photo: Budd Rude

 Gene Leis not only conceived of a guitar teaching system that taught many musicians how to approach the instrument with measured enthusiasm and respect, but he was a great guitarist and innovator in his own right, up there with Les Paul, Django Reinhardt and Chet Atkins. He owned his own 8 track recording studio where he recorded many LP records for his instruction system, and a few discs with just him playing beautiful melodies over strumming guitar accompaniment. A fixture in the South Bay of Los Angeles in the fifties, sixties and seventies, his classic white Volvo sported the vanity licence plate "DJANGO".

As a teacher in his stable of guitar instructors at the Manhattan Beach store in the early seventies, I considered Gene my mentor and payed attention to his admonishments. Such as: learn your chords, or you'll never be dangerous. Or this one: Play the melody and please the ladies. His charming salesmanship was legendary. A jazz player surrounded by young rockers and bluegrass players, he soaked up everything and enjoyed it all.

Those of us who knew Gene watched him host hundreds of after-work jam sessions and local concerts at places like Beachbum Burt's and Manhattan Cafe. He and his buddies could play all the Standards, in any key, at most any tempo. Gene himself was a chord maestro, and could play a different chord position for each quarter note on any song. We would challenge him, setting quick tempos, and he would humble us kids with perfectly executed rhythm playing.

Ten years after Gene's death, I'm surprised that nobody has a web site up honoring him, so here it is :

Our intentions are to gather photos, materials and music and make it all available to the world. We start with three CDs of tribute music: two by me (Brian Sisson) and one by Karl Grossman which are on the label Longfellow Records. We were both teachers at Gene Leis Guitars in the seventies. There's more on the way. If you have albums, handbills or photos you'd like to share with us, please call me at 310-937-8289

Stories from people who knew Gene Leis

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