Dick McDonough (1904 - 1938) like Charlie Christian and Eddie Lang died at an early age, but left an indelible mark on jazz guitar. Like many of his contemporaries he began playing the banjo at a young age and later switched to the guitar. While a student at Georgetown University he 'discovered' the six-string guitar and began a serious study of the instrument.
His earliest recorded work was probably on the banjo on Red Nichols' 1927, Feelin' No Pain. By 1931 Dick McDonough was a regular in The Tommy Dorsey Band and he can be heard playing the guitar on the 1931 Dorsey/Boswell recording of, When I Take My Baby to Tea. In 1933 he made a couple of recordings with Joe Venuti that have excellent examples of his guitar.
In 1934 McDonough teamed with Carl Kress to write and record the guitar duets Chicken A La Swing, Danzon and Stage Fright. It was on these full-length guitar recordings that McDonough got to demonstrate his very accomplished single string and choral playing. These three guitar duets more than any others established the duet form and have influenced guitarists ever since their publication. McDonough's introduction to Chicken A La Swing may be what influenced Howard Roberts' introduction to the 1967 Westminster Cathedral, on the Capitol recording Jaunty Jolly. It was in 1934 that McDonough also recorded his composition Chasin' A Buck.
Throughout the late 1930's Dick McDonough led his own orchestra and continued a heavy recording schedule as a studio musician. He and Carl Kress were acknowledged as the most in demand guitarists of their day. On the cover of the sheet music for Chicken a la Swing they are described as Radio's Outstanding Guitarists.
McDonough appeared on literally hundreds of recordings from this period. In 1937 he made the famous recording A Jam Session At Victor that included Honeysuckle Rose and The Blues. This recording was considered one of the finest examples of his guitar work. In the company of the best jazz musicians of the time, McDonough demonstrated the very best of his technique in an all out chorus in which he employed chordal melody, single string melody, double stops, bending strings, dissonant harmonies and syncopated rhythms.
Dick McDonough died in 1938 of pneumonia at the age of 34. And, although his career was cut very short, he left a legacy of important guitar work that advanced the instrument as both a solo and rhythm instrument.
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