Gerry Gessie Tribute

This page commemorates entertainer Gerry Gessie

and his Heritage-made “Little One” guitars.

Gerry Gessie Little Ones Tribute

Gerry Gessie (1943-2022) was a professional musician, guitar player, singer and long-time resident of New Jersey. After high school, Gerry served in the United States Army and was a Vietnam veteran. Gerry was a master guitarist, singer and entertainer who was known as the “Poor Man’s Star”. For over 50 years, Gerry and his loving wife Ronnie entertained professionally at resorts, fairs, clubs, parks, assisted-living facilities and other venues. His inventiveness led Gerry to collaborate with Heritage Guitars in Kalamazoo, MI to develop the innovative, full-scale, small-bodied Little One guitar.  Little One guitars, bearing Gerry’s name on the headstock, have been featured in many online publications and major music magazines including Guitar World (August 2003) and Guitar Player (October 2003). Away from the stage, Gerry was a devoted husband, father and grandfather. He and Ronnie raised horses on their Promised Land Stables property in New Jersey.

*****

The Heritage Gerry Gessie “Little One” Story

Gerry Gessie frequently traveled by air to entertain at diverse venues. Guitar transport posed a damage risk and extra expense. Gerry thought a small travel guitar would fit in an overhead compartment on planes. He developed a business plan, outlined a marketing strategy and designed a small travel guitar. He approached Heritage because he owned full size Heritages and trusted their reputation for excellence and craftmanship.

Gerry met Heritage officials in Kalamazoo in early August 1999. He presented his ideas for a professional, small travel guitar which would benefit the traveler as well as youngsters, guitar players in wheelchairs and pro players who sought versatility on stage. Gerry’s busy entertaining schedule made him the perfect person to demo such a guitar and generate interest.

Heritage was willing and sent Gerry a prototype to take to shows to generate interest. In late 1999, as orders came in, a second prototype was made called the Heritage Little One. Gerry was authorized as a Heritage endorsing artist with his name on the headstock.

In December 1999, Gerry and his soulmate Veronica (Ronnie) drove to Kalamazoo to pick up two Little Ones, a gold and an amber (maple). Then onward to Cleveland where Gerry played a Little One in the lobby of the Rock and Roll Hall of fame.

Subsequently, the Little One took on a different sound with an additional volume control and push/pull knobs that created six to eight distinct tones. Gerry’s company Musical Messages, Inc. became an authorized Heritage dealer and Gerry took orders for the Little One and all other Heritage models.

In 2002, the Red, White and Blue Heritage Little One was introduced. It was Gerry’s patriotic concept and involved a special relationship with Rutland Wood Company in Rutland, VT.

In 2007, with approximately 50 guitars sold or in inventory, Little One production ended. That was a business decision taken by Heritage management for its own internal reasons. Gerry felt honored to be a part of his awesome experience with Heritage. He continued as a NJ Heritage dealer taking orders for other Heritage model guitars until 2011.

Gerry and Ronnie continued touring with Gerry playing his special Little One. They were rightly proud that 50 or more Little Ones are enjoyed and treasured across the USA and in Canada.

When not performing, Gerry and Ronnie lived and raised horses on their beloved family farm Promised Land Stables. They were the centers of each other’s lives. They made all decisions jointly and never regretted any of them.

Gerry was a caring, personable and professional man and a born entertainer. He was a masterful musician and singer who was happiest when he and his beloved Ronnie were entertaining their many fans, especially the children who attended his shows.

Gerry fulfilled his personal and professional dreams. He was respected by all and loved by many. A blessing!

*****

This wonderful photo was taken c. 1998 at The Iridium Club in New York City. On the left is Les Paul, master guitarist, inventor, pioneer of the solid-body electric guitar and inspiration for the Gibson Les Paul model. Les Paul was the sole inductee in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the National Inventors Hall of Fame. He played weekly gigs at the Iridium from 1995 until his death in 2009. On the right is Gerry Gessie, a popular professional performer and authorized Heritage Guitars dealer.

*****

This full version of the image in the post above shows David and Carla Guignard from New Jersey with Les Paul and Gerry Gessie at the Iridium Club in New York City. The Heritage H-150 guitar was purchased by David from Heritage dealer Gerry.  That night, Les signed David’s guitar and wrote “Now it’s a Les Paul”. The wooden boxes on the table contain the pens that Les used to sign autographs.

*****

Guitarist Lou Pallo (1934-2020) was a central figure in the New York/New Jersey session and live scene extending back to the 1950s. He was Les Paul’s sideman in the Les Paul Trio, including Les’ weekly performances at the Iridium Club in New York City. He was known as the Man of a Million Chords for his mastery of the guitar. Lou and Gerry were good friends. When Lou had solo gigs in New Jersey, he would invite Gerry onstage to do a few songs. This image shows Gerry performing at a birthday celebration for Lou. Lou was seated out of photo range to the left. Good friends having great fun!

*****

Famed guitar master Lou Pallo and Gerry often performed in clubs near each other in New Jersey. Lou would come see Gerry when he was on a break and Gerry would go to watch Lou when he was on a break. A warm and lasting friendship developed based on both artists’ respect for each other’s talent on the guitar.  A beautiful thing!  

*****

The Warren Reporter, February 8, 2008

Red, White, Blue: Made for Guitars and Pens – Crafting Classic Instruments and Helping Soldiers

by Marin Resnick, Staff Writer

Columbia, NJ – Gerry Gessie proudly pulled his compact red, white and blue handmade guitar out of its black traveling case. “I was traveling across the country and found I needed a smaller guitar to manage,” he said of his signature model Heritage Little One guitar.

The Little One is handcrafted by the Heritage Guitar Company in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Gessie designed this solid body electric guitar to fit in overhead compartments on airplanes while still being able to produce a full spectrum of sound and notes.

This “youth-minded” instrument is a lightweight so it doesn’t create the same back problems as a normal weight guitar and it is easier to play.  His device is made from woods never used in building a solid body. “The body vibrates and picks up sound nuances that other types of wood do not produce,” he said. “One was made from a walnut tree right here in Warren County.”

Gerry travels the country playing the Little One for audiences with his wife of 41 years, Ronnie. They perform The Gerry Gessie Duo show for engagements in the Poconos, Las Vegas, Atlantic City, fairs and festivals in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, and restaurants and lounges in the tri-state area. Gessie has been invited to perform at the rock ‘n roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and at Penn State University for the Special Olympics.

“We want everyone to laugh and have a good time, centralized through music,” Ronnie said.

Gessie first picked up a guitar at age eight. He was inspired by Elvis Presley and Les Paul, the creator of the solid body guitar. “Les Paul is to the guitar world as Henry Ford was to the car world,” Gerry said of his inspiration.

As he traveled and became popular for his musicianship and with the sales success of the Heritage Little One, the Heritage Guitar Company decided to honor Gerry by putting his signature on every Little One. “The honor is every young boy’s dream. If you asked them whether they strive to have a hit record or a guitar – they would say the guitar,” Gerry said. “The honor is immeasurable.”

Gerry was honored and humbled by the success of his chosen profession and had served in the latter part of the Vietnam era. Joe Kelly, a veteran and pen turner from Louisiana, contacted Gerry about the Freedom Pens project and asked for some red, white and blue wood. Gerry and Ronnie were all in.

They contacted Heritage Guitar Company and the leftover red, white and blue wood was sent from Heritage to Gerry and Ronnie. The donated wood was then passed on to Joe Kelly via Gerry’s side of the project, Guitar Wood for Freedom.

The extra wood from Gerry Gessie’s signature guitar is given to veterans and volunteers who partake in the Freedom Pens project. The pen turners, who are volunteers of all age ranges from all over the country, take the wood and create unique pens adorned with gold clips and tips. “The veterans saw the red, white and blue wood and went crazy,” Gessie said. “The pens are just like the guitars, very personal and no two are alike.”

Not only do Gessie and Ronnie help provide wood, they also sell the handcrafted pens during their shows to raise funds for the Freedom Pens project. “No money comes from the government”, he said. “The Freedom Pens project covers all costs including packaging the pens and shipping them overseas.”

Both Gessie and Ronnie are anxious to learn about the members of our community in service. “We are your neighbor and we care,” Gessie said. Those who know of someone who is in any branch of the military and stationed overseas can contact the Sgt. Joe Kelly Freedom Pen Foundation on Facebook.

*****

This December 11, 2014 image was taken at the Chester Public House in Chester, NJ. More than 85 members attended the Fifty Plus Club’s annual holiday luncheon. Pictured is George Dietz playing the toilet seat guitar and RoseMary McNary leading the band with her plunger baton.  Entertainment was the Gerry Gessie Duo Show featuring sing-along music of the 50’s and 60’s, holiday songs, and audience participation in the band. Delicious food, lots of laughs, and songs that everyone knew and sang filled the room with the warm spirit of the holidays.

*****

Two images of the Heritage Little One in contemporaneous guitar magazines. The image on the left is from the August 2003 issue of Guitar World magazine. The image on the right was in the October 2003 issue of Guitar Player magazine.

*****

For many years, The Gerry Gessie Duo entertained on weekends from Memorial Day to Halloween at the Wild West City theme park in Netcong, NJ. These images from October 4, 2017, show Gerry and Ronnie being interviewed by actor Daniel Roebuck prior to a performance and an audience participation moment during a performance.

*****

Further to the Wild West City post above, here we see Gerry and Ronnie entertaining a rather large audience member. This Clydesdale statue is one of two retired statues purchased by Wild West City directly from the Budweiser Clydesdale Stables. A very handsome replica!

*****

Gerry displayed his jaunty black hat and two very early Little Ones outside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in early 2000. He then played these Little Ones in the lobby of the Hall of Fame.

*****

Gerry was proud to be a Heritage Little One endorser and an authorized Heritage dealer for all Heritage models. He loved working with the management team at Heritage including (from left to right at rear): Jim Duerloo, Bill Paige, JP Moats and Marv Lamb. 

*****

This great combo image was captured in 2001 when Gerry and Ronnie Gessie attended the NAMM show in Nashville, TN. The guitar world luminaries in these images include Heritage Guitars founder Bill Paige, Heritage marketing director Lane Zastrow, Seymour Duncan, Gibson president Ted McCarty and Nokie Edwards of The Ventures. Gerry was invited to play his Little One on the NAMM Stage, along with the Big Neal and Company Band from San Francisco, Lee Oskar the Danish harmonicist and owner of Lee Oskar Harmonica Co and a Yamaha musician on the Korg organ. Yes, Gerry was in his glory and it was a great opportunity to showcase the Little One.

*****

In 2000, Gerry and Ronnie attended the Summer NAMM show in Nashville, TN as guests of Heritage Guitar Company. It was the perfect venue to showcase the newly crafted Heritage Little One Guitar. It was also the perfect place to meet music legends and notables. Many such folks stopped to chat at the Heritage booth, as can be seen in this image. Clockwise from upper left: Ted McCarty, former CEO of Gibson Guitars, John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful, Seymour Duncan of guitar pickups fame and master guitarist Nokie Edwards of The Ventures. As the icing on the cake, Gerry was delighted and honored to be asked to join an all-star band on the NAMM stage with his namesake Little One guitar.

*****

A wonderful image! New Jersey residents John and Kathy (“Kat”) recently visited Veronica (“Ronnie”) Gessie and became the proud new owners of an early, single pickup Little One with lovely gold finish. Kat (lead vocals) and John (guitars and backing vocals) perform in the bands Katalyst and The Aurora Project. Video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HcTOJxGdOo. Katalyst on YouTube:https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCq-oZKcBzhziq6-m0xYH3Rg

*****

Further to the post and personal information above, these images show the lovely gold Little One acquired by New Jersey residents John and Kathy (“Kat”). They were thrilled to meet Ronnie Gessie and add this beautiful instrument to their guitar collection. Ronnie strives to find new owners for Gerry’s guitars who she knows will respect the “heritage” of his namesake instrument.  It’s important to her to know that this very special Little One is in good hands, cared for and well played. Upon meeting John and Kat through mutual friend Murray Jackson, she knew immediately that this gold Heritage “Gerry Gessie” guitar would be with the perfect couple!

*****

Gerry was immersed in music from a young age. These wonderful images featuring a classic convertible show Gerry’s NJ-based 1960s teenage band The Renegades. The band comprised Gerry on lead guitar, Ed Winkle on rhythm guitar, Vincent Gessie (Gerry’s cousin) on drums and Kenny Samra on saxophone. Gerry’s dad Sam booked the band and publicized their appearances. The band captured local and regional popularity as a group of talented friends who brought music and fun to anyone who would listen and enjoy. 

*****

Throughout the ‘90s, Gerry played Sunday-evening gigs at a restaurant/bar called Lucky Lady near his home. If patrons sang or played, Gerry would invite them to join him onstage. On this occasion, Gerry is playing an amazing Casio PG-380 Strat Midi Synth guitar. He is accompanied by good friend and dentist David Guignard playing his Heritage 150. David’s guitar had been autographed by the legendary Les Paul during one of Les’ regular gigs at the Iridium Club in New York. Look closely and you will see Les’ inscription on the body of the guitar.

*****

From a Heritage Guitars publication in 2000. Rendal (Ren) Wall and his father before him worked for Gibson Guitars. Both were popular entertainers in the Kalamazoo area. Ren was responsible for artist relations at Heritage Guitars. He invented the HRW pickup installed as an upgrade in many Heritage guitars including the Heritage Little One. This article describes a very special Little One made for Ren.

*****

An article from a Heritage Guitars publication. It amply demonstrates Gerry and Ronnie’s very busy performance schedule and the types of venues where they entertained.

*****

The uppermost section of this grid describes the features of Little Ones produced prior to the red, white and blue Little Ones. The middle section describes the features of the red, white and blue models. The lower section encompasses all Little Ones no matter the color. Some were black, some curly maple, one was ordered red and there were some lefties.  

*****

Here is another wonderful, info-laden page from the “Little 1 Newsletter” published by Gerry Gessie and edited by Ronnie Gessie. It describes the appearance of Gerry and Ronnie in Heritage dealer Jay Wolfe’s booth at the Fall Philly Guitar Show. It also provides information about a seven-track CD of Gerry’s songs.  The bottom section describes the various items of “Little One” logo apparel that were available direct from Ronnie and Gerry.

*****

Gerry would be happy to know the current owner of red, white and blue Little One # 19, i.e. the 19th Little One made. The original owner ordered it through Heritage dealer Gerry and specified a truss rod cover engraved “Carly”. It was subsequently purchased by Todd Beebe. These images show Todd with his Little One at 225 Parsons Street, Kalamazoo, MI, the birthplace of all Heritage guitars.

Todd is an award-winning, multi-genre, multi-instrument entertainer in the Chicagoland area. He has been a front man, sideman and accompanist. He performs solo and with his multi-instrumentalist wife Connie in duo performances. Additionally, Todd performs frequent music education shows in schools. He offers private and group guitar instruction and he loves to share his musical passion with children.

*****

This great image is a follow-up to the story of Chicagoland multi-instrumental entertainer Todd Beebe, owner of red, white and blue Little One # 19. In a lovely coincidence Chicago resident Angela attended Todd’s gig at the Chicago House of Blues and chatted with him about Heritage Little One guitars. Angela is the proud and lucky owner of a gold Little One. Two strangers who are now new friends; brought together by a guitar and music!

*****

Further to the great story above, these images show the lovely gold Little One owned by Chicago resident Angela. It has an interesting history! As seen in the upper image, this Little One was originally equipped with a standard pickup. In 2000, Gerry sent it back to Heritage for the installation of an optional HRW pickup. After Angela purchased it in 2023, she had a tone control installed by a luthier in Chicago. ”Goldie” is a real honey!

*****

Red, White and Blue Little Ones – Inspiration and Creation

The distinctive and attractive red, white and blue motif of many Heritage Little Ones was conceived by Gerry Gessie. This patriotic design required a special material for bodies and necks. That material was a solid-wood, multi-layer composite created by Rutland Plywood Corporation in Rutland, VT.
To create body and neck blanks, thin slices of maple-like wood were completely infused with color in vats of dye. Alternating color slices were glued together and the resulting laminated block was cut at an angle to create a striped appearance. The neck blanks consisted of over 30 laminations!
The amazing laminated wood used in Little Ones is impervious to water, stronger than maple and extremely crack resistant. This material greatly contributes to the finished guitars’ bright and full spectrum tone with great lows and highs.
Rutland Plywood Corporation, founded in 1957, was a major supplier of laminated blanks for firearm stocks and other products. Sadly, a disastrous fire totally destroyed the factory in August 2014

*****

The original purchaser of this beautiful Little One was Roger Keller, a close friend of Gerry and Ronnie Gessie and a gifted carpet and tile man by trade. Roger made a huge presence, being built like a  6′ tall huggable teddy bear. In 2003, Roger fell in love with the Heritage Little One Guitar and ordered this left handed version. It features a beautiful transparent black finish and is equipped with two pickups with coil-tap option. It was accompanied by its Heritage-branded custom hard case. It’s warranty designated it as number 18 and the headstock was imprinted “026” and “U30604”. Following Roger’s death, his Little One was offered for sale on an online marketplace.

*****

Tom and Lisa are employed at Clover, a rehabilitation center. Tom is the maintenance director and Lisa is a nurse while also serving in the Air Force Reserve. Tom facilitated Gerry’s hiring as a regular entertainer at Clover. Gerry and Tom were true friends who shared similar likes in music and musicians. Tom is a jack of all trades with an aptitude for all maintenance issues, whether large or small. He was, and still is, Gerry and Ronnie’s go to guy on their farm. When Ronnie made them available, Tom happily purchased two of Gerry’s Little One guitars. Lisa is holding the Heritage prototype in curly maple. Tom’s is one of the early amber guitars on which Gerry had Heritage install a tremolo.

*****

A selection of the high quality Little One logo apparel that was sanctioned by Heritage Guitars and shipped directly to purchasers by Gerry and Ronnie.

*****

Every Heritage Little One guitar is a special, high quality, limited production instrument. However, this Little One is quite unique and very well traveled. It accompanied Gerry and Ronnie to hundreds of performances in a variety of venues over many decades. It is a fitting instrument for a master guitarist. Note the beautiful and unique inlaid position markers on the fretboard, it’s the only Little One adorned in this manner. The engraved truss rod cover clearly designates it as Gerry’s personal guitar.

*****

This is a great image of the “Gerry Gessie Namesake Model” page from a Heritage Guitars product catalog c. 2000. It includes a wonderful image of Gerry with two Little Ones at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. The page also provides Little One specifications and contact information for Gerry and Ronnie Gessie so that fans could purchase Heritage Little One logo apparel.

*****

Yes, the Heritage Little One could be ordered in a left-handed version. This combo image shows a used lefty that was offered for sale years ago by NCK Guitars in Hong Kong. Details of the original and subsequent owner(s) are unknown.

*****

Gerry and Veronica (“Ronnie”) Gessie were married in 1967. Gerry was a master guitarist, singer and entertainer known as The Poor Man’s Star. He and Ronnie performed as the Gerry Gessie Duo, a professional team of very entertaining performers. Their unique shows were a departure from the norm and featured comedy and music of all genres. Their audiences included all age groups and they tailored their shows to both adults and children.

Audience participation was a hallmark of Gerry Gessie Duo shows. Audience members were encouraged to listen, dance and sing along. During every performance, a Build a Band segment was included where audience members joined the action on stage. With tambourines,  blow up guitars, clackers, drums, and a boomba (German instrument) audience members would volunteer to come to the dance floor and be a band for a song or two! Audiences loved this novel interactive feature.

Ronnie and Gerry performed together for four decades. They brought their shows to an array of venues including resorts, county fairs, clubs, parks and assisted living facilities throughout New Jersey and across the USA.  Their unvarying intent was to bring smiles to faces of all ages at every show.

In addition to performing, Ronnie was largely responsible for administrative and record keeping duties, logo merchandise sales, bookings and a host of other duties.

During breaks in their busy schedule, Gerry and Ronnie spent time on their idyllic farm in New Jersey named Promised Land Stables where they raised miniature horses. Along the way, they also raised their very successful son Gerry Jr.

*****

Gerry Gessie owned and played many high quality guitars. Also, his reputation and busy performance schedule led guitar companies to ask him to showcase their instruments on stage. At times, he played guitars made by Heritage, Ovation, Martin, Hofner, Yamaha and Epiphone, just to name a few. One of the most unusual, intriguing and well-played guitars in Gerry’s personal collection is shown in these images. It is a late-1980s Casio PG-380 Guitar Synthesiser with built-in iPD Sound Generator. It was Casio’s top of the line synth guitar and could generate an incredible array of sounds and effects.

*****

These photos show formally attired Gerry Gessie attending an end-of-year fund raising event at the Morris Center YMCA in New Jersey. For two of these annual fund raising events, special red, white and blue Heritage Little Ones were donated and lottery tickets were sold until the evening of the formal event. At the event, one ticket was drawn to determine the lucky winner. One of these special Little Ones can be seen on the right in both panels of this image. Both of the lottery Little Ones can be seen with Murray Jackson in the final post on this page.

*****

Murray Jackson and his Little Ones

Columbia, NJ-based entertainer Gerry Gessie endorsed a specialty Heritage guitar of small size and large quality known as the Gerry Gessie Little One. A limited number were made and most had solid body colors. A few had a “Red, White and Blue” motif with body and neck made from amazing dyed laminates.

When the Little One was introduced in 2000, Gerry’s son (also called Gerry) was a  director of the YMCA in Morris Center, NJ. In 2001 and 2002, that YMCA held fundraising raffles. In both of those raffles one of the  prizes was a donated Little One. Those two Little Ones had special truss-rod covers designating them as YMCA raffle prizes.

In 2012, I purchased a red, white and blue Little One with gold hardware on eBay. When I unpacked it, I noticed the unusual YMCA truss rod cover. I contacted Gerry to inquire about its meaning. He told me the story of the two YMCA raffles.

Later, I bought a second red, white and blue Little One with chrome hardware from a guitar dealer in Westfield, NJ. When it arrived, I was astounded to see that it also had a Morris Center YMCA truss rod cover. Gerry confirmed that I owned the only two YMCA raffle guitars that exist!

These very special Little Ones have been tucked away in their custom-fit, Heritage-branded hard shell cases. They will be passed on to my granddaughter Mia and my grandson Luca with documentation explaining their wonderful backstory.

*****

The two upper images show Murray’s two Little Ones, one with gold hardware and one with chrome hardware. They are the only two donated as raffle prizes for fundraisers for the YMCA in Morris Center, NJ. The two images below show the rear cavity covers. Note that Little One # 17 features an optional HRW pickup developed by master guitarist and Heritage artist relations manager Ren Wall.

*****