The Money Shot: Slim Dossey’s sunburst Fenders

This matching Jazzmaster and Jazz Bass have a storied past thanks to a Western swing legend who was also a golden-era Fender employee

When Seven Decades co-creator Phil Hylander saw a pair of Fenders that formerly belonged to a Western Swing Society Hall of Famer come up for sale at Emerald City Guitars in Seattle, he couldn’t resist adding them to his impressive collection. But who was Slim Dossey? And how did this set – including two vintage Nudie suits that were the Kentucky native’s preferred stage attire – end up in Seattle?

Trevor Boone from Emerald City Guitars takes up the story. “I took a call one afternoon from a gentleman named Jim Dossey, who was looking to find a new home for his father’s guitars,” says Trevor. “He mentioned his father had been an early Fender employee, which immediately perked my interest, even if just to pry a single unearthed story or detail from the Fender golden era. He was in the area so we set an appointment that afternoon to take a look at two instruments.

“Jim popped in the shop 30 minutes later carrying two brown Fender cases, and that’s when the fun began! We sat around them like a campfire, diving into the story. As it unfolded we had no idea what we were in store for.”

Jim’s father was Warner Garvin ‘Slim’ Dossey. Born in Brownsville, Kentucky in 1918, Slim had started his music career at the age of 16 as a featured vocalist on nearby Louisville’s WHAS radio station. He earned a college scholarship for basketball, served in the US Navy, and toured the country with top Western Swing acts such as Jimmy Bryant and the Sons of the Pioneers and Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys.

“Slim wrote hundreds of songs, sang for the best, and even toured with the Grand Ole Opry,” says Boone. “His Western swing legacy goes on and on – trust me I could expand but it’d never end. But when Slim’s touring days dwindled down, he was offered a job at Fender which he maintained until about the time of the CBS takeover.

“Slim was an employee of Leo Fender himself, and while doing so, obtained two brand new Fender instruments: an early 1960 Jazzmaster with some 1959 components, and a pristine 1964 Jazz Bass. Both instruments were jaw-dropping as soon as you opened the case. However, I went cross-eyed for a moment looking at the Jazzmaster, because it was flaunting a beautiful three-tone sunburst, which didn’t come out until much later.

“As it turned out, Slim had a ‘keep up with the Joneses’ moment and refinished his 1960 Jazzmaster in the brand-new three-tone sunburst finish at the factory while employed there. It doesn’t get more honest than that. It’s a forgivable refin in my book!”

Dressed for success

Included with the instruments were a dozen or so photographs of Slim with the Western swing all-stars he’d toured with, including Jimmy Bryant and Eddie Arnold. “We were all out of our minds excited,” says Trevor. “We’d spent at least an hour gushing over the provenance of these guitars, when he mentions they are on their way to see about selling some old Nudie stage suits. I have a personal obsession with vintage clothing – especially anything Western from this era, and being part of Slim’s legacy just brought it all together. It would have been sacrilegious to separate the components of this man’s being.

“The photos all featured these original Nudie Cohn suits we had in front of us. It felt like a total time capsule. Nudie Cohn pioneered Western clothing, which is still regarded to some as America’s only original art form. Two of the suits had the early topless Nudie logo, which in itself was crazy to see. You imagine the early Nudie tailor days when he was outfitting the stars of Nashville in their gilded suits, Slim being one of them.

“Slim remains in the Western Swing Society Hall of Fame and his legacy echoes throughout the scene. It was an honour to spend time with Jim and honour his father’s legacy.”

Find out more about the Seven Decades show at sevendecades.com and visit Emerald City Guitars at emeraldcityguitars.com.