Bert Weedon dies at 91; guitarist and author of ‘Play in a Day’ book

Bert Weedon was a legendary British guitar player who influenced a generation of budding rock stars with his popular “Play in a Day” instructional book.

Eric Clapton, Brian May, Pete Townshend, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison are among those who received help in learning to play the guitar from Weedon’s book, which was first published in 1957 and has sold more than 2 million copies.

“I wouldn’t have felt the urge to press on without the tips and encouragement Bert’s book gives you,” Clapton once said. “I’ve never met a player of any consequence that doesn’t say the same thing.”

The death of Weedon at his home in Beaconsfield, England, on April 20 at 91, spurred a flurry of tributes from fellow musicians, including May, who expressed thanks to Weedon for “spreading the guitar and enthusiasm to all of us.”


“Dear Bert — we will miss him,” McCartney said in a statement. “From early childhood throughout our lives he wasBritain’sMr. Guitar. He seemed to be the first person we saw on television showing us how to play and he left a lasting impression on us. ... Like us, he loved the guitar and communicated that passion to many generations.”

Howard Kramer, curatorial director at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, said Weedon was “an institution.”

“He was to Great Britain what Mel Bay was to the United States,” Kramer told The Times this week, referring to the American guitar player who published instructional books for guitar and other instruments.

“Weedon’s method came out in the late ‘50s when rock ‘n’ roll was breaking,” Kramer said. “There was a whole new wave of guitar-playing wanna-bes, and Bert Weedon was the way you learned.”

Beginning with a section on learning how to hold the guitar, “Play in a Day” progressed to teaching basic chords and led conscientious novice players to playing songs such as “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

The book also included Weedon’s guitar-care tips and stressed the importance of regular practice: “Nature did not fashion our fingers for guitar-playing specifically, but nature has given us a mind to think with, will-power, patience and determination.”

Weedon was a well-known musician in Britain long before his book came out.

A versatile, classically trained guitarist, he had played with jazz artists Stephane Grappelli and George Shearing in the ‘40s and became a featured soloist on TV with the BBC Showband in the ‘50s.


He also provided accompaniment for visiting American singers such as Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Judy Garland andNat “King” Cole. And with the advent of rock ‘n’ roll, he was the go-to recording session guitarist for British artists such as Tommy Steele, Cliff Richard, Adam Faith and Billy Fury.

According to Oxford Music Online, Weedon was “the first Briton to incorporate into his style the innovations of American country and western, boogie-woogie and rock and roll guitarists.”

As a solo recording artist, Weedon had a number of singles on the British charts from 1959 to 1961, including “Guitar Boogie Shuffle,” “Nashville Boogie,” “Apache” and “Mr. Guitar.”

In 1976, Weedon’s compilation album of guitar solos, “22 Guitar Golden Greats,” reached No. 1 on the British album chart.


The son of a subway train driver who was an amateur singer, Weedon was born in London on May 10, 1920. He was 12 when he talked his father into buying him a used guitar.

Quickly realizing he needed help in mastering the instrument, he found a teacher — an elderly man named James Newell.

“It was the luckiest thing that ever happened to me,” Weedon told the London Daily Mail in 1995. “He asked me what sort of music I wanted to play and I said jazz. ‘I’m not teaching you that rubbish,’ he said, so I asked him rather bemusedly: ‘What are you going to teach me then?’ He picked up his guitar and played Chopin’s Prelude No. 7.

“To a kid from the East End it was amazing. I had never heard anything so beautiful in my life.”


Weedon, who began playing in dance bands in his teens, went on to play in the Ted Heath, Mantovani and Ronnie Aldrich orchestras in the ‘40s.

At the end of a recording session with the BBC Showband in 1956, an impressed Frank Sinatra complimented the band and then approached Weedon.

“He asked me if I’d like to go and play guitar in America,” Weedon recalled in the Daily Mail interview. “He was the greatest pop singer in the world, and I was immensely flattered. I thanked him very much, but I told him no. I said I’d rather be a bigger fish in a smaller pond.”

Weedon, who was voted Britain’s top guitarist in national popularity polls nine times, was appointed an officer of the Order of the British Empire for his services to music in 2001.


“The guitar has been my life; to play it, to study it, to write books on it and to get other people to play it,” he said in a 1997 interview with the London Independent. “I like to think that I’ve helped in some way to make the guitar the most popular instrument in the world.”

Weedon’s first marriage ended in divorce. Among his survivors are his wife, Maggie; and his sons, Geoffrey and Lionel.