Jamey Johnson bought his famous guitar “Ole Maple” shortly after he finished boot camp in the US Marine Corps at Parris Island (SC). Johnson said he walked into Bailey Brothers in Montgomery (AL) in 1995, and he said he played every guitar on the wall before making up his mind. Johnson’s guitar is famous among his fans, but what many of us didn’t know is what he did to get Willie Nelson to autograph it.
Johnson said the Epi was “unique”—it had a “deep V-shaped neck.” He said, “My thinking at the time was if I get good enough playing that guitar with that deep V neck, there won’t be another guitar out there that’ll give me much trouble.” Johnson said he thinks he spent about $500 on it.
Johnson doesn’t just play the Epi now, but it’s part and parcel of his legend in the making.
Johnson’s Epi is full of signatures from luminaries in music like George Jones, Merle Haggard, and Emmy Lou Harris. He started getting signatures in 1997. He said he took the guitar to a Willie Nelson concert in Alabama. He stood in line to begin what would become a tradition of signatures. Johnson recalled:
“I saw a bunch of people getting in line outside his [Nelson’s] bus. People were holding all kinds of things they wanted to get signed. I went to the car and got that guitar. I had Willie sign it on the side of it…up top where I could see it.”
Johnson tells the full story of “Ole Maple” in a video; he posted about it on his Facebook page.
One thing I noticed. Johnson carries Ole Maple in a hard case. On the Daysie circuit, I see a lot of soft cases. I’d suggest musicians follow Johnson’s practice and use a hard case to protect the instrument that helps you earn your living.
As for Johnson and Ole Maple, a guitarist can’t do much better than getting Willie’s signature on a spot where you can see it every time you play it. That’s inspiration, and maybe a good luck charm too.
(Kay B. Day/July 18, 2018)