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 : GeneLeis.com
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