Skip to main content

Howard Roberts lectures at the University of Connecticut

 Digital Record


  • 1983 - 1984


Guitarist Howard Roberts delivered 2 lectures. He spoke on 1/25/1983 (2015-0002/RR261) and 4/3/1984 (2015-0002/RR321). A guitarist who was active in Los Angeles for over 40 years, Roberts studied music privately and received some formally instruction under music theorist Joseph Schillinger. Between 1950 and the 1970s, Roberts had appeared on thousands of jazz, rock, and pop records, establishing himself as a versatile studio guitarist. Roberts also frequently performed live music with his own band and with various other bands, most notably Thelonious Monk.

In the early 1970s, Roberts began to focus on teaching, writing (a monthly columnist for the Guitar Player magazine until 1989), and giving seminars. In 1976, he co-founded the Guitar Institute of Technology (later the Musicians’ Institute) in Hollywood. During the 1980s, Roberts became interested in 20th-century classical music and composition techniques, and his interest is reflected in his sophisticated approach to bop and fusion. His recording, Mr. Roberts Plays Guitar, showcases his advanced playing of these genres using modern compositional techniques.

Biographical / Historical

Howard Mancel Roberts was an American jazz guitarist, educator, and session musician.

Roberts was born in Phoenix, Arizona on October 2, 1929, and began playing guitar at the age of 8 - a Gibson manufactured $18 Kalamazoo student model acoustic given to him by his parents at Christmas. He took lessons from Horace Hatchett and by the time he was 15 he was playing professionally locally, predominantly blues based music, where he learned from a number of black musicians, trumpeter Art Farmer being among that group. At the time Roberts and his close friend and roommate, guitarist Howard Heitmeyer, would start their day by practicing 3 or 4 hours, catch an afternoon movie, returning to practice until they went to the clubs in the evening.

When Roberts reached the age of 17 he was involved with a class that was begun by Joseph Schillinger, a composer/theorist. Fabian Andre had been commissioned to teach the class. Some of the students who had taken the class included George Gershwin, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Oscar Levant. Schillinger applied mathematical principles to art which appealed to Roberts. To be able to take the course he made a deal with Andre; he'd sweep the floors after class to help defray the cost of his tuition. By the late ‘40s Roberts was playing with one of his boyhood friends, Pete Jolly - a well known jazz pianist - and they toured Washington and Idaho in early 1950.

In 1950, he moved to Los Angeles, California, arriving with no place to live and carrying only his guitar and amp. Roberts concentrated on the ‘after hours’ scene, jamming with such players as Sonny Stitt, Dexter Gordon and Buddy DeFranco. After hearing him play one night, Roberts met Barney Kessel which began an important and lasting friendship. It was Kessel who introduced the young Roberts to guitarist Jack Marshall who eventually signed him to Capitol Records in 1963.

With the assistance of Marshall, he began working with musicians, arrangers and songwriters including Neal Hefti, Henry Mancini, Bobby Troup, Chico Hamilton, George Van Eps, and Kessel. Coincidentally, Roberts’ first gig was on The Al Pierce Show, a radio program which, as a 10 year old, Roberts had told his mom he'd be on someday. It was his first paying job since moving to LA, making $550 a week. It was around this time that he started teaching guitar at Westlake College.

1952 was the year Roberts played on his first record date, Jam Session No. 10 with Gerry Mulligan and Jimmy Rowles. He recorded with the Wardell Gray Quintet on the album Live at the Haig. 1953 saw him record a Troup album for Capitol Records. Following in 1955, Roberts played on the album The Chico Hamilton Trio which was released on the Pacific Jazz label. This album brought the first awards, among others he was to later receive, the Downbeat New Star Award.

Around 1956, Troup signed him to Verve Records as a solo artist. Kessel happened to have an A&R position at the label and produced Roberts’ album entitled Mr. Roberts Plays Guitar for the label. It was this album which featured arrangements by Marshall, Marty Paich and Bill Holman - three well known arrangers in Hollywood at that time. At this point Roberts decided to concentrate on recording, both as a solo artist and a Wrecking Crew session musician, a direction he would continue until the early 1970s. 1959 brought the opportunity to play on the background score for the TV program The Deputy, which starred Henry Fonda. Marshall did the scoring and wanted a jazz guitar to play on it. He hired Roberts for the part allowing him to improvise over the action sequences in the show.

In 1963, Roberts recorded Color Him Funky and H.R. Is a Dirty Guitar Player, his first two albums after signing with Capitol. Produced by Marshall, they both feature the same quartet with Roberts (guitar), Chuck Berghofer (bass), Earl Palmer (drums) and Paul Bryant alternating with Burkley Kendrix on organ. According to Jim Carlton writing for Vintage Guitar magazine these first two albums created a fan base that was not equaled by any other jazz guitarist at that time. After that, Roberts was referred to as simply H.R. and his albums were among the most anticipated jazz releases of the day. He recorded 11 albums with Capitol before signing with ABC Records/Impulse! Records.

Roberts played rhythm and lead guitar, bass guitar, and mandolin. Being frequently caught on camera with a modified ‘30s Gibson ES-150, known as a Charlie Christian model by collectors - and which he purchased from Herb Ellis in the ‘50s - this guitar was his main guitar in the early ‘60s through to around 1973. He was also known for his heavy use of a modified Gibson L-4 guitar in the studio and for television and movie projects. This guitar had started out as an original design in 1962 by Roberts and C.M.I. product designer and clinician Andy Nelson. The guitar had an oval sound hole and a single pickup along with other design distinctions. C.M.I., in an effort to save some money, had based what they were calling the Howard Roberts model on the slower selling L-4 which was modified after an agreement was reached between Roberts and Ted McCarty, who was then Gibson's president. The need for this agreement was due to the fact that the resulting guitar looked nothing like the design that Nelson and Roberts had submitted. Roberts called it the "best guitar I’ve ever owned" after taking delivery of the instrument. Unfortunately for him both it and his Benson amp were stolen 3 months after he'd taken delivery on the guitar. A redesigned version was later produced by Gibson.

Between these 2 guitars, and a few others that Roberts used, his playing can be heard as the lead guitar on the theme from The Twilight Zone as well as acoustic and electric guitar on I Love Lucy, The Munsters, Bonanza, The Brady Bunch, Gilligan's Island, Green Acres, Get Smart, Batman, Beverly Hillbillies, The Andy Griffith Show, Peter Gunn, Lost in Space, Dragnet, Wild Wild West, Mission: Impossible, The Odd Couple, The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Dream of Jeannie, and the theme for the film Bullitt. He recorded with Georgie Auld, Peggy Lee, Eddie Cochran, Jody Reynolds, Shelley Fabares, Dean Martin, the Monkees, Roy Clark, Chet Atkins, Jimmy Smith, Elvis Presley, The Beach Boys and the Electric Prunes.

As a member of the Wrecking Crew, Roberts was a part of Phil Spector's Wall of Sound, playing guitar on some of the most famous songs in pop music history. He did not get along well with Spector as evidenced by his walking out on a session where Spector had fired his pistol into the ceiling, telling Spector to not call him again. Hal Blaine noted in Denny Tedesco's documentary, The Wrecking Crew, that Roberts was the only person he had ever seen walk out on a date. From the ‘60s through to around 1976 it's estimated he played on more than 2000 records and would routinely log more than 900 sessions a year for a time.

Roberts, along with one of his former students Ron Benson, was involved in building guitar amplifiers in 1968 through 1970. Due to the different styles Roberts was playing he was in need of an amp that was versatile enough to cover the different genres. Benson, using the Gibson GA-50 as inspiration, told Roberts he was going to build him an amp that would meet his requirements. Roberts responded by fronting him the funds to build one for each of them. After hearing the amp known as the Benson 300 at sessions, other players became interested in acquiring a Benson amp. The pair built around 2000 amps before some issues with investors brought a close to Benson Electronics, Inc. as a company.

From the late 1960s, Roberts began to focus on teaching rather than recording. He traveled around the country giving guitar seminars, and wrote several instructional books. For some years he also wrote an acclaimed column called "Jazz Improvisation" for Guitar Player magazine. Roberts developed accelerated learning concepts and techniques, which led to the founding of Playback Music Publishing and the Guitar Institute of Technology. In 1977, he co-founded the Musicians Institute (MI) in Hollywood. In 2007, Howard Roberts and other members of the Wrecking Crew were inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee.

Roberts was married twice and had five children. Howard Roberts died in Seattle, Washington, on June 28, 1992.



2 Reels (Magnetic tape audio recordings) : RR 261 1 reel, 1:00:08; tape speed 3¾ IPS; track position ½-Track Mono; Substrate: Polyester. RR 321 1 reel, 1:04:33; tape speed 3¾ IPS; track position ½-Track Mono; Substrate: Polyester.

Existence and Location of Originals

Original audio recordings reside in the University of Connecticut, Black Experience in the Arts Collection, Archives & Special Collections, UConn Library.

Repository Details

Part of the Archives and Special Collections, University of Connecticut Library Repository

University of Connecticut Library
405 Babbidge Road Unit 1205
Storrs Connecticut 06269-1205 USA US