Mandolin players and vintage instrument aficionados know exactly what I’m talking about with one word…. Loar. The groundbreaking facelift of Gibson mandolins by Lloyd Loar were the first of the modern day F-5 (and A-5) styled instruments. The Master Model line from 1922-1924 has been known as the “Holy Grail” of the mandolin world, and builders have been trying to replicate the ancient tone, finish, curves, even the smell of the antique works of art ever since. It’s hard to imagine that Gibson had a hard time selling them new! While most of us know the details and lore of the Loars, I took a little deeper investigation into one of these particular mandolins that I’ve been acquainted with for a good while. So, we will start with my first encounter on stage with “Sambo.”
As a teenager, I was bitten by the bluegrass bug, and started hitting as many festivals as I could around the St. Louis area, where I was raised. This led me to meet some great Missouri musicians, and some original first generation bluegrass pioneers in the state. Some of these men took a liking to me and my banjo picking buddy, Steve, and they would invite us to jams. We didn’t know how lucky we were, at the time, to learn directly from the original musicians and singers of Missouri Bluegrass.
We also didn’t realize how lucky we were to be exposed to instruments an average teenager would never see, from pre-war flathead banjos, 1937 D-28s, to Gibson F-5s signed and dated by Lloyd Loar. The mandolin I really learned on is dated February 8, 1923. I had learned a few tunes and a 4 finger chop on this masterpiece, but I didn’t know its true potential just yet.
The little band Steve and I had, Blue Generation, was playing our first “big” show in Eminence, MO. We were so tickled to play on the same stage as Doyle Lawson, Bobby and Sonny, Little Roy, Jesse McReynolds, The Goins Brothers and many others. To add to the excitement, Jim Orchard offered his 1923 F-5 for me to play on the show. That was the first time I stepped on a stage with “Sambo” (named for the ragged original case Jim carried it in for years).
It was a day I will never forget. The power I held in my hands. THE ultimate partner for the stage. My ears still echo with the tones I made that day. From that day on, “Sambo” has been the mandolin I compare all others too, and it’s a high standard. For another 4 years after that, I played Jim’s Loar as an Ozark Bluegrass Boy. I would play “Sambo” one set, then grab The H.F. Torro Loar for the second set. I wasn’t even 20 years old and carrying two mandolins that could be traded for a small town. I’m telling y’all, I was a lucky kid!
In appreciation of what Jim has done for me, I decided to try my hand at tracking down the origins of “Sambo.” Jim’s aggressive Monroe-flavored mandolin style is what I base my picking on. Jim would say I still have a long way to go. (An advocate of tough love.) So, who ordered it? How many people have owned it in the 94 years of its existence? Just the story of a mandolin that means so much to me was worth the effort. Through months of research, phone calls, emails, and a few surprises, I gathered the history of Gibson F-5 Mandolin, #72058, signed by Lloyd Loar February 8, 1923.
Also known as “The Missouri Loar,” this F-5 is number nine of eleven signed on the 8th of February. A smaller batch compared to most, but a unique batch, to say the least. 72058 is the 35th Lloyd Loar approved mandolin. In a 1970, Bluegrass Unlimited‘s listing of serial numbers (possibly the first ever published), this is the earliest serial number provided. On February 26, 1923, 72058 was crated up and shipped to Union Avenue in St. Louis, MO.
The recipient was well-known Gibson Teacher-Agent (equivalent to today’s dealers), A.C. Brockmeyer. With the help of some early advertisements, one can assume that A.C. was a top Teacher-Agent through the teens and twenties. His business included teaching, composing music, publishing classical guitar books, along with selling Gibson Instruments.
72058 had a home from the start, unlike some F-5s. Being a revolutionary design, with a high cost of $200 in 1923, a lot of these mandolins sat for a great while. This particular mandolin made it to St. Louis and was immediately placed in the hands of T.D. Brockmeyer, A.C.’s son. Dewey, as he was called, seemed to follow the musical path of his father from an early start and eventually came to be known as a banjo player throughout the Midwest with his Gibson sponsored big band.
With the help of Nancy Brockmeyer Johnson, Dewey’s daughter, we learned that 72058 wasn’t an important piece to the family or their music, compared to banjos and guitars, since the mandolin craze grew dormant in the 1920’s. She recalls the mandolin, but more as a gift from father to son, not a “go to” instrument for her father. The affection A.C. had for Dewey can be seen in A.C.’s composition of Dewey’s Schottische, a guitar piece written with special dedication to his son. The piece was most recently transcribed to mandolin tablature by Mike Compton, per my request.
To the best of the family’s knowledge, 72058 stayed in the Brockmeyer’s possession until Dewey’s death. The mandolin history has a gap from that date to 1969. Whether the mandolin was kept a number of years or sold immediately after Dewey’s passing is unknown at this date. We can confirm, though, that the “The Missouri Loar” spent its first 30 some years in The Brockmeyer Family.
Fast forward to 1969, downtown St. Louis. Norman Clark, opens up his music store, The Peghead Shop, on the weekends to wheel and deal instruments and do a little set up work. He has a prewar F-5 on the bench, doing minor setup work for St. Louis Music. In walks a man to buy gut strings. He is a rhythm & blues man and when sees the F-5 on the bench, he tells Norman he has a mandolin just like that and he’d be willing to sell it. Curious as to what it actually is, Norman expresses he is interested in the instrument. “Bring it on in, I’d like to look at it.”
The following weekend, the man steps back into The Peghead Shop with a rectangle case. Norman immediately recognizes the case as a pre-war Gibson style. Opening up to find a 1923 Gibson F-5, serial 72058. The Dewey Brockmeyer mandolin. In 1969 St. Louis, Lloyd Loar’s signature didn’t mean anything to Norman or to many folks. All he knew was 72058 was a great sounding old mandolin. Norman decided to make a phone call before jumping, so the man leaves a record he has just pressed and says he will be back next weekend.
That record identifies the man in possession of 72058 as Obie Williams. The record was an LP of James Brown that Obie had played drums on. How did this mandolin get to Obie Williams? Norman slightly recalls Obie mentioning that his girlfriend had gave it to him, and that it had been her father’s. Was Obie’s female friend a descendant of the Brockmeyer family? Another question that hasn’t been answered to date.
The next part of “Sambo’s” story begins a partnership of over 45 years. The ups and downs. The major repair. The bluegrass history of 72058. Stay tuned.