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Richard Johnston

Guitar, mandolin, and ukulele manufacturer. It was founded in Houston, Texas, in 1976 by Bill Collings (b 1948), who had moved from Ohio to Texas following a failed attempt at medical school. After building a few guitars and some banjos, Collings moved to Austin in 1979. His background as a machinist led him to emphasize precise jigs and fixtures even when he was working out of a small single-car garage. Demand for Collings guitars, specifically for updated versions of Martin and Gibson flat-top styles from the 1930s, prompted his move to a 1,000-square-foot shop in 1989. Two woodworkers were hired, including Bruce Van Wart, who is still in charge of wood selection and top voicing on the firm’s acoustic guitars. By this time, production had increased to a level that allowed sales to a few retailers.

In late 1991 the company relocated to a much larger facility on the outskirts of Austin, and the number of Collings guitar models, and employees, began to grow. Bill Collings was one of the first flat-top guitar builders to offer fully carved arch-top models as well. These deluxe jazz guitars were quickly accepted as the equals of those from premier American builders, and they sold for similar prices; but only a few were completed each year. Collings was also one of the first small, independent guitar companies to incorporate CNC (computer numerical control) carving machines for building both guitar parts and the precise tooling to aid in their assembly, which is still done by hand. One of the signature differences between the Collings models and the Gibson and Martin originals that inspired them is that Collings uses an unglued bolted mortise and tenon neck joint, rather than a traditional dovetail....

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Mark Tucker

(b Belzoni, MS, March 21, 1930; d Chicago, IL, April 24, 1970). American blues pianist and singer. He received instruction as a boy from such local pianists as Frank Spann (his stepfather), Friday Ford, and Little Brother Montgomery, and played piano in church. He worked with various blues bands, performing in bars and clubs in the area around Jackson, Mississippi, then served in the U.S. Army (1946–51). After settling in Chicago in 1951 he led his own group at the Tick Tock Lounge, then in 1953 began to play with Muddy Waters, remaining a key member of the band until the late 1960s. In later years he began singing more frequently, often leading his own groups or performing as a soloist; he appeared at the Newport and Monterey festivals on several occasions and also toured England and France. Spann’s strengths as a blues-band pianist were his aggressive, hard-driving keyboard style (influenced most strongly by Maceo Merriweather, whom he replaced in Muddy Waters’s band) and his highly refined ensemble skills....