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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkVallarta Living | Art Talk | October 2007 

Peso Picks
email this pageprint this pageemail usRicardo Gandara - Cox News Service
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With his trusty locking pliers and bench grinder, Stuart Brady turns Mexican coins into guitar picks.
Austin, Texas - Sitting in his brother's garage on a rolling office chair, Stuart Brady adjusts safety goggles above the red bandanna covering his mouth and positions himself in front of a Black and Decker electric bench grinder.

In his thick hands a pair of locking pliers holds a coin headed for the whirring machine. It's the beginning of the transformation of a dull Mexican peso into a shiny guitar pick. Brady's hope is that each of his works of art will end up in the hands of guitarists who will create a unique sound - deep and clear - that only comes from metal plucking metal guitar strings. "Using metal on metal creates an impeccable tone, a one-of-a-kind sound that can't be replicated," says Austin musician John Gaar, who has his own band and teams up at gigs with blues favorites Malford Milligan and Miss Lavelle White. "The peso pick is special, wonderful."

According to Brady, Texas legend Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top owns hundreds of these things, buying them directly from Brady (he's got a copy of the check to prove it). One of Gibbons' publicists says she's seen "bagfuls" of the peso picks in Gibbons' guitar case.

But Gibbons himself was not available to say for sure whether he uses Brady's picks. Brady's picks cost $25 to $70. So why pluck down that much when a 50-cent plastic pick will do??

"They are little pieces of art," says Jack Mason, manager of Strait Music Co., which carries the peso picks. "They are beautiful and, while a plastic pick wears out, this one won't."

"And the sound is so different," says Randy Balsano, lead guitar player for the rock band Triangle of Port Arthur, Texas. An old friend of Brady's, Balsano owns the first peso pick Brady ever made. "I have 'Numero Uno' and I'm still using it. I've worn out the date and the eagle on the coin, but it's still good. It slurs like a steel guitar, and when you tap the pick on a string, it gives you the sound of a harmonic bell. It's deeper sounding. The peso pick is a lot faster, too."

Brady, 51, a former keyboard player with a silver mop top neatly in place, is minus a day job these days (formerly he was in the auto-parts distribution business), so he's making a push with his peso picks. He's got a Web site, www.pesopicks.com, and his brother, Barry, who loves concerts, makes it a point to get the picks into the hands of musicians.

Furthermore, peso picks make good jewelry. On request, Brady will drill a hole in a pick to hang it on a necklace.

Brady has been making peso picks for a quarter of a century. In 1980, when he was playing with Balsano, the guitarist mentioned that Gibbons had been using quarters and Mexican pesos as picks for years. "I bet I can make a pick out of a peso," Brady recalls saying.

He got a peso and put the bench grinder to it. Using a hand file and sand paper, he fashioned his first peso pick and gave it to Balsano, who still owns it. Through the years, he gave away the picks as gifts. "It wasn't a business. I loved making them for friends," he says. It all changed when one of his picks landed with Gibbons. Brady's version is that a musician friend who worked at A&S Music in Nederland knew Gibbons and agreed to take him a peso pick. "That's the last I heard of it," Brady says.

Fast forward to 2000 when Brady was living in Burnet, where he met a music enthusiast named Sam Massey who claimed he knew Gibbons. "Sam said he was sitting around with Billy one day when he pulled out a peso pick and talked about how much he liked it," says Brady. "When Sam asked where he got the pick, Billy said, 'Some dude made it.' "

Hence, it became the name of Brady's side business, Some Dude's Peso Picks. In 2003, ZZ Top played Austin, and the Brady brothers attended with several peso picks in hand. After the concert, they finagled their way backstage trading picks for passes. "I saw Billy in the hall and told him I'd like to talk to him about a guitar pick. He responded, 'Oh, I'll get you a pick.' He thought I was a fan looking for a free pick. When I told him I make picks out of pesos, he said, 'You're the dude? Stay right there. Do not move. I'll be right back.'.."

When Gibbons returned, they talked and exchanged business cards, Brady says. He still carries Gibbons' card in his wallet. It reads: "GIBBONS, a friend of Eric Clapton." Two months later, Gibbons ordered 100 peso picks for a special price of $1,000. "I made them all that weekend. They were 1957 to 1961 pesos. Since then, he's ordered about 300 more," Brady says, Brady says he feels more sentimental about meeting Gibbons than selling him peso picks. "That was one of the greatest things that's ever happened in my life," he says, holding the stage pass that hangs from the rear-view mirror of his 1990 GMC truck.

Amy Treco, who works with ZZ Top's new publicist in Los Angeles, Bob Merlis, confirmed Gibbons has many peso picks. "I've seen them, but to say they were made by (Brady), I just don't know," she says.

Although Brady specializes in picks from Mexican pesos (one peso is worth about nine cents now), he's also made some out of other currencies, even casino chips. "I like to use the 20-peso coin."

You can see the eagle real good. I love making picks. It's an art.

I will see other coin picks on the Internet, but they're not as good as mine.

"They're a Texas, Southern rock thing, and the fact we're close to Mexico and Billy has some makes them unique."

Ricardo Gandara writes for the Austin American-Statesman.



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