A young Lenny Breau (myspace).
Lenny Breau was born in Auburn, Maine, but at the age of 15 moved with his mother Betty Cody and father Hal Lone Pine Breau to Winnipeg. The three became the house band on a country and western music show called CKY Caravan on CKY Radio. Lenny was often featured as a soloist and became known as Hal Lone Pine Jr..
Early on, he showed a prodigious talent on the guitar and developed quickly as a musician. His early influences were Chet Atkins and Merle Travis and it was that style of finger picking that became his trademark as he adapted it to jazz.
Many stories have been written about Breau, and while some are exaggerations, others are based on reality. For instance, the first time he met Chet Atkins, the famous guitarist and producer asked him how he did the things he did on guitar. Breau had the ability to play a chord, a melody and a bass line, all at the same time. It was an extraordinary musical feat. Breau answered that all he did was listen to Chet Atkins' records and figure out the parts. In amazement, Atkins told Breau that he had made those records by multi-tracking his parts. In other words, Atkins had taped each guitar part -- the ones Breau was playing together -- separately.
Breau's love for jazz was insatiable and he absorbed the genre in leaps and bounds. Winnipeg pianist Bob Erlendson taught him the basics of jazz, helping him identify chords, proper scales and the theory he needed to improvise freely.
In the early 1960s, Breau moved for a period of time to Toronto, where he worked with singer Don Francks. He also recorded a number of demo tracks with soon-to-be-famous bassist Rick Danko and drummer Levon Helm, two musicians who went on to play behind Rockin' Ronnie Hawkins and later form The Band. Those tracks were released in 2003 as The Hallmark Sessions.
Playing and practicing consumed Breau's life, and he was at his best when he had friends and supporters around him to take care of the everyday things in his life. Even before his mysterious death in 1984 (his body was found in his apartment complex's swimming pool), musicians everywhere were aware of him, and he was -- and continues to be -- internationally known as a guitarist's guitarist. Unfortunately, despite his remarkable skills, Breau never achieved popular acclaim.
In 1999, a feature documentary about Lenny Breau, The Genius of Lenny Breau, was released. Here's an excerpt.
Lenny Breau's discography is extensive, but here are three must-have albums for any collection:
The Velvet Touch of Lenny Breau - Live! (1969).
Five O'Clock Bells (1979).
Live at Bourbon Street (1995), Lenny Breau with Dave Young.