Guitar with case, star-shaped electric body, lacquered wood / metal / leather / vinyl / foam, made by Levin Guitars, Sweden, used by Lucky Starr, Australia, 1958-1960
Due to its unique shape and strong association with Lucky Starr, this guitar is probably the best remembered of any instrument used by Australia's first rock 'n' roll stars.
Lucky Starr was an important figure in the first wave of Australian rock 'n' roll. Born Leslie Morrison in 1941, he began singing at talent quests in Sydney in 1957 under the stage name of Les Starr. He formed a band called the Hepparays, whose first professional engagement in 1959 was performing between exercises at a physical culture display. Their fee was a packet of cigarettes each. Lucky Starr and the Hepparays recorded one of the first Australian rock 'n' roll instrumental singles when 'Christmas Rock Medley'/'I Remember Xmas at Home' appeared in late 1959.
Les Starr changed his name to Lucky Starr, the same name as a character from Isaac Asimov's series of science fiction novels. Signing with Festival Records in 1960, he released four singles that year -- 'Somebody Touched Me'/'When You Come Back to Me', 'The Big Hurt', 'Wrong'/'Bill Bailey' and 'Yeah That's How (Rock 'n' Roll was Born)'. The last two singles became minor hits, reaching the lower reaches of the Top 40 chart.
Starr's rockabilly style was accentuated by his sharp suits, string tie and his trademark, custom-built, star-shaped guitar bearing with the initials 'LS' on the scratch plate. (The scratch plate has been replaced). The guitar was a feature of his performances in the 1960-61 period. When he supported the Mouseketeers on their second Australian tour in April 1960, the publicity that surrounded his romance with 15-year-old Mouseketeer Cheryl Holdridge did not harm his career. In 1960, Starr hosted ABC-TV's 'Six O'Clock Rock' in Johnny O'Keefe's absence. He issued his fifth Festival single in March 1961, 'Someone Else's Roses', which became a minor hit in Sydney.
Starr is best remembered for his only major hit single, a novelty tune written by Geoff Mack titled 'I've Been Everywhere'. More a lesson in geography than a song, 'I've Been Everywhere' is a tongue-twister that rattles off the names of a hundred Australian towns as the singer convinces the listener that he has, in fact, been everywhere. Three weeks after release, the single reached No 1 in Sydney and No 2 nationally in April 1962. It remained in the charts for 15 weeks and sold 45 000 copies. The B-side was Starr's own composition, the seductive 'Cuddle Closer'. He followed up with two more singles during 1962, 'June in Junee' and 'Hot Rod', and, in 1963, 'Mule Skinner Blues' and 'Come On In'.
Encouraged by visiting jazz singer Billy Eckstine, Starr went to Nevada, USA to further his singing career. He opened in mid-1963 at the famous Mapes Hotel Casino in Reno, and headlined his own show at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. He signed a recording deal with US label Dot Records but his hopes for movie stardom and a major record deal were never realised. Ironically Dot Records issued a version of 'I've Been Everywhere', re-written with American place names, as a single by Hank Snow. The fact that it topped the American country chart was good news for Geoff Mack but brought no benefit to Lucky Starr.
Starr returned to Australia in late 1963, and appeared in the Christmas surfing musical 'Once Upon a Surfie' with Dig Richards, Jackie Weaver, Bryan Davies, Jay Justin, Rob EG and the Delltones. He recorded an album in 1964 titled 'The Silver Spade Digs Lucky'. However Beatlemania was in full flight and Australia's first wave of rock 'n' rollers struggled to maintain prominence as tastes changed. Starr made club appearances in the USA, New Zealand, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam and Italy. By the late 1960s he had moved into country music, touring extensively through regional Australia. His word-perfect rendition of 'I've Been Everywhere' was a surprise highlight of the 'Long Way to the Top' concert tour in 2002.
The Levin Guitar Company was a Swedish firm founded by HC Levin in the early 1900s. HC Levin came from Goteburg and was a trainee luthier with Martin in the USA before returning to Sweden to establish his own company. The Levin Guitar Company was purchased by Martin in the early 1970s. Lucky Starr bought this Levin jazz guitar around 1960 and replaced the body with a star-shaped piece of timber cut with a bandsaw by the father of the drummer in Lucky's band the Hepparays.
In Lucky Starr's own words 'I went to Harry Landis [musical instrument store in Park St Sydney] and bought a Levin American jazz guitar. The body had been damaged. So I took the neck off and my drummer Owen's dad helped cut the body. Owen's father was a cabinet maker and had a bandsaw. He cut the star shape from a piece of timber. He helped me fit the neck. He spray-painted it black. I put electronics in it and fixed it up. I put a pick-up in it. In those days it was an electro-magnetic one. I made a scratch plate out of white plastic. It never worked well but ... ' (Lucky Starr in conversation with Peter Cox, 2002)
Lucky Starr began playing this unique guitar in stage performances around the time he started recording for Festival Records in 1960. Along with his string tie, the star-shaped guitar accentuated his rockabilly image. In fact he liked the guitar more for image purposes than for functional reasons and recently admitted that 'When I used to take it off, I used to poke myself in the eye'. (Lucky Starr in conversation with Peter Cox, 2002). By the time he had a major hit with 'I've Been Everywhere' in 1962, the star-shaped guitar was no longer a feature of his act. He kept it, lent it to the Powerhouse Museum in 2002 for the travelling exhibition 'Spinning Around: 50 years of Festival Records' and decided to donate it in 2004.