Kalamazoo Gals: A Story of Extraordinary Women & Gibson's "Banner" Guitars of WWII
With a Foreword by Jonathan Kellerman, New York Times bestselling author
It's an intriguing image. A large group of women sitting for their photograph in front of the Gibson Guitar factory in the mid-1940s. Company lore had it that Gibson has ceased guitar production during World War II, with only "seasoned craftsmen" too old for war doing repairs and completing the few instruments already in progress. What were these women doing there?
The photograph eventually bedeviled John Thomas that he eventually set out to find at least one of them. Along the way he would discover that despite denials that persisted into the 1990s, Gibson employed a nearly all-female workforce to build thousands of wartime guitars, each marked with a small golden "banner" displaying the slogan "Only a Gibson is Good Enough." The banner appeared on the guitars at the moment that these women entered the factory in January 1942 and disappeared when the war ended in late 1945.
During his personal quest Thomas tracks Orville Gibson from his birth in upstate NewYork to the founding of his namesake company in Michigan, and finally to his untimely death in a mental hospital. He takes us to meet these women in Kalamazoo and to time travel with them through the Great Depression and into World War II. He wanders the hallways of the abandoned Gibson factory in search of its founder, Orville Gibson, visits an imaging clinic to seek radiographic evidence of sublime quality of the Gals' craft, and follows the "Banner" Gibsons from Kalamazoo into
the hands of their first owners. Along the way he leads us straight into the hearts of the Kalamazoo Gals.
An excerpt from Jonathan Kellerman's foreword:
"When it comes to music, the human factor is all. Yet so many books on musical instruments obsess on the fine points of construction while neglecting the talented people who began the process: transforming planks and slabs and slivers into masterpieces of sonic beauty. That's understandable; many players and collectors live and breathe trivia. But it's an approach that misses the point. In 'Kalamazoo Gals,' John Thomas has chosen to rise above that, fleshing out the most human of stories without neglecting the techno-stats that guitar geeks crave."
Format: 6" x 9" perfect-bound paperback with hinge crease, and 20 coated pages; printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper.
Pages/illustrations: 288, including 158 images of Kalamazoo Gals, guitars, and vintage material
ISBN 13: 978-0-9830827-8-1
The BBC broadcast an hour-long radio documentary (narrated by Suzi Quatro) on this book; NPR, Voice of America, NBC Nightly News, and others have run in-depth stories on it; Swedish Public Radio featured it in a series on women in history that has been incorporated into the history curriculum of Swedish public schools, and on January 23, 2016 the Kalamazoo Valley Museum opened a six-month run of a Kalamazoo Gals exhibit.
"True life adventures in the land of the "Bannerheads." John Thomas sets out to find everything there is to know about Gibson's famed wartime guitars, and he ends up with a fascinating cross-section of America's social history. Not just for guitar lovers." - Walter Carter, author of Gibson Guitars: 100 Years of an American Icon
"[R]ecommended reading for a range of collections, from women's history and music to World War II and American history. ...[A] powerful saga that is packed with historical links and rare glimpses of a guitar maker and a war, and a group of women whose jobs changed lives." - Midwest Book Review/California Bookwatch
"John Thomas' personal quest to find the lost Kalamazoo gals is endearingly told in Kalamazoo Gals: A story of Extraordinary Women & Gibson's 'Banner' Guitars of WWII. This is not just one story but many; finally giving these women their voice, to talk about the guitars they made for a manufacturer that denied they ever existed." - Feminist Times
"[A]n enchanting story of brittle and eccentric company founder Orville Gibson, these very special guitars and the testimonies of the surviving Kalamazoo Gals." - Mojo Magazine
"[A] warm and engaging book that reconstructs the lost story of how [the Kalamazoo Gals] built some of the greatest flat-top acoustic guitars ever manufactured - and then, after the war, stepped quietly back into domestic home life. ...Thomas has written a book that communicates on many different levels; as a work of social history, this has a far broader appeal than just guitar lovers." - Songlines Magazine
"I've always believed that behind every great guitar is a great story. The so-called Banner Era Gibsons made in Kalamazoo around World War II are among the greatest flattop acoustic guitars ever made, and the story behind them--and the women who built them--might be even better. John Thomas has given the guitar world a gift by telling this great, and largely unknown tale." - Allen St. John, author of Clapton's Guitar: Watching Wayne Henderson Build the Perfect Instrument.
Kalamazoo Gals reveals the fascinating and previously untold story of Gibson s guitar production during World War II when wartime rationing, governmental regulation of manufacturing and lack of draft age men in the workforce dramatically altered life in America. John Thomas chronicles the stories of the women who took over the workforce, producing superb instruments in spite of no previous manufacturing experience, and later stepped back into domestic home life when the men returned home from the war. These Kalamazoo Gals are finally receiving the recognition they richly deserve. - George Gruhn, author of Gruhn s Guide to Vintage Guitars, proprietor of Gruhn's Guitars in Nashville, and recognized expert on vintage stringed instruments
Kalamazoo Gals is that rare combination of history and detective story that unveils something new and fascinating at every turn. John Thomas has written a book that will excite fans of the guitar as well as armchair historians. There are very few books that weave the history of the guitar into the history of America as engagingly. - HP Newquist, founder of The National GUITAR Museum and author of The Way They Play
About the Author
John Thomas is a law professor, freelance writer and guitar player who claims that he "is still striving for mediocrity." His articles address topics from music and musical instruments to health policy, politics, autism and juvenile justice. His writings have appeared in law reviews, medical journals, major newspapers, a wide variety of music magazines, and the Oxford Dictionary of Music.
John's X-ray project that demonstrated why Banner Gibsons are such stellar instruments evolved into an art exhibit that documents every significant American guitar over the past two centuries: Vintage Steel: The Art and History of the American Steel String Guitar. While waiting for the show to visit a nearby gallery or museum, you can view the exhibit online at its website:
For a dose of that mediocre guitar playing and to check out John's other projects visit:
This product was added to our catalog on Friday 01 February, 2013.