During the filming for the 1968 NBC Television Special, “Elvis”, a 1968 Red Hagstrom Viking II was borrowed for use by Elvis in several segments of the show.
Through the years the guitar has been mistaken as his and often referred to as the “Elvis guitar”. The guitar in fact belonged to guitarist Al Casey, who was one of the session players on that show.
The producer asked the studio players if anyone had something flashy for Elvis to use, figuring it would make a better shot if he was playing something. Casey opened up his instrument trunk and offered his Hagstrom Viking II.
Elvis was filmed performing with it in the opening and closing segments of the show and performed live with it for the stand up solo performances.
The Viking II features gold-plated hardware, select flamed Maple and Spruce woods and were available in Mahogany Sunburst and Cherry Red. It had a lightweight 16 inch thinline double cutaway arched body, heavy celluloid binding, 2 pick ups with separate volume and tone controls, 3-way toggle switch for treble, bass or both pick ups and a “Micro-matic” adjustable bridge.
Casey is one of the great unsung guitar heroes. Playing since the mid 1950, he wrote Duane Eddy’s hit “Ramrod.” He was a member of “The Wrecking Crew,” Hollywood’s elite session players along with other guitarists like Billy Strange, Mike Deasy, James Burton, Howard Roberts, Tommy Tedesco, and Barney Kessel to name a few.
He played on countless sessions with the likes of Dean Martin, Frank and Nancy Sinatra. He played on “MacArthur Park,” Sinatra’s recording of “That’s Life,” and even on the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds.” In addition to the 68 Special with Elvis, Al also played on the soundtrack sessions at Western Recorders in 1968 that yielded Elvis’ hit “A Little Less Conversation.”
During the two stand up live performances taped at NBC’s Burbank studio on June 29, 1968, the amplifier used with Casey’s Hagstrom was his Benson 200. Several LA session players were known to use these in the ‘60s.
Famed jazz guitarist Howard Roberts and Ron Benson designed and produced the first boutique amps in history with their Benson line of the ‘60s. These became a studio standard of the era, presaging the Boogies, Soldanos, Bogners, and Evans of the future.