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January 09, 2022

Fred Vail Interview with NAMM Oral History Archives

   Throughout our history we have often had the unexpected pleasure of random meetings with famous artists and music industry contributors. While it may simply be a byproduct of the local music scene, we have met some of the most extraordinary story tellers the music world may never know.

   There is a plethora of Nashville music history that remains obscure, before Wikipedia and an internet. The NAMM Oral History Program was established at the recommendation of George Gruhn (Gruhn Guitars), an iconic contributor to Music City himself.

   Since the program's inception, they have captured some of Nashville's finest untold heroes on video. We have been making our contributions by arranging meetings with some of the famous folks we have met, at a place where they can be interviewed on film for posterity.

   I met Fred Vail as a friend of George, an annual visitor from the UK. George is a likeable cuss & avid music lover, who upon his first visit when offered a beverage asked, "What do you have?" - I said, "Tea". I think he winced at the prospect, until I said, "PG Tips", and that got his attention. Since then, George has been an annual visitor to our shop, until Covid forced him to cease his annual pilgrimage to Nashville.

   On his most recent visit back in 2018 George brought along a friend, Fred Vail. A gent with silver gray hair, he was soft spoken yet wielded a worldly command of language and music history. We had no idea who he was or how he was connected to our British friend. Fred and I got a chance to talk between customer visits and though not a guitar player it was easy to see he took a strong personal interest in our efforts.

   As a young man Fred was an extraordinary fan of music in the early 60's. He followed bands from all over California. He told me a tale from his youth, during his high school years in California. With his keen knowledge of local bands, he had drafted a popular playlist that was so impressive the local radio station welcomed his weekend contributions and eventually signed him on as a Saturday teenage disc jockey.

   Fred was destined to become a music producer, with a keen ear for talent.

   When Fred and George were saying farewell, Fred reached into his wallet and pulled out a ticket stub from the Beach Boys concert, dated December 1st, hosted at the Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento, billed as a Fred Vail production. It was 1963 and the assassination of John Kennedy happened a month earlier.

   The ticket price was $2.25 "at the door". I handed it back to Fred. He said, "Keep it, it's yours". I was astonished. I accepted his gift graciously, and asked him to sign the back of it as a keepsake.

   Here is the set list from the concert:

  1. Surf Jam

  2. Surfin' Safari

  3. Hawaii

  4. Surfer Girl

  5. Long Tall Texan

  6. Del-Tone Rock

  7. In My Room

  8. Monster Mash

  9. Be My Baby

  10. 409

  11. Merry Christmas, Baby

  12. A Young Man Is Gone

  13. Drip Drop

   If you are a fan of the surf tunes from the 60's, you may want to checkout the Beach Boys busy tour schedule, 1961 through 1963. Reading worthwhile, from "Becoming the Beach Boys".

   One of many stories and treasures through the years... More to come. Stay tuned!

   Listen to Fred Vail's interview, courtesy of the NAMM Oral History Archives.