Local musician a ‘Burst Believer’

  • By Terry Hazlett
    For the Observer-Reporter
July 11, 2013
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Vic DaPra, left, and Howard Leese (Heart, Bad Company) with a Burst guitar. At left, Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen is pictured with his Burst guitar
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Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen with his Burst guitar

It’s not often that an author hosts a book-signing event in his own store. But that will be exactly the case when author, singer and musician Vic DaPra autographs his new book, “Burst Believers“ at his Guitar Gallery in North Strabane Township Saturday.

One suspects the “Believers” will gather en masse.

DaPra’s fourth book – a tribute to the Burst guitar – is on track to be his best-selling tome to date. During its first week of publication in late May, it entered the Amazon music book charts at No. 3.

With articles or quotes from 25 celebrity guitarists associated with the iconic Les Paul Burst, the book is as much a commentary on rock music as it is the famed guitar. Those who reminisce or offer comments on the guitar include Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Mick Ralphs (Bad Company), Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick), Kirk Hammett (Metallica), Brian Ray (Paul McCartney Band), Joe Bonamassa, Keith Nelson (Buckcherry), Howard Leese (Heart), Rick Derringer (The McCoys, Edgar Winter Band, Johnny Winter Band), Paul Stanley (Kiss), Bryan Adams, Steve Lukather (Toto), Billy Squier, Warren Haynes (Allman Brothers Band) and Don Felder (The Eagles).

The articles are accompanied by dozens of pictures of what has to be one of the most photogenic guitars ever produced. The original Bursts, manufactured from 1958 through 1960, are valued at $250,000 to $500,000.

Like many kids growing up in the 1960s, DaPra took his career path cue from the Beatles, Rolling Stones and other rockers of the era. “In the ’60s and ’70s, you either played sports or played in a band,” DaPra said, adding that, “The band thing was easier and attracted more girls.

“Seeing the Beatles made me want to play guitar, especially when I saw all those girls going crazy over them. I thought, ‘Yeah, this is what I want to do.’ The current generation that is growing up with this god-awful mess they call music is not as interested in guitar. I think Xbox gives them more pleasure.”

Once he began playing the guitar, DaPra developed a greater appreciation for those who play it, as well as for the instrument itself.

“My interest in collecting guitars came later when I found out my guitar heroes were using certain vintage Gibson Les Pauls,” DaPra said. “That started a search for guitars that continues through today.”

DaPra parlayed his interest in music and guitars into a decades-long career as vocalist and guitarist for Sugarcane, a band formed in 1973. It successfully adapted to various music genres if only because it was necessary. “People still want to dance,” DaPra explained, “and if your band is playing and people are not up and moving, you’re not going to work. That’s one aspect that’s never changed in the life of a club band.”

Sugarcane headlined at many past and present hotspots including the Breakaway Lounge and Holiday Inn in Washington and multiple venues in a four-state area. The band also released a single at the height of the disco era, “Shiver and Shake.”

In 1985, while continuing to perform, DaPra and Tim Matyas opened Guitar Gallery in North Strabane. “I needed a job and convinced Tim that this idea was going to be great,” DaPra laughed. “Actually, it has been great.”

It was years after he began collecting guitars that he thought about writing a book about them. It came with much hesitation.

DaPra explains, “Well, dropping out of college to pursue a music career wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve done. But I was getting a reputation in the early ’70s for my knowledge about vintage guitars and when I was featured in magazines and books, my reputation started paying off. I was actually buying, selling and dealing guitars with some of my guitar heroes. I think at that point, I thought I might want to write a book not only about guitars but also about the experience of collecting them.”

“Burst Believers” took more than 18 months to complete.

“I mean to tell you, I had no life for that period of time. I was on the computer at 3 a.m. every day working on the book,” DaPra said.

One may think it would be difficult for a Canonsburg musician to land a publishing deal, but DaPra, who wears Canonsburg on his sleeve despite his national reputation, says that wasn’t the case.

“I know getting a book deal isn’t the easiest thing to pull off, but, man, it fell right in my lap. It was actually very easy. I was approached by a friend in New York City who recommended me to his publisher to do a book on Bursts. It just took off from there.”

It’s one thing to admire the exquisite look of the Burst over the many pages of DaPra’s book. It’s quite another to begin collecting them.

“Both the popularity and the rarity determine a vintage guitar’s value,” Dapra says, “especially in the case of the Burst. Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page have all been associated with that particular guitar, which now stands on its own as extremely rare and desirable.”

All of which is more amazing in light of the fact that the Burst was far from a success when it was first produced as the company’s reluctant nod to teens who were becoming interested in playing the instrument.

While none of DaPra’s Guitar Gallery students may have the unbridled enthusiasm for rock music that was common in the ’60s and ’70s, the instructor nonetheless gives them a brief history of quitars – including the Burst – and prefers to teach his potential prodigy songs from that era, and not just for nostalgia’s sake.

“Today’s music is so electronic-generated that it would be more difficult to pull it off live – hence all the lip-syncing concerts that are out there these days,” DaPra said. “But the best songwriting was, in my opinion, from 1964 to 1974. After that, rock and roll was pretty much dead.”

Did DaPra ever wonder where he might be were it not for his interest in music and guitars?

“Well,” the author said after pondering the question for a moment, “I’d probably be asking, ‘Do you want fries with that?”

A book-signing event will be held at Guitar Gallery Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. “Burst Believers” is available at Amazon,com, Barnes & Noble and at the Guitar Gallery.



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