Well, it’s taken over a hundred years, but the world now has its first glimpse of the most famous, most-recorded, early American harp guitarist in history: Roy Hunter Butin.
Sadly, after all this time, there is still virtually nothing known about the man or his career – he is essentially known only by name (and sound) from the 16 cylinder and 78rpm recordings he appeared on as harp-guitar accompanimist.
But – we have at least identified his harp guitar! It’s the unusual short-sub Regal, not one I would have expected.
This gorgeous c.1909 publicity photo – along with a series of never-before seen candid images taken by Roy’s friends – can be seen in this month’s Player of the Month article. They come courtesy of Carol Stephens, whose great grandmother happened to be one of Roy’s good friends. Her name was Mary E. Bon (birth name) > Mary Thomas (1891-1893, while married to first husband George H. Thomas) > Mary Louise Michel (1907-on, after marrying John “Jack” Michel). She briefly danced in the Pony Ballet in the 1890’s (in which the girls dressed up as “ponies”).
In 1893, though still married to Thomas, Mary lived with a musician named H. Francis Gurnsey (her “common law husband”), taking the name Louise Gurnsey (this is where her later new middle name came from. Thomas eventually divorced her). Gurnsey played banjo, guitar and harp guitar in a trio in San Francisco, New York and Montreal in the 1890’s. Carol (who beautifully Photoshop-cleaned all these priceless images) also shared this photo of the trio. Gurnsey plays the well-known 1890s-1900s Lyon & Healy harp guitar.
Carol believes that it was through Gurnsey in New York music circles that her great grandmother became “pals” with Roy Butin. How extremely fortunate for us that she preserved and handed down several candid photos of Roy taken in New York in 1900. The c.1909 publicity still above is inscribed “From your old time pal – Roy.”
To thank Carol for donating these precious photos to the web site, I wanted to send her some of my CDs. It was then that we discovered that she lived literally up the street in the San Fernando Valley! Small world. She was also in contact with Butin’s first wife’s step-granddaughter, Chloe Perdew – who also happened to live only an hour away. In no time at all, we had the first impromptu meeting of the unofficial Roy Butin Family and Friends Fan Club (I actually just made that up).
What a wonderful way to find and share new information in the constantly surprising world of harp guitars!
See the special new Player of the Month feature, Roy Butin, Revealed at last!