously sing and keep some cool stuff happening on guitar at the same time like Lucas does and you'll find out how hard it is!

    Thanks again,


    PS If anyone is interested, I just happen to have a set of three Nick Lucas instructional manuals for guitar which I found at a flea market many years ago... I could let them go for a mere thousand dollars each.
    Paul Cezanne: "I could paint for a thousand years without stopping and I would still feel as though I knew nothing."

    Edgar Degas: "Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.... To draw, you must close your eyes and sing."

    Georges Braque: "In art there is only one thing that counts: the bit that can’t be explained."
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