Lenny Breau was born Leonard Harold Breau on August 5, 1941 in Auburn, Maine. His francophone parents were professional country and western musicians who started their son playing guitar at the age of eight. At twelve he started a small band with friends and by the age of fourteen he was the lead guitarist for his parents’ band, billed as Lone Pine Junior, playing Merle Travis and Chet Atkins instrumentals and occasionally singing. He made his first professional recordings in Westbrook, Maine at the age of 15 while working as a studio musician. Many of these recordings were released posthumously on Boy Wonder.
In 1957 the family moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba,, and their new touring band became the CKY Caravan. It was at one of these shows that he met sixteen year old Randy Bachman and they soon became friends, eventually Lenny began informally teaching the young guitarist. Two years later he left his parents after his father slapped him in the face for using jazz improvisations on stage. He then sought out local jazz musicians and met pianist Bob Erlendson, who began teaching him more of the foundations of jazz.
1962 saw Breau leaving for Toronto and soon created the jazz group Three with singer/actor Don Francks and bassist Eon Henstridge. They performed in Toronto, Ottawa, and New York City, their music was featured in the 1962 National Film Board documentary Toronto Jazz, recorded a live album at the Village Vanguard and appeared on the Jackie Gleason and Joey Bishop shows. Returning to Winnipeg he became a regular session guitarist recording for CBC Radio, CBC Television and contributed to CBC-TV’s Teenbeat, Music Hop, and his own Lenny Breau Show.
An ensuing friendship with Chet Atkins resulted in Lenny’s first two LP issues, Guitar Sounds from Lenny Breau and The Velvet Touch of Lenny Breau. Live! on RCA. Moving around over Canada and the United States he finally settled in Los Angeles, California in 1983. There he spent years performing, teaching, and writing for Guitar Player magazine. Unfortunately he had continual drug problems stemming from the mid-1960s, which he managed to get under control during the last years of his life. However, on August 12, 1984 his body was found in the swimming pool at his apartment complex in Los Angeles and the coroner reported that he had been strangled. Though his wife Jewel was the chief suspect but was never charged with murder and the case is still unsolved.
Several tributes were created in honor of his contributions to guitar playing and jazz. A documentary titled The Genius of Lenny Breau was produced in 1999 by his daughter Emily Hughes that included interviews with Chet Atkins, Ted Greene, Pat Metheny, George Benson, Leonard Cohen, and Bachman. In 2006 the book One Long Tune: The Life and Music of Lenny Breau written by Ron Forbes-Roberts was published by the University of North Texas Press. CBC Radio presented a documentary-soundscape on Lenny Breau entitled On the Trail of Lenny Breau in 2009.
More Posts: guitar