Personalities | Lenny Breau | Boy Wonder | Guitar Heroes

Lenny Breau (1941–84) was a Canadian guitarist who blended many styles of music, including country, classical, flamenco and jazz guitar. Breau, inspired by country guitarists like Chet Atkins, used fingerstyle techniques not usually associated with jazz guitar.

Breau was born in Auburn, Maine. His French-speaking parents, Hal ‘Lone Pine’ Breau and Betty Cody, were professional country and western musicians who performed and recorded in the late Forties and Fifties. Their son began playing guitar at the age of eight, and by the age of 12 he was the lead guitarist for his parents’ band, billed as Lone Pine Junior, playing Merle Travis and Chet Atkins instrumentals and occasionally singing. Breau made his first professional recording at the age of 15, billed as Boy Wonder.

Around 1959 Breau left his parents’ band and sought out local jazz musicians, performing at Winnipeg venues and learning more jazz technique. In 1961 Breau left for Toronto and created the jazz group Three with singer/actor Don Francks and Don Henstridge on acoustic bass. The Three made appearances on US television as well as in Canadian and New York clubs. Returning to Winnipeg, Breau became a regular session guitarist for radio and television.

Breau’s technique combined elements of Chet Atkins- and Merle Travis-style fingerpicking with flamenco. Harmonically he incorporated country, classical, modal, Indian and jazz influences.

By the late Sixties home recordings of Lenny’s playing had found their way into the hands of Chet Atkins, who signed Lenny to RCA and released The Guitar Sounds Of Lenny Breau (1968) and The Velvet Touch Of Lenny Breau (1969). Breau spent most of the Seventies in the United States and settled in Los Angeles in the early Eighties. Only a few more solo albums and a few sessions recorded with steel guitarist Buddy Emmons were issued during his lifetime.

Breau had developed drug problems in the mid-Sixties and struggled with addiction until his death. In August 1984 Breau’s body was found in a swimming pool at his apartment complex in Los Angeles, California. His death was ruled a homicide. He had been strangled and his murder is still unsolved.

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