Acknowledged as a major influence on more renowned guitarists such as Chet Atkins, Duane Eddy, Dick Dale and Jimmy Page, Joe Maphis was a successful session player and performer in his own right, often alongside wife Rose Lee. He died today in 1986.
Death of country guitarist Otis W. Maphis aka Joe Maphis at the age of 65 from lung cancer. Virginia-born Maphis was inspired by the playing and singing of The Carter Family and alternated between guitar, banjo, mandolin and fiddle, playing at local dances with his family’s group, The Railsplitters.
Mixing music with DJing and performing comedy routines on The Old Dominion Barn Dance radio show, Maphis switched to the electric guitar in 1947 and became a regular session player, marrying “Old Dominion….” singer Rose Lee and relocating to California in 1951.
The duo earned a recording deal with Columbia Records subsidiary Okeh and scored a hit in 1953 with “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music).” As his souped-up brand of country playing became more aligned with the emerging rock ‘n’ roll, Maphis saw record sales and interest in him increase – especially after he began performing with a specially-built Mosrite double-necked guitar.
Backing the likes of Ricky Nelson and Johnny Burnette, Joe’s own 1957 album, “Fire on The Strings” showcased that nimble yet powerful playing style, while the title track and others such as “Bully of The Town” and “Flying Fingers” laid down a template for the rock string benders that would follow. Meanwhile his guitar duetting on “Swingin’ Strings” with Larry Collins has been labelled as hugely influential – the track “Hurricane” almost proto-heavy metal.
A regular performer on the country circuit until his death in 1986, Joe is buried in Hendersonville, Tennessee in a plot adjacent to that of the Carter Family. A number of his distinctive guitars are preserved in Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame.
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And here’s some footage of Joe in action: