• C.J.

95th year of "Sambo"

I have previously written about a 1923 Gibson F-5 Master Model Mandolin that has been titled as The Missouri Loar or Sambo. One this day, back in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Lloyd Loar sat down at his workbench to inspect and sign 11 mandolins. The batch started with serial # 72050, so towards the end of the batch, that's where Sambo was (72058). Lloyd Loar never had planned that these mandolins would go on to be the standard of the mandolin world or would be acquired by the likes of Bluegrass mandolinists the world round. He had no clue that he was signing the mandolin that would be tied to Frank Wakefield (72051), which would be baked in an oven and refinished and no telling what else. Frank wasn't even a thought at that time.

It makes me wonder what was going through Loar's mind each day he sat down to sign labels for the next batch of Master Models. Was he looking at what could be improved upon? Was he happy with the finish work? Why did the colors of staining change so drastically from June 1922- December 1924? It would be amazing to me to be able to sit down with Lloyd Loar in that time and just observe his daily life in the Gibson Factory.

It snuck up on me today that it was the 95th anniversary of Lloyd Loar sitting down and signing serial # 72050-72060 to make this the February 8th mandolins. I was driving home from Lowe's when it hit me. I had talked to Jim (Sambo's caretaker) previously today and it never dawned on me during that entire conversation. I can guarantee that it hasn't crossed Jim's mind, as well. It may seem like an old mandolin to some, but that mandolin helped shaped my musical footing. It was a huge part of my childhood. That's the mandolin I learned a four finger chop on. That's the mandolin that was played on almost every Ozark Bluegrass Boys show from 1969 until now. Its on all the recordings. It's my first taste of that ancient tone with it's piercing highs and dry thumping mids and lows. It's the mandolin I base all other mandolins off of. So, that makes February 8th a special day in my book.

It's exciting to have a mandolin instrumental album coming out shortly. It features my instrumentals on My McClanahan mandolin and Jim Orchard's instrumentals on his mandolin, the Feb. 8, 1923 F-5. It has been a dream of mine to do such a thing and Dave Maggard at Sound Biscuit Productions helped me make my dreams come true. To bring these tunes to life was thrilling within itself. But, in May 2017, when Jim decided to pay me a visit in Sevier County, TN and let me record with Sambo, I felt something special. Not only did I feel honored and privileged by this gesture, but I felt like I had gained Jim's approval. A sense of satisfaction came over me when I realized that I had made my hero and mentor somewhat proud. Jim is like a grandfather to me and I can't explain how special it was to have him and the mandolin around for my recording of Ozark Mandolin.

Ozark Mandolin is Jim, as well as myself. The whole concept was to pay homage to him and mandolin I learned on. I directly relate The Ozark Mandolin Style to Jim Orchard, Don Brown, Chuck Stearman, Frank Ray, Dean Webb, and several others. Its not just a's a legacy. It's living history. My love for this history and style wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for Lloyd Loar signing a mandolin on this day, 95 years ago. Ozark Mandolin may have never been thought of. Jim may have never went on to develop his style of music if it wasn't for February 8, 1923.

So, The Missouri Loar, Sambo, #72058. It's not just a mandolin. It's a representation of my mentors, my history, my style, and my future. Without Jim Orchard letting me "drag the old mandolin around" festivals, I, honestly, don't think I'd be where I am today. Just as Jim says, "It's an old friend, and it's always been there for me. It's priceless to me." It's as much as a friend to me as Jim and it helped shape me, just as he did. For that, I am forever grateful. My heart is full today as I honor the 95th "Birthday" of Sambo.

Thank you, Lloyd Loar, for this batch of mandolins that influenced so many. Thank you, Jim Orchard, for the opportunities, mentorship, and encouragement. Thank you, Sambo, for helping shape me as a mandolin player. It's a mandolin that will work you hard and teach you something every time you pick it up. A true inspiration to me.

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