portrait of this blog's author - by Stephen Blackman 2008

Monday, April 23, 2018

For reasons best known to someone else we all went crazy when this came out . . . . . guitar obsessives maybe but it knocked us for six and many of my friends spent all their time trying to learn it . . . . . . . me not so much, though I appreciated it and yup, bought it when it came out

On this day in music history: April 22, 1968 - “Classical Gas” by Mason Williams is released. Written by Mason Williams, it is the debut single and biggest hit for the songwriter and musician from Abilene, TX. Listening to the radio avidly while growing up, Williams develops an interest in music. By the time he is in his teens, he joins his high school choir, also forming an acappella vocal group with fellow class mates. Graduating in 1956, he moves west to attend Los Angeles City College and study mathematics. Returning to home the following year to study at Oklahoma City University, Williams also decides to take a piano class along with his other courses. The teacher tells him bluntly “that he would never become a great musician, but would probably be able to play very well someday.” The statement is literally life changing, deciding to change his major from math to music. He finds his true musical calling when he buys an old Stella acoustic guitar for $13. A quick study, Williams is soon playing professionally and becomes immersed in the folk music movement, forming The Wayfarers Trio. Following a stint in the Navy in the early 60’s, Williams returns to music full time. Relocating to Los Angeles, he meets and befriends comedians Tom and Dick Smothers. Also working as a comedy writer, Mason is hired by the brothers in 1967 when CBS gives the duo their own comedy/variety show. Around the same time, he signs to Warner Bros Records, recording “The Mason Williams Phonograph Record”. Among the songs written for the album is an instrumental originally titled “Classical Gasoline”. However, the copyist writing down the musical notation shortens it to “Classical Gas”. Working with producer Mike Post (“Hill Street Blues”, “The Rockford Files”), the album is recorded in the Fall of 1967. Williams is backed by various members of The Wrecking Crew including Jim Gordon (drums), Lyle Ritz, Larry Knechtel, Bob West (bass), James Burton, Mike Deasy (guitar), Gayle Levant (harp) and Gary Coleman (percussion). When the album is released in February of 1968, the classical, baroque flavored instrumental begins receiving airplay while it is an album cut. Warner Bros releases it as a single and by the late Spring, “Classical Gas” takes flight. Entering the Hot 100 at #93 on June 22, 1968, it peaks at #2 six weeks later on August 3, 1968. “Classical Gas” wins three Grammy Awards for the virtuoso guitarist in 1969, including Best Instrumental Composition, Best Contemporary-Pop Performance, Instrumental, and Best Instrumental Arrangement. One of the most popular instrumentals of all time, Mason Williams’ original recording is widely used on regional TV news broadcasts and in films and television programs. The song is cited by music publishing society BMI, for having received more than six million plays on radio. Still active in music, Mason Williams presently lives in Oregon, dividing his time between performing and writing. 

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