OILDALE, Calif. (KGET) — An iconic venue for honky-tonk music now literally plays music itself. Some salvaged pieces of that historic venue, anyway.
Introducing: The Troutscaster guitar.
This is a story of reincarnation. A happy ending to the tragic loss of a longtime landmark.
Trout’s, or what’s left of it, is an iconic Oildale honky-tonk that the late Ralph Trout opened in 1945 at what had previously been a bar called Red’s. Ironically, another Red – songwriter and general cutup Red Simpson – became closely associated with Trout’s in his later years.
Trout’s closed almost a decade ago, the building was sold in 2018 – that’s about the time the famous sign went missing – and then it burned to the ground in April.
Red’s son David Simpson, a musician himself, salvaged some slightly toasted wooden siding from the saloon before it was all hauled away. And that’s really where our story starts.
David Simpson gave several pieces of that hallowed but age-challenged wood to Tony Brown, a luthier whose T and T Customs has created instruments using all sorts of castoff material, including the Pismo Beach pier and a piece of Merle Haggard’s famed boxcar childhood home. Brown set himself to the task of building a small number of six-strings modeled on the design of a Fender Telecaster. Knockoffs that would do ol’ Red proud.
Watch in full how to make a guitar with Tony Brown.
He set about the task of turning that scrap redwood into objects of redeemed glory. It was a painstaking effort but with the help of girlfriend Theresa Spanke, a musician who sang at Trout’s literally hundreds of times over 20 years, they took on the challenge. And they found some surprises.
“When I sanded down a little bit, I discovered the red paint underneath it,” Brown said. “So we sanded down, kind of left some of the patina look on it, and then we thought that was a really cool look, so we left it. We didn’t want to take it down to bare wood, because we wanted it to represent Trout’s, where it came from.
Eventually it was time for the hardware, some elements more visible than others. The frets, the pickup, the special varnish, the abalone inlay. Trial, error, trial, error. Two months later — viola!
Theresa Spanke – the other T in T and T, handled the graphics on the guitar.
“You know, I made a lot of music inside those walls, and now there’s going to be a lot of music made from those walls,” Spanke said.
And now you too can experience a little of Trout’s reincarnated – if you happen to attend a show featuring a player who owns one of the four or five in existence. And it so happens that’s easily achieved. The proud owner of this Troutscaster guitar is Ernie Lewis, one of the regular performers at Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace.
Check him out — you might just run into the couple that– in the best traditions of legendary Bakersfield guitar builders like Moserite – are keeping the legacy alive.
“First time I played this thing,” Lewis said.
And so, Trout’s lives on – in just the sort of places it deserves – on the stages of the Bakersfield Sound.
You can catch Ernie Lewis on his Troutscaster guitar this Friday and Saturday night at the Crystal Palace.