That “Crazy Little Thing Called…” Red Special – Guitar Club Magazine


Guitar Club Jan 2016 front cover
January 2016

Brian May - Red Special

January 2016 by Barbara Caserta


A passionate and exciting history that the Red Special Brian May.

The story of a six-string homemade duet with components of luck: intellectual work of a father, humble engineer, very patient man, and above all, passionate about modelling, and a little boy full of enthusiasm, determination and big dreams …

It was 1963 when Brian May (only 16 years) and his father Harold May built the Old Lady colour Fire Red. A guitar from the extraordinary life, become a real cult. A guitar with a scripted destiny: to become the primary vehicle of the talent of a young musician ready to conquer the world.

A story that has always goes hand in hand with that of Brian May – before, after and during the era of Queen – the band that Doc [in 2007, at age 60 played, Brian received his PhD in Astrophysics!] he founded with the unforgettable Freddie Mercury and that, after 45 years, remains one of the most popular rock band in the world, boasting a staggering 300 million records sold.

A story in the pages of the book The Red Special Brian May – written by Brian May with Simon Bradley (is he who manage the site for years – on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his coming to the world rock, reveals every detail deeper, from the soul to the body. Practically the Genesis of the lady who is the focus sound in the Gospel of Queen!

This book is now also published in Italian by Edizioni Tsunami, with the precious translation of Raffaella Rolla, one of the leading experts on Queen in Italy, as well as a great friend of Brian for years.

The first and only prototype – the original – still the favourite version of the same, but – to the production line BMG (Brian May Guitars), the book lets you discover everything and more about the Red Special.

A story that has almost fairytale feel when you consider that one guitar, one of a kind, was built over a table in oak and mahogany from the lintel of a 100 year old fireplace, then finished and equipped with ‘equivalent of only £8, at the time, were worth much more than the current British currency, but were certainly not enough to buy a good guitar, as recalled in this exclusive interview for Guitar Club an emotional Brian May, a musician with strong personalities and undeniable talent, a man of rare sensitivity and class …

BRIAN MAY: “A handful of small change, but certainly the best 8 pounds invested in my life! My lucky charm and the most expensive object in the world that I have: my Red Special, very closely connected to the great affection I have for my father Harold, and my career with Queen. Practically, the symbol of love and a life full, up and down from the stage …

“Excellent report … and very flattering, thank you so much … I am very proud of this guitar that I built in my father’s side; she practically lives in symbiosis with me and brings all the wonderful memories that I keep with affection related to her. This book is a kind of diary of his history and therefore of my life … of our adventure together! Retrace and relive the birth of this guitar, unique in its kind, it was very exciting for me … she is my whole life and career of one of the foundations of the Queen …”

Through the chapters of the book in question is scanned also the story of Brian May not only on an artistic level …

“This book is for me a very high human and loving value. Do you think the idea of writing a book on the Red Special is coming to my guitar tech, Pete Malandrone, who insisted that I did, considering the fact that I had already written books … about astronomy, however, a ‘ My other great passion. He insisted until he convinced me. Pete knew Simon Bradley (journalist rock fan who wrote the book with me and now manages the site entirely dedicated to the Red Special) and so the project has gradually taken shape and, [I] must say, mainly thanks to their dedication.

“They even created the original laboratory where my father and I have built the guitar. We filmed a long interview in that room and for me it was very touching to relive all those emotions and my story; plunge back into the world of that time, in a project so interesting that, in the end, goes far beyond the guitar itself. They also tried and assembled the pictures to be published and, from my long interview, the text section of the book. The bulk of the work my team did for me, in practice, it was easier to write the book. A huge thank you to Pete and Simon should therefore first and foremost!”

Required reading for fans of guitars and some instrument music and, above all, not accessible only to lovers of Queen …

It’s a book for all fans of music and instruments, without distinction. The music creates an unbreakable bond with the life of each of us, is like a big problem … It is surprising how sometimes a hint of notes is enough to provoke a chain reaction of emotions, those that give color and meaning to our lives . This book is also about this …

During your career you occasionally happened to play with other guitars, but basic, you remained faithful to your Red Special: yours is one of those ties by mortenon-until-you-asunder … Have you ever been tempted to experiment with sounds several or even to deepen the knowledge of other solid body?

“I tried different guitars during my career, but in all honesty none measure up to my Red Special, at least for me. With this guitar I can do unique things, because it is a kind of natural extension of my fingers and my personality. Use another guitar for me would be like trying to try to speak with the voice of someone else, perhaps intriguing, but ultimately impossible!”

This book is a statement of intent, it is the proof that, after the talent, a career is built only with great patience and passion: an attitude and a spirit that does not seem to belong to the vast majority of young artists of today …

“Interesting, yes … You see, history has shown that every era has given us great artists; music is life, will never die, there will always be those who will renew the passion and will find happiness in making music, but we must not forget that nowadays young artists find themselves under pressure because of the fashion of the talent shows that often reduce everything to competition and instant commercial success. It is a pity that music today is dominated by this spontaneous culture, homologation is equivalent to stripping its free expression and its very nature. But I am an optimistic optimist, I’m convinced that music will always survive, at all costs and in every condition. There will always be those who will go against the current by giving new vital lymph to the world of music.

You’ve chosen to play around the world with your precious original Red Special instead of preserving it as a safe relic … a bold choice, being an unrepeatable guitar!  Have they ever tried to bully her?

We were about to leave for the first Queen’s tour in America when a dear friend told me that bringing the Red Special around would be a big risk. How could I not bring it with me? I can not go upstairs without that guitar, it’s part of me, of my body! Dangerous or not, it’s a risk I have to run, constantly. Since then, the Red Special has traveled around the world dozens of times and is still healthy and saves … here beside me, thanks to God! 

Is it true that you always travel by your side, even by plane, and that you do not even lose sight of it when you sleep?

If you let me know, you’d find out all the secrets! [laughs] I was no doubt very lucky, but it is also well protected. In all cases, it has to be said that for me it is precious on an affective level but it does not have a real market value. And then I’ll track it down right away! 

The Red Special of BMG (Brian May Guitars), as well as previous Guild’s signature editions, faithfully reproduce the original?

Reproduction is never an exact science, it is impossible. Just as there will never be two deeply identical human beings, even guitars will never twin up to the marrow. However, they are quite faithful guitars and, over the years, have refined the various features to make them closer and closer to the original. I’ve always worked closely with those who have produced my guitar line, and in the end I decided to deal with them first and foremost, because for me it is also a matter of personal pride, given the uniqueness of the Red Special. Last but not least, the BMG guitars have a price that is far from being prohibitive despite the high quality proposed and it makes me extremely happy to even just read positive comments about how they play and how they are built.

By giving a romantic twist to the question, you say that after reading this book, can you build a Red Special for yourself?

Actually, many have tried it over the years, even before the publication of the book! You have no idea how many times I have gnawed eyes in front of those devoted fans who introduced me to their guitars like my impressively. Some of them had put us years to realize them … well, it’s a huge joy to me as well.

Your dad never regretted helping you to build the Red Special, having actually escorted you to the unknown of a career that was all a bet and more with your graduation degree in the drawer?

My dad was furious with my choice. He saw music as an adorable hobby and did not understand how I could abandon a solid scientist career to chase the dream of becoming a popstar. It was hard to go to love and to agree at that time … No, I do not think she ever regretted having built that guitar: he was saddened that I had decided to bypass my studies. We never broke it all, but it gave me a lot of twists and turns, and there were long times when we addressed the word barely. One day I took courage and offered him an air ticket to meet me in New York on the occasion of the first time as Queen, we played at Madison Square Garden. He came with my mother, my wife and my son Jimmy, then still in the bands. It was November 1978: it was a memorable concert. After the show my dad – who was a fashionable man, very reserved and very formal – shaking my hand said to me: “Brian, now I understand!” That was a new beginning for us and there I realized that my dad is always He was proud of me. It’s no coincidence, as the book testifies, as I was busy to conquer the world, he was collecting everything about the Queen: articles, photos, and more. And then he kept the original guitar projects. I am also one who holds everything, a vice that I, of course, took from him! 

Yours is a career that so many, including some illustrious colleagues, can only dream … But it tends to think that life is easier, even in adversity, when you are rich, famous and with the fantastic outline that comes to it: in the light Of all this, what is the lesson that success has taught you?

Very deep question … Success does not make life easier and fame is a very different status from the perception that it has the collective imagination. Success is a strange beast, but I think I have somehow succeeded in tampering with it and eventually combining something good. Success projects you in a parallel dimension when you work, but I also fight with my insecurities every day, with a sense of inadequacy, often asking myself if I have given the maximum or not. Fortunately, success does not affect your pure feelings, real values. Life is a swing of joys, sorrows, problematic relationships, with all the difficulties of everyday life: success does not make any discounts in this regard. When I wake up in the morning, in the mirror I do not see the image of success … maybe I should, but I do not live it like this: life itself is a mysterious journey that you never know what surprises you can hold around the corner, good and bad … you just have to deal with them. The important thing is to be able to do it high up.

You will be back in Italy next February 2016, accompanying you to the fabulous voice of Kerry Ellis (the famous actress who also made part of the Queen’s Musical We Will Rock You) with One Voice, The Tour: you can anticipate something to invite are our readers coming to see you?

It will be a special tour, as special was the decision to propose a good number of shows in Italy to respond to the great demand of the Italian audience following our appearance in Sanremo and Arena of Verona. There is a great deal of excitement and I am excited about this new challenge: we are preparing new songs inspired by the great public response. I can tell you that we will bring with us many candles, because the intent is to create an intimate atmosphere and interact completely with the public …

It will be your first tour after the terrorist attacks in Paris: will you stage the stage with a different spirit and mood after what happened in Le Bataclan?

I followed the news carefully and deep sadness. What has happened is horrible, but blind and senseless violence has always been in the nature of man, as the history of the world teaches and none of us is without sin … This situation was created by all the nations of the world, hate generates only hatred. Finding a global solution seems impossible, we just have to look ahead and live in the day, in the respect and in the compassion of those next to us … I speak of human brothers as animals, looking for you, me, all of us, in our little one do our best to fight hatred with love. Only then can we lead a decent existence and have a better world to live in. The show has to continue, but we try to change the rules of the game as much as life is not a game!

To conclude, what could be the perfect soundtrack to accompany the reading of the book on the Red Special?

Uhmmm … I would say the soundtrack of the movie The Gladiator; or all the album A Night At The Queen’s Opera, or even the first album of the same name as Queen, as well as Anthems, the album I recently produced for Kerry Ellis … and then well, I can not miss my Brighton Rock! In all cases, good reading and good listening to everyone!