Guest Post by Zac Childs —
Brad’s Salsa Paisley
2004 was a busy time of promoting the Mud on the Tires album with tour dates, television appearances and music videos. All the guitars, including the Buckocaster, were seeing much use, but Brad was interested in having Bill build a 60s vibe guitar with a rounder tone. They tossed around ideas and settled on a T-style with a rosewood fingerboard and a fiesta red and white paisley finish. The guitar was a real stunner, and Brad nicknamed it “Salsa.”
The year was hopping along pretty smoothly until we performed at CMA Music Fest/Fan Fair at Titan’s stadium in Nashville. It looked like rain, so I tarped down Brad’s amps and effects rack with road cases. A tornado warning came in and security made us abandon the stage. I could only watch as high winds ripped the tarp off, and the skies dumped water into the amps and rack. I was able to get the rig to work for the three songs we did for the cameras and then the entire rig died. The paper cones were waterlogged and wouldn’t make a sound after that. It was awful to have to rebuild his rack and amps in the middle of touring season, but luckily for me the guitars were safe.
In the second half of 2004, we began the ill-routed “never-home tour” in which the powers that be decided to book a year’s worth of shows in a six-month period: Los Angeles one night – fly all night – Richmond VA the next day. The Crook guitars were real soldiers despite being truly rode hard and rarely allowed to rest. They were in better shape than me most of the time!
The Mud on the Tires Video
After songs like “Celebrity” and “Whiskey Lullaby” made their way up and down the charts, it was decided that the title track, “Mud on the Tires,” would be the next single. Brad had been using the song to open most of the year’s shows, and it was going to get the promotion that it deserved. Brad decided on a performance video in which he would need a prop guitar to get muddy. After what happened last time, I was very much for the idea of a prop, as I had no desire to clean the mud out of a working guitar again. Bill was always testing out new paisley colors, so we were excited to see what he’d create. Brad gave him only 10 days. What showed up really got our attention.
Bill had made a light-blue, single-bound, paisley Esquire! He even installed a small metal arm on the neck plate to make the guitar hang as if it had Brad’s usual G-bender that connected to the strap. As a tease, Bill altered an old EMG pickup to have a triple blade (which nobody makes), and Brad thought it was hilarious and left it in for the video. Bill ended up fielding a ton of inquiries about the mystery pickup. The joke was on him.
The Esquire looked great in the video. The contrast was really striking with the dark mud against the light blue finish. The only problem with the guitar was that Brad fell in love with it. Since it was a fast-turnaround prop, Bill had used an old pine body lying around his shop and had applied a fast paint job. Brad really took to the lightweight pine and how much it resonated. Bill wanted to redo the finish to his high standards, but Brad said to leave it alone. After installing electronics, bridge, bender, etc., the result was Brad’s first Crook paisley Esquire and first pine body guitar from Bill. Years later, the guitar would end up on the cover of the 5th Gear album.
The record label decided that “Mud” was the last single to be released from the album, so it was time to hit the studio again. Brad had used a Danelectro “Tic-tac bass” for recording in the past, but he wanted a Crook baritone guitar version with a bender to take the sound in his own direction. This was Bill’s first baritone, and he was up for the challenge. Because it was based on a T-style, the beautiful candy-apple red and silver guitar ended up sounding much bigger than we all expected. It soon found its way into the “The World,” the first track recorded for the Time Well Wasted album.
Over the years, I truly enjoyed my time working with Brad and Bill, but all good things must come to an end. I decided I wanted to forsake the life of the road and settle down. I made my last round as Brad’s full-time guitar tech in 2005.
On May 1, 2010, I called my friend and more-than-worthy guitar tech successor, Chad Weaver, to see if he was staying dry in Nashville. He said he was headed over to Soundcheck to make sure all of Brad’s gear was okay. When he arrived, the building was covered in water. As the flood receded over the next few days, no one was allowed to enter the storage facility because the building was infested with snakes and other vermin that had risen along with the river water. When they finally opened the doors, Brad, Vince Gill and Keith Urban were allowed in first to inspect the carnage.
Soon afterward, I received a call from my old boss telling me that everything was gone. The call that was supposed to tell me when to show up to help out was instead a call to say that all was lost. Most of the guitars that were mainstays during my time had become victims of the Cumberland River. Brad described necks twisted like pretzels, Tele bodies split into four and five pieces, and amps and set pieces that were hopelessly destroyed. Even though it had been a couple of years since I had worked with them, it was hard to hear that those old friends were gone. I have fond memories of stringing, repairing, and playing those guitars.
One bright spot was that somehow the Crook maroon paisley had been left at Brad’s California home and was spared the fate of its brothers. With only a month before the first date of the horribly ironic H2O tour, Bill built four new guitars, came to Nashville to update a few older guitars (including Salsa), and repurposed an in-progress build that one of his customers gave up for Brad voluntarily.
Although I had certainly stayed in touch with everyone, I never thought that I would go back out on the road again, but a phone call came intervening the summer of 2011. In the middle of grilling hamburgers, I received a call from Brad asking me to come back for a week as his tech. Luckily, I was able to work out my schedule and hit the road again. Getting off the bus and opening up the road cases was like Christmas, as there was a whole new batch of Crook guitars to play with, including the bass boat blue sparkle “Water” guitar, the “Splash” guitar and a gold and black sparkle E-style paisley.
With reliving these adventures, I have become both very aware and very grateful for all the help that Bill Crook has given me over the past decade. I can readily admit that if it were not for his willingness to help me out of a million guitar-related jams, I would not have made it working as a guitar tech for Brad Paisley, or anyone else for that matter. I am also grateful to Brad Paisley for giving me a job, being patient while I had intensive on-the-job training, and introducing me to someone I am proud to say to this day is my friend, Bill Crook.
Zac Childs is a columnist and regular contributor to Vintage Guitar Magazine, and is currently the Director of Distributor Sales for Visual Sound. He is a 1996 graduate of Belmont University, and also studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, France. As a guitar tech, Zac worked with Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, and as a performer with Vince Gill, Buck Owens, Hank Thompson, Alison Krauss, and Chris Hillman. He is also a 2013 inductee into the Country Music Association of Texas Hall Of Fame.