Rick Witkowski of Crack The Sky/BE Taylor Band talks about his favorite guitar

(My Favorite Guitar is a monthly feature in which The Times asks some of the region’s leading guitarists to share information about their favorite guitar.)

Music maestro Rick Witkowski returns to the Beaver Valley next month for a series of Christmas shows.

The long-time guitarist in BE Taylor’s band is a delight on stage, combining showmanship and remarkable skills that have put him in the spotlight in sold-out arenas and on stage at a 100,000-strong Central Park event.

Previous column:Brian Steff takes his turn on ‘My Favorite Guitar’

From his days with acclaimed prog-rock band Crack The Sky, who have a new album in the works, to providing Bruce Springsteen with extra guitar power in Pittsburgh, to co-writing a track with Beaver’s Vanessa Campagna Falls, used as the theme for the 2012 Academy Award-winning short film Innocent, Witkowski’s credentials are extensive. We’re talking about a guy who wowed audiences for both Frank Zappa and Pope John Paul II.

Witkowski, a native of Weirton, W.Va., proved to be an excellent choice for this month’s edition of My Favorite Guitar.

Here it goes:

Rick Witkowski, on his favorite guitar, wowing fans of all ages at a Holly Jolly Christmas concert at Hopewell High School.

My favorite guitar is…

Witkowski: I would have to say my Fender Strat − It’s a Frankenstrat, I like to call it. I bought it in 1972. It’s a 1957 body with a 1967 neck. And it doesn’t have all the original pickups. The deck pickup was a replacement. Since owning it, I’ve gone through several pickup configurations. It was definitely my most used guitar in ’72, and it ended up on a Crack The Sky record, for a solo on a song called “Hold On.” Until then, I was a Gibson Les Paul guy. I had a (Gibson) SG at first. Gibsons have always been my main guitar and then I had an experience – you know, Les Pauls are very heavy guitars – and I jumped off the stage at a Crack The Sky gig. It was a theater-in-the-round, with the floors near the stage made of concrete and sloping at an angle. And when I hit that and I had a Les Paul, I was like, “Oh man, I’ve done some serious backside.” The Les Pauls are considerably heavier and from that point on I went back to my Strats and really haven’t stopped playing that Strat since. It was probably 1980 when I made the switch. It became another appendage for me. It really feels so good.

Rocker Rick Witkowski with his favorite guitar.

This is always our second question: It’s my favorite guitar because…

Witkowski: It’s the feeling. The neck and just the way they feel in my hands. I like the way he answers me. They can dig into it, or they can play the real light. And I really like the tone. It’s just a marriage. This has been my favorite of all the BE Taylor shows I’ve done since. I haven’t completely given up playing Les Pauls. I had a black Les Paul that I would play with the BE Taylor and use it to blast. I would play drums on it. Then when I had to work it, it kind of disappeared. My roadie, I guess. Les Paul turned his nose up a bit. He had a drug problem at the time and claimed something happened to him (the Les Paul) at the store, but it kind of went away and so I was left with my Strat. That layer is very roadworthy. It takes a beating, but it keeps giving back. If I were to go to a desert island and take a guitar with me, that would be the guitar.

Rick Witkowski with his favorite guitar, a Fender Stratocaster.

Some of the most memorable places I’ve played my favorite guitar…

I’m going to play it with Bruce Springsteen and Joe Grushecky at the Soldiers & Sailors hall. All BE Taylor Christmas Shows. So many BE Taylor shows, I can’t even imagine. But then I ended up opening for The Pope with Kathy Troccoli. I have to play guitar there. It was Central Park in New York in 1995 for Pope John Paul II. So it’s pretty memorable. There were about 100,000 people there. It was only 15 minutes before they had Mass at 9am. From 7 to 9, at each end of the stage, they had a 15-minute play. They had choirs and shows from all over the place. Natalie Cole was one of the singers. And Crack The Sky opened for so many people like Journey and ELO. I got to open for Frank Zappa at the Erie Fieldhouse and the Capital Center in Washington, DC So I’d say it was memorable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *