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Gage Kelso Brewer (1904 in Gage, Oklahoma – 1985 in Wichita, Kansas) was an American musician, guitarist and bandleader. Brewer is credited with the first staging of a publicly promoted performance featuring the electric guitar, as well as the earliest recording using both the electric Hawaiian and electric Spanish guitar.
Brewer never recorded a commercially released record, published a hit song or performed at any length as part of a nationally famous musical organization. His only known recording is a direct-to-disk 78rpm record made in Denver, Colorado in the mid 1930s [collection of the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum]. The record is of the Marion Harris hit "A Good Man Is Hard To Find" and contains what may be the earliest recording of an electric Spanish and electric Hawaiian guitar.
Brewer maintained a career in music lasting over five decades. He notably acquired two pre-production electric guitars from what would eventually become known as the Rickenbacker Electro Instrument Company; a "standard" Spanish guitar and a Hawaiian "steel" guitar from his friend George Beauchamp late in the summer of 1932. Beauchamp, a talented guitarist himself, had long worked to develop a louder instrument, achieving marked success through the National resophonic guitar Company he helped form in 1927. On Oct. 15, 1931, George Beauchamp, Paul Barth and Adolph Rickenbacker formed the RO-PAT-IN Corporation, (elecktRO-PATent-INstruments or perhaps Rickenbacker Original-PATent-INstruments) and within a year, from Beauchamp's designs created the first successful electrically amplified guitar. Brewer was one of a very few orchestra leaders to use the guitar as his primary instrument so an amplified guitar was a dream come true.
Brewer played primarily in the Hawaiian style with the guitar, face up, across the lap, intonated with a bar rather than fretted by hand. When he was born in Gage, Oklahoma Territory, Hawaiian music featuring the guitar would gain important public exposure at the 1904 Saint Louis World’s Fair. This music inspired musicians across the continent and eventually worldwide. Its influence on the music of the mainland would be profound through the mid 20th century.
By the age of 14 Brewer was entertaining the people of Shattuck, Oklahoma, giving lessons and working in the town’s theater. In 1920 he traveled to California for the first of what would be many visits. There he studied with Victor Recording artist Sam P. Moore, who was a well-known artist of the Hawaiian Style Guitar. Moore was one of the earliest mainlanders to apply the Hawaiian Style of playing to more traditional American folk songs foreshadowing the instrument’s prominence in country music. While in California, [according to “Who’s Who in the World of Music – 1936”], Brewer also studied under Sol Hoʻopiʻi, Jack Miller, and D. S. Delano. Brewer’s formal musical education continued when he returned to the mid-west and attended Northwestern Oklahoma Teachers College in Alva. At about this time Brewer also worked Vaudeville, Lyceum and Chautauqua circuits.
By the mid-1920s Brewer had relocated to Wichita, Kansas, where he would establish his home base and work into the 1960s. From Wichita he began touring with his own orchestra and broadcasting on radio to further promote his work.
It’s not known exactly when Brewer first met George Beauchamp. The purchase of National Resophonic Guitars for both his orchestra and to sell to students likely led to Brewer’s patronage of Beauchamp’s new product, the electric guitar, made available through what would become the world’s first electric musical instrument company: Ro-Pat-In, later and more famously known as Rickenbacker.
In California during the summer of 1932, Brewer took possession of two of the earliest electric guitars made by Beauchamp. In Wichita he contacted the local newspaper about his marvelous acquisitions. The story ran in the October 2nd, 1932 edition of the Wichita Beacon announcing that the old guitar had been replaced with the new electric. The article states that Brewer was only the third person to play the amazing instrument (George Beauchamp, an accomplished guitarist himself, and Jack Miller, his friend presumably being the predecessors in research and development). The article went on to describe the new instrument, comparing it to the sound of a pipe organ or orthophonic speaker. A press release of the time promoted a series of Halloween themed concerts and promised that the new instrument was a “combination of natural personal technique and electrical perfection”.
- Lorene Ruymar, The Hawaiian Steel Guitar and its Great Hawaiian Musicians, 1996, Centerstream Publishing
- Who's Who Today in the Musical World, 1937, Authors International Publishing Company, Pg 38
- Bob Brozman, The History and Artistry of National Resonator Instruments, 1993, Centerstream Publishing Co., Pg. 36
- Lynn Wheelwright (July 2008). "Ro-Pat-In Electric Spanish, Vintage Guitar Magazine".
- Lorene Ruymar (1996). The Hawaiian Guitar and its Great Musicians. Centerstream Publishing. pp. 27, 75.
- Bob Brozman (1993). The History and Artistry of National Resonator Instruments. Centerstream Publishing. p. 36.