10 Essential B-Bender Guitar Songs
Welcome back to "The Next Bend," a column dedicated to B-bending guitarists, guitars, gear, news, licks, songs and more.
For the uninitiated, a B-bender is a contraption (the perfect word for it) that lives in- or outside your guitar and allows you to pull—usually with some sort of arm, palm, shoulder or hip movement—your guitar's B string up a perfect whole step. So, a B note would suddenly become a C# (or a C, if you don't bend the string all the way).
Although this simple explanation might not convey the wonder of a B-bender (it sounds more like an exercise regimen), suffice it to say the contraption allows guitarists to create sounds that would be impossible otherwise. And it sounds cool as hell.
So, to kick things off, and perhaps to best demonstrate what B-benders are all about, we present this guide to 10 essential B-bender guitar songs.
Sure, we could've packed this list with songs with B-bender solos by Diamond Rio's Jimmy Olander, the Hellecasters' Will Ray or the Byrds' Clarence White. Instead, we've gone for a more well-rounded approach, attempting to include as many different guitarists as possible, not to mention a few super-accessible (even "classic") songs. We might've even thrown in a bonus song or two. Our math isn't too good.
Note that we couldn't resist including a triple dose of tunes featuring the late, great White, the pioneering guitarist from the Byrds, Kentucky Colonels and Muleskinner—the granddaddy (or perhaps the grand-uncle) of B-benders. White's flights of fancy with the Parsons/White StringBender—an ingenious B-string-pulling device invented and installed in White's 1954 Tele by fellow Byrd, multi-instrumentalist and machinist Gene Parsons—is legendary, or at least it should be.
We'll discuss the uncalled-for obscurity of B-bender artists in a future column. We'll also discuss all the guitarists named below, but in greater detail, plus Blackberry Smoke, not to mention gear, including production-model B-bender-equipped guitars by Fender, Gibson, Washburn and more, Hipshot B-benders, palm-benders, the B-Blender, the Rolling Bender, you name it. I love this stuff.
As you peruse the admittedly country-music-centric list below, remember that even Metallica's James Hetfield has used a B-bender from time to time. It's just a handy device. Enjoy the tunes below!
THE BYRDS, "You Ain't Going Nowhere"
Guitarist: Clarence White
Because the Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo version of this Bob Dylan tune highlights pedal steel guitar (courtesy of the great Lloyd Green), we suggest you check out a slightly later live rendition instead—like this one from a 1968 TV appearance. It puts the emphasis on White, his still-Nudie-sticker-free Fender Telecaster and his Parsons/White StringBender.
LED ZEPPELIN, "All of My Love" and/or "Ten Years Gone"
Guitarist: Jimmy Page
Even though "All of My Love" is probably Page's all-around best B-bender solo, I've also included a live video of "Ten Years Gone" from Led Zeppelin's 1979 Knebworth performance. It's noteworthy because it shows Page actually using the bender. This, by the way, is the same Telecaster Page is holding in the photo at the top of this story—and on the cover of the July 1986 Guitar World. Page continued to use his B-bender into the Eighties with the Firm.
THE EAGLES, "Peaceful Easy Feeling"
Guitarist: Bernie Leadon
As I was listening to this song while compiling my list, someone walked by my desk and said, "I always just assumed that was a pedal steel guitar." It is, in fact, Bernie Leadon on a B-bender-equipped Tele. The cameraman who shot this video was considerate enough to film Leadon's entire solo. It's interesting to note that Leadon is the official link between the Eagles and the Byrds. Before he joined the Eagles, Leadon played guitar with the Flying Burrito Brothers, which was founded by former Byrds Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons (and with former Byrd Michael Clarke on drums to boot). But I digress...
THE HELLECASTERS, "Sweet Dreams"
Guitarist: Will Ray
Please note that this video includes two songs; "Sweet Dreams," the song we care about for this story, starts at 4:58. The guitarist is Will Ray, who is using a Hipshot B-bender (Hipshot actually makes a Will Ray model B-bender). If you're not familiar with the Hellecasters, there's still time to change that. Both of these songs are available on The Return of the Hellecasters, a must-own album if you're a ... well, a guitar player who wants to hear what good playing sounds like.
THE BYRDS, "Buckaroo"
Guitarist: Clarence White
Feel free to argue, but if you had to choose one Byrds album that best demonstrates Clarence White's electric-guitar prowess, it'd be Live at the Fillmore—February 1969. The musicians on the album are Roger McGuinn on his 12-string Rickenbacker 360, Gene Parsons on drums, John York on bass and White on his B-Bender Tele. He never puts it down, so there's no escaping it. The most impressive guitar track on the album is the band's cover of Buck Owens' killer-catchy instrumental, "Buckaroo," which finally exists on YouTube. White rips open his bag of B-bender licks—and never closes it. Even his mistakes sound good, like the random open G string he hits at :32. Play this one good and loud, people.
MARTY STUART, "Hummingbyrd"
Guitarist: Marty Stuart
As White and Stuart fans know, Stuart is using White's original '54 Tele in this clip. He bought it from White's wife not long after White's death in 1973. More on that later. The song, as its title suggests, is an instrumental ode to the guitar's original owner ("Hummingbyrd" ... the Byrds ... Clarence White). "I always felt a little guilty about not having a recital piece for that guitar," Stuart told Guitar Player in 2010. "With 'Hummingbyrd,' I feel like I finally recorded a song that honors that guitar properly."
ALBERT LEE, "Sweet Little Lisa"
Guitarist: Albert Lee
Lee mostly uses the bender for accents in this tune. To read his thoughts on and history with B-benders, check out my interview with Lee from the July 2014 issue of Guitar World.
THE BYRDS, "Lover of the Bayou"
Guitarist: Clarence White
Here's White in more of a rock frame of mind, complete with lots o' fuzz. Again, sorry for the lack of video.
LINDA RONSTADT, "Silver Threads & Golden Needles"
Guitarist: Bob Warford
Here's part of a 1976 performance at Tennessee State Prison in Nashville. The band in the clip is Andrew Gold (guitar), Bob Warford (B-bender Tele), Buddy Emmons (pedal steel guitar), Kenny Edwards (bass) and Kenny Buttrey (drums). Warford was a friend of Clarence White, and his Tele has the "Clarence White configuration." Also, if there were a Clarence White School of B-Bender Guitar, Warford would be the dean. It's freaky to listen to "Easy Ride," a mid-Eighties track by Herb Pedersen (available on iTunes), because it sounds very much like White on guitar. It's actually the incredibly talented Warford, whose style is a bit more "sparse" than White's. Warford also can be heard on several mid-Eighties solo tracks by Chris Hillman. I've been meaning to interview Warford, and I will, I promise! I get distracted so easily.
LINDA RONSTADT, "Dark End of the Street"
Guitarist: Bob Warford
We're gonna stay in "Bob Warford mode" for one more song—Linda Ronstadt's cover of "Dark End of the Street," a late-Sixties soul number that works so well as a country tune (just ask the Flying Burrito Brothers). This is a master class on how to play B-bender, and it's possibly the best "slow" B-bender solo I've ever heard.
DIAMOND RIO, "The Ballad of Conley and Billy"
Guitarist: Jimmy Olander
All I can say is, I'll be writing more about Jimmy Olander in the future. He plays a B- and G-bender. I need to start doing that.
MICHAEL NESMITH, "Propinquity"
Guitarist: Al Perkins
This is a track from Michael Nesmith's Live at the Palais album, on which Al Perkins plays B-bender and pedal steel guitar. Like a lot of B-bender solos, this sounds a bit like a nod to Clarence White. And yes, that's Michael Nesmith as in the former Monkee. Perkins is another former member of the Flying Burrito Brothers.