Allan Reuss - The Unsung Hero of Swing Rhythm Guitar

Allan Reuss is easily the unsung of Swing Rhythm Guitar. Allan was a student of George Van Eps, who was playing with Benny Goodman band at the time. Van Eps did not want go out on the road with the Goodman band, so he offered his student to Goodman. Allan stayed with the Goodman band until 1938, and so was part of one of the most amazing bands and rhythm sections in swing - the Goodman band w/ Krupa, Harry James, Vido Musso, Ziggy Elman, Jess Stacy, etc. Later, Reuss played in the bands of Jimmy Dorsey, Harry James, Jack Teagarden and many others.

While Freddie Green is always heralded as the greatest of rhythm guitar players, I think Reuss should get far more credit than he does now. Not only did he contribute his own playing, but Allan was responsible for teaching at least two of the other great rhythm guitarists - Steve Jordan and Freddie Green himself!

From Steve Jordan's autobiography, "Rhythm Man: 50 Years in Jazz," (1991):

Freddie Green told me that Allan Reuss straightened out his rhythm work when he was first working with Count Basie, shortly before I went to Allan for help when I was twenty years old and playing with the Bradley-McKinley band. It may surprise some people to know that Green played only three or four strings most of the time. Like me, Freddie followed Allan's rule to avoid use of the first string, the top E, because it is too twangy. Freddie preferred the deep sounds and no one played those deep sounds as well as Freddie did.

I'm guessing that, based on other exerpts from Steve Jordan and others, Allan was probably taking some of the information from Van Eps and distilling it. Still, the voicings Allan taught Green and Jordan and others are the ultimate template for swing rhythm guitar.

I've been looking some video clips of Reuss playing, and it's pretty hard to see him clearly, but here's a couple clips.

Benny Goodman - "Bugle Call Rag" (1936)

Check out Allan's mid-30's Epiphone with a white pickguard. You can see him picking over the "neck pickup" area of the guitar.

Benny Goodman - "I've Got a Heartful of Music / Avalon / House Hop"

It might worthwhile to go listen to the studio takes of "House Hop", just so you can be fully aware of just how tight and jumping that video is. The rhythm section in the movie was the classic combo of Gene Krupa, Harry Goodman, Jess Stacy and Allan. Funny thing was that although Krupa was a star, neither he nor Harry Goodman were particularly good timekeepers. It was Reuss who was the glue and really got things pumping. When somebody told Benny that they had not realized how important Reuss had been until he was gone, Goodman's said simply, "Neither did we."

But talking only about Reuss's amazing rhythm guitar playing is only half the story. Reuss was also a chord melody soloist par excellence, but that will have to wait for another post.