Alvino Rey

Alvin McBurney (July 1, 1908 – February 24, 2004), known by his stage name Alvino Rey, was an American jazz guitarist and bandleader.

Alvino Rey
Rey circa 1942
Background information
Birth nameAlvin McBurney
Born(1908-07-01)July 1, 1908
Oakland, California, U.S.
DiedFebruary 24, 2004(2004-02-24) (aged 95)
Salt Lake City, Utah
GenresJazz, swing
Occupation(s)Musician, musical director, inventor
Years active1927–1994
Associated actsPhil Spitalny, Horace Heidt, The King Sisters, Arcade Fire


Alvin McBurney was born in Oakland, California, in 1908 but grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. Early in life he had a knack for music and electronics. When he was eight, he built his first radio, and within a couple years he was one of the youngest ham radio operators in the country.[1] In his teens, he was given a banjo as a birthday present. His professional career began in 1927 when he got a job playing banjo with Cleveland bandleader Ev Jones. During the following year, he became a member of the Phil Spitalny Orchestra. He switched from banjo to guitar, then changed his name to Alvino Rey to take advantage of the popularity of Latin music in New York City at the time.[1][2][3]

From 1932–1938 he was a member of Horace Heidt and His Musical Knights. He drew attention to himself and the band when he started playing pedal steel guitar. The Gibson corporation asked him to develop a pickup for the guitar. In 1937, he married Luise King of the King Sisters.[1][2][3]

In 1939, he formed his own band with the King Sisters and moved to Hollywood, where he became musical director at KHJ Mutual Broadcasting radio network. As leader of the house band, he recorded a version of "Deep in the Heart of Texas" that was a hit in 1942.[3][4] During the same year hired Al Cohn, Ray Conniff, Neal Hefti, Zoot Sims, and arranger Billy May. In the 1940s he also worked with saxophonist Herbie Steward, drummer Dave Tough, and arrangers Nelson Riddle, Johnny Mandel, and George Handy.[2]

The band didn't record in 1943 due to a strike. The band broke up, and Rey found work at Lockheed as a mechanic. In 1944, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, where he worked on radar systems and directed a band. After his service, he formed an orchestra that had fifteen horns and recorded a cover version of "Cement Mixer" by Slim Gaillard that became a hit.[2][3] During the 1950s, he played steel guitar in small groups, often with Buddy Cole, his brother-in-law.[3]

Beginning about 1957, Rey produced many of the George Greeley piano recordings for Warner Bros. Records.[5]

During the 1960s, he was music director for The King Family Show with the King Sisters. Rey made frequent appearances on the show performing "The Alvino Rey Talking Guitar" which was in fact a pedal steel. He also played steel guitar in recording sessions with Jack Costanzo, George Cates, Esquivel, and the studio group the Surfmen.[2][3] These musicians were associated with the short-lived genre exotica, which combined Hawaiian music, Latin music, lounge jazz, and unconventional instruments from Burma and Indonesia.[6]

In the early 1990s, Rey moved with his wife Luise to her native Utah. In Salt Lake City, he formed a jazz quartet which played in local clubs, sometimes with Luise sitting in. He quit performing in 1994.[2] Luise died in 1997 after 60 years of marriage. In 2004, after breaking his hip and suffering complications including pneumonia and congestive heart failure, Rey died at the age of 95 at a rehabilitation center.[1]

Pioneer of electrified instruments

Rey amplified his banjo in the 1920s. In 1935, Gibson hired him to develop a prototype pickup[2] with engineers at the Lyon & Healy company in Chicago, based on the one he developed for his banjo. The result was used for Gibson's first electric guitar ES-150. The prototype is kept in the Experience Music Project museum in Seattle.

In 1939, Rey invented an early version of a "talk box" device that modified the sound of his electric steel guitar to sound like words.[7] For performances of his big band, he created an animated mechanical character he named "Stringy", shaped like a guitar, that "sang" the altered guitar sounds.[8] A later commercial version of the talk box, using a different technology, was made famous by guitarist Peter Frampton.

Around 1959 to 1960, Rey collaborated with composer Euel Box of PAMS Productions of Dallas to bring his distinctive pedal steel guitar sounds to radio jingles. This jingle package was part of the new Top Forty radio format and was heard on such innovative radio stations as K-BOX in Dallas and W-FUN Miami. Rey is also credited with inspiring the later, ground-breaking "Sonosational" PAMS Jingles Series 18 in 1961 which featured the talking or singing instrument effects of Rey's "sonovox".


Rey's daughter, Liza Rey, is the mother of Win and Will Butler, members of Canadian indie rock group Arcade Fire. Their debut album, Funeral, was heavily influenced by Rey's death, along with the deaths of relatives of other members of the band, during the recording period.[9] The band paid tribute to Rey by including Rey's recording of "My Buddy" as the B-side to their singles "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" and "Neighborhood #2 (Laika)".


  • 1958 My Reverie (Decca)
  • 1958 Swinging Fling (Capitol)
  • 1960 Ping Pong (Capitol)
  • 1960 That Lonely Feeling (Capitol)
  • 1962 As I Remember Hawai (Dot)
  • 1996 Alvino Rey & His Orchestra (Collectors' Choice)[10]

With Esquivel

  • 1958 Four Corners of the World
  • 1958 Other Worlds Other Sounds

With Dean Martin

  • 1997 Memories Are Made of This
  • 1998 Return to Me

With others


  1. Popa, Christopher (2004). "Alvino Rey "Wizard of the Steel Pedal Guitar"". Big Band Library. Retrieved 10 January 2017.
  2. Yanow, Scott (2013). The Great Jazz Guitarists. San Francisco: Backbeat. p. 163. ISBN 978-1-61713-023-6.
  3. Ankeny, Jason. "Alvino Rey". AllMusic. Retrieved 17 February 2017.
  4. "Alvino Rey". Google Books/Billboard magazine. 4 April 1942. p. 4. Retrieved 16 September 2017.
  5. Todd Everett, (2004), The Best of the Popular Piano Piano Concertos, (Re-release) Collectors' Choice Music, CD, Liner Notes
  6. Unterberger, Richie. "Martin Denny". AllMusic. Retrieved 17 February 2017.
  7. Alvino Rey, talk box pioneer
  8. The Alvino Rey big band, featuring "Stringy"
  9. Moore, David (2004-09-12). "Album Reviews: Arcade Fire: Funeral". Pitchfork. Retrieved 2013-07-14.
  10. "Alvino Rey | Album Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2 December 2016.
  11. "Alvino Rey | Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 17 February 2017.


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