Today we sing the praises of Eddie Lang (Salvatore Massaro, 1902-1933), known to some as “the Father of Jazz Guitar”.
Lang came from a musical family — his father made and sold string instruments. The fact that he was originally trained in classical violin explains much, as does the fact that his first jazz instrument was banjo. He possessed serious musical knowledge, as well as lots of experience with percussive “attack” in an effort to make an acoustic stringed instrument heard over a noisy horn section. He grew up with the influential jazz violinist Joe Venuti in Philly; the pair remained frequent musical partners ’til the end of Lang’s life. Lang played with the Mound City Blue Blowers, as well as the bands of Roger Wolf Kahn and Paul Whiteman. He worked with musicians and singers as diverse as Bing Crosby, Bessie Smith, Annette Hanshaw, Hoagy Carmichael, Red Nichols, Clarence Williams, and — truly unusual for the time — blues man Lonnie Johnson.
Lang was only 30 when he died on the operating table. Tragically he was only there for a simple tonsilectomy. If not for that early death, he’d probably enjoy greater recognition, as he would have been heard on records, radio and TV for several more decades.
To learn more about vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous