"Axe" for 'guitar'?

Joseph Carson samizdata at EARTHLINK.NET
Fri Apr 21 08:49:56 UTC 2000

When I played in bands (from 1970-90, in upper Midwestern states and Northern
California,) the term "axe" would be used in the way Chuck describes, but more
often in rock, blues, funk and jazz line ups than country, top 40, show
standards, adult contempo acts, etc. In connection with the reference to
instruments as weapons, there were also times when articles of street drug
paraphenalia would be used for purposes of comparison, as for instance, when
one would be asked, "Is your 'rig' ready?" (a 'rig' minimally consisted of the
needle a junkie would use to inject his drugs, but could also include the spoon
his dope was cooked in, the belt used as a tourniquet to bring patent veins to
the surface, even the candle and matches or zippo used to melt the mix before
loading the syringe,) so that one could hear variants like, "Are you rigged for
the gig?" (i.e., a 'gig' being the job the group was going to play,) or "Are
you holding?" (as in carrying, holding, or being in possession of one's drugs
or instruments,) or, for a drummer, "You've got your spikes?" (as in
'drumsticks',) or in a retro Chicago gangster and current Compton crack dealer
argot carry-over into the musical context, "You got your gat?" (as in "Gatling
gun" or Thompson or Mac-10, etc., for one's instrument, and often also
including the P.A. system, amps, and so on,) or "Are you strapped?" (as a
detective or hit man has a holster for his weapon, to ask if a musician has
similarly prepared himself for the show by 'strapping' his instrument on, or
having it ready at hand.)  The lead guitarist for Bachman-Turner Overdrive,
Randy Bachman, put out a solo LP in the late 1970s entitled "Ax" (with no "e"
at the end of the word, if I recall correctly ... confirm or contest this
claim, if you please ... I'm not sure of that terminal "e",) that was meant to
be a reference to his rock guitar prowess. Guitar (and musical instrument)
nomenclature is an infinitely varied subject to pursue, because so many of the
comparative references are so contextual or idiosyncratic in character as to be
practically impenetrable.  I knew individual bands that had devised shorthand
for the styles they wanted one other to use by telling a bass player, for
instance, to "shovel harder"

Joseph Carson (San Francisco, CA)

Chuck Borsos wrote: "My understanding of the usage of "axe" is that it can
refer to any instrument commonly used in the contexts in which you will hear
it, (not likely that someone would call a brac or zurna or bagpipe an axe), and
that it will refer to the main instrument that a person plays." ...<snip> ...
"I occasionally here musicians refer to their instruments as if weapons as
well.  Such as, "Did you come armed?" for "Did you bring an instrument?" -
Chuck Borsos - Santa Cruz, CA

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