Meet master guitarist Art Braendel

Monday, May 6, 2013 - 11:18

Listening to music inspires all of us. As I listened to musician Art Braendel play his acoustic guitar and sing in baritone “Touch of the Master’s Hand,” I could tell from the glimmer in his eyes and expressions on his face that it is a ballad he favors. To sum up the meaning behind the ballad is to say an instrument has little value until it is played by a master… someone who really loves the music they’re playing. It’s a sentiment shared by his parents, Eleanor and Art Braendel Sr., who more than 6o years ago started the Anchorage Little Symphony Orchestra that’s now the vibrant and professional Anchorage Orchestra. Growing up in The Braendel home meant piano and violin music lessons were an every day event.

“I never liked to practice because the music was classical,” Art said.

Things changed for Art right after the 1964 earthquake. At 15, he begged his mom for a guitar, an instrument he felt he wanted to master. Mrs. Braendel took her son to the House of Music store, where a Harmony brand guitar — cracked in the back from falling during the quake — was on sale for forty-two dollars.

“It was a junker of a guitar and we ended up getting it for twenty bucks,” Art said. After the purchase, Mrs. Braendel spoke her true feelings about the guitar. She told Art it was an accompaniment instrument one plays as people sing. Her big question to Art was, “Who will sing?”

“I said I would. It was my biggest dream to become the next Elvis Presley,” he said. He happily sang and played his guitar until his fingers literally bled.

During Art’s first year at Chugiak High School there was a school function called the “Stew and Fun Day.” There were four girls preparing to sing and perform for the event and they were looking for somebody to accompany them. Art heard them sing and he showed them how to sing stronger. The girls were so impressed by Art’s vocal quality they insisted he join them in the show. While Art sang and strummed his guitar, a rock and roll band in the audience took notice. After the show, one of the members of the band, Bill Heisler, asked Art if he would join their band. As soon as Art joined the band they gave him an electric guitar.

“We named our band, ‘The Affairs,’” Art said, “We all thought we’d get all the girls through our music just like Elvis did.”

The band rehearsed and played a lot for concerts from Palmer to Anchorage. They packed amps and drums in the back of Art’s Dad’s ‘59 Rambler many times, not getting home until 3 a.m.

“We were playing music and having a great time. Of course the girls liked it and that was good,” Art said playfully.

Art stopped playing with The Affairs once he started college in Fairbanks to study Engineering. In 1969 he bought a D35 Martin Acoustic Guitar.

“It’s still is one of the greatest guitars made,” Art said.

In 1970 Art joined the Army and had the guitar shipped down to him in Fort Lewis, Washington. He played with some other servicemen and cut a record in a recording studio. The song was called, “Meadow Creek” and was about growing up next to Meadow Creek in Eagle River.

After the Army, for ten years Art enjoyed performing in the Christian Band at Muldoon Baptist Church. During this time it wasn’t unusual for the “First Lady of Rockabilly,” Wanda Jackson, who often performed on the same bill as Elvis Presley, to fly up and perform at the church.

“She asked many times ‘Is Art’s guitar available?’” Art said, “I’d make sure every time I knew she was coming to have fresh strings on my guitar for her concert.”

Today, Art teaches guitar lessons at the Alaska Fine Arts Academy.

“I try to get my students to tell me what they want to play more than a milkshake or playing their x-box,” Art said. This is how this master get’s his student’s to play with a master’s touch.

Here are some fun apps to check out: Magic Guitar, Guitar Tuner, GuiTune Lite, PocketGuitar and Virtual Guitar.

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