There are many people who claim the title “inventor of the electric guitar,” but perhaps the one whose name has percolated the most on the local, national and international level is Leo Fender. Now his wife Phyllis Fender and Randall Bell, the son of one of his employees, are publishing a book to shed some light on the myths that chased the man throughout his life and beyond.
“Everybody who was aware of Leo thought of him as this silent man, who all he did was work,” Phyllis began, “which in a way was true, he was a workaholic, but when he married me, he became a husband, a stepfather, a grandfather, a son in law, an uncle … he was surrounded by people. And these people he just loved.”
Phyllis said Leo had never been around babies in his life before their partnership started in the late 1970s. “He was astounded at children, and we had such happy time. (During family gatherings) he was always talking and laughing, and I wanted the world to know that inside this silent giant, there was a man who appreciated family, dinners, playing and watching the kids swimming in the pool.”
Though the book “Leo Fender: The Quiet Giant Heard Around the World,” will be released Nov. 1, hardcover copies are available for pre-order at amzn.to/2pyi34i “I can hardly wait to see it on the market,” Phyllis told La Jolla Light.
Randall’s father worked for Fender, and he grew up close to the guitar creator’s work. “I grew up with all things Fender, my parents’ kitchen table was made by Stratocaster wood, and my dad introduced me to every person at the factory!” he said.
The making of the book happened at a pie shop near where Bell’s parents and the Fenders lived. “I would take out my smartphone and ask Mrs. Fender questions and she kept me fascinated with the answers … I did some research but that’s how the book came together,” he explained.
The plot is, essentially, about Leo, Phyllis said, “Every page has a piece of Leo on it.” Bell elaborated, “It starts with the day he was born, goes to the chronology of how he invented the electric guitar, and it ends with his passing away in the Fender home. There are stories that make you laugh hysterically, others make you cry … he was an interesting guy who never took himself very seriously.”
One of the key stories in Leo’s life is how he designed and built electric guitars that would eventually become the widely used Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster.
“At the time he thought about making guitars, he had a radio shop downtown where he repaired anything electrical,” Phyllis said. “This was during World War II when the communities around here had ‘war bond’ dances. Some people asked Leo to put something up with amplifiers so they could have a dance and set it up for the band, which he did. But one time, as he was finishing his work, he decided to sit by the band and listen to them. Watching the band, he observed some guitar players playing like crazy, but he couldn’t hear anything, he couldn’t hear them over the horns, drums and bass. That touched his heart and immediately, the next day, he got a piece of wood out and started designing what would eventually become the Stratocaster and Telecaster.”
Bell added, “There were the standard acoustic guitars people were trying to amplify, but it wasn’t working very well. Leo got the idea and put a pickup on a solid body guitar, when you think of guitars today, you think of the solid bodies … this was far more functional than trying to electrify the acoustic guitar.”
When asked what Leo might think about the new book, Phyllis replied, “He would be surprised and he would say ‘that’s not about me, none of this has ever been about me, it’s only been about the instruments.’ ”