Finding a cool 60s Fender Guitar in Custom Color is everyone’s dream, but talk about finding a true genuine Fender Custom Color from the 50s? That is real “unicorn” league, and an absolute treasure if you can find one. This is the case with this incredible Fender Stratocaster from 1958, in gorgeous factory original Black finish.
This is the story of an incredible “guitar find”, that started long ago, in the mid 50s, when the band “The Shades” was formed in Port Arthur, Texas, from a group of University students, with Johnny Preston as the lead singer, Everett “Johnny” Wilson as the rhythm guitar; Butch Crouch played lead, Dale Gothia, sax; Larry Barbin, bass; and Mike Akin, drums. They were pretty much a R&B band rather than a rock and roll group.
Everett “Johnny” Wilson and Butch Crouch bought two brand new Fender Stratocasters in 1958, one in sunburst and one in black color, as the band became a full time commitment and quite a successful act, that got the attention of a local disc jokey and songwriter, J.P. Richardson, known as the “Big Bopper”, and his manager, mr. Bill Hall, who came into a club the band was playing one night.
“We were playing six nights a week at about three or four different clubs,” Preston recalls. “On a particular Saturday night, I didn’t know that Bill Hall and J.P. Richardson — the Big Bopper — were in the audience. They had come to listen to us and didn’t tell anybody. I guess if we weren’t any good, they wouldn’t come back to see us. It was at the Twilight Club in Port Neches. That’s when we got acquainted and I started going up to the radio station.“
Richardson and Hall wanted to record Preston, but he was surprised by the song that they were keen on him cutting, a novelty Richardson had written called Running Bear that was cute and catchy but a far cry from the material Preston was singing with the Shades. Preston admits that he “didn’t much care for it, really, ” but he agreed to record the song, as well as My Heart Knows, a ballad co-written with Richardson. He explained to Colin Escott, “I went ahead and did it anyway, though, because I thought we could book the band for more money if we had a record out.“
Unfortunately, Richardson died on february 3rd, 1959, soon after Running Bear was cut, in the same tragic Iowa plane wreck that killed Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens (“the day the music died”), and it was unclear for a time whether the song would get released at all. It caught the ear of Mercury’s Art Talmadge, with whom Hall had a production-release agreement (that also involved Hall’s other Gulf Coast talents, like Benny Barnes, Jivin’ Gene and Rod Bernard). Mercury released Running Bear b/w My Heart Knows on Mercury single 71474 in the summer of 1959. It looked like only a minor hit, but broke widely in December of that year, hitting number one and remaining in the Top 40 for fourteen weeks.
Preston, who had begun touring with the Shades following the record’s release, was rather suddenly a star, and the record became a huge success in United States and United Kingdom too, where The Shades toured in 1960 in front of the Queen of England!
Everett “Johnny” Wilson played in “The Shades” professionally up until 1964, when he got married and stopped doing the musician’s life, putting his guitar and amplifier in storage.
Now fast forward to 2022, when Johnny’s widow and his son decided to sell his gear, and got in touch with John Shults, store owner of TrueVintageGuitar, from Birmingham Alabama. John travelled to Port Arthur, Texas, to meet with the family of the original owner, and was very surprised when he found a near mint 1960 “twin amp” in blonde tolex, a 1958 “Deluxe” in tweed and, of course, the incredible 1958 Fender Stratocaster in factory black.