James Best lied about his guitar skills to get cast on The Andy Griffith Show

"The Guitar Player" couldn’t play a lick!

Andy Griffith loved to pick a guitar every chance he got on The Andy Griffith Show.

Out of everybody in Mayberry, though — including all the Darlings — it was Jim Lindsey whose guitar playing got the TV sheriff grinning the most. Best picker in the county!

"The Guitar Player" was played by character actor James Best, and he appeared in two first-season episodes of The Andy Griffith Show as the groovy Jim Lindsey.

To get the role, however, Best wasn't exactly forthright during his casting call.

The story goes that The Andy Griffith Show producers called Best to invite him as a guest star and asked, "Can you play guitar?" He shot back, “Are you kidding? I have two guitars!"

The Andy Griffith Show took Best at his word, and when he got on set, he immediately realized he was out of his depth. They played him the music, and all he could do was 'fess up.

"I can't play guitar," he admitted.

They were not happy, insisting he'd lied, but Best had a coy response that he remembered offering: "No, I didn't lie. I said, 'I have two guitars.'"

It all worked out with a little TV studio magic. The guitar licks you hear in "The Guitar Player" and "The Guitar Player Returns" are in reality played by a guitarist from one of the coolest session bands in history.

Barney Kessel was a guitarist for the Wrecking Crew, the legendary ensemble that backed bands like the Beach Boys and the Monkees on studio recordings. When you listen to Sonny & Cher sing "The Beat Goes On," it's Kessel on guitar.

He also recorded dozens of jazz albums, including many as a member of the Oscar Peterson Trio. Between 1947 to 1960, polls in both Esquire and Playboy deemed him America's No. 1 guitarist. Perry Mason gave him a chance to shine onscreen himself — he furiously works his frets as "Barney" in the episode "The Case of the Missing Melody." He also composed the conducted the music heard in that mystery.

Quietly behind the scenes, together Kessel and Best portrayed Mayberry's best guitar player, but some of The Andy Griffith Show fans have long noticed something was a little off about watching the performance at the beginning of "The Guitar Player Returns."

In the opening scene, Best strums an acoustic guitar. However, if you listen to the tune, it's clearly an electric guitar that Kessel's playing. Really attentive listeners have noted there's also a ghost of a bass guitar you can hear.

The electric acoustic in the early scene from ''The Guitar Player Returns''

Later in the episode, Best does break out an electric guitar, so perhaps we'll just call this tiny goof in the opening scene a little bit of foreshadowing?

Although Best — who is probably best known as a sheriff himself, Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard — was, let's say, minorly deceptive during his casting, there were no hard feelings between him and Andy. The actors remained friends for the rest of their lives. In an interview, Best praised Andy's guitar playing on the Mayberry fan podcast Two Chairs No Waiting.

“I really had fun because Andy plays a guitar and his makeup man Lee Greenway played banjo and guitar, so they had a hard time getting us on the set, because we'd be back there picking on the guitar a little bit and singing," Best said. "I really enjoyed doing that show because they had a very talented cast."

He also shared how the show became special to everyone in his own family. "Of course, The Andy Griffith Show has always been one of my favorites, and I still watch it," Best said. "And my grandchildren watch it. They must be the third or fourth generation." Best passed away in 2015; Kessel, in 2004.

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STTOS 26 days ago
Always liked James Best. It's amazing how often he pops up in an old 60's Western.
RickSon 1 month ago
How about som Ozzie and Harriet :) my name is Rick Son my brother is Dave Son we used to cover the credits with tape so it showed Rick and Dave Son..
RickSon 1 month ago
Always knew it wasn't James Best just becuase the camera looked away from him to the hands pickin,just a good ole cinema trick like when country stars can't hit the next octave up in the song then they will zoom in on the face away from the guitar. I call them basic country chord,but i can't play up the neck either!
jholton30062 1 month ago
When I saw Herb Ellis in the credits, I automatically thought of Herb Ellis the guitar player and assumed that he provided the actual guitar playing (I've played guitar most of my life and knew that James Best was faking it). I didn't realize that this was a different Herb Ellis that probably couldn't play a lick, either. I'm quite familiar with Barney Kessel and had a feeling he was the man behind the strings. Incidentally, Barney and Herb Ellis the guitar player, along with Charlie Byrd, recorded at least one album as "The Great Guitars."
Wiseguy jholton30062 1 month ago
Herb Ellis was the original Off. Frank Smith on the original Dragnet. Later Ben Alexander would take over the role. Ellis popped up on the 1960s Dragnet as well.
GloryGrace 1 month ago
You can't blame him.....I think most everyone wanted to be on the show (if they didn't they where crazy). He probably saw it as his only chance and jumped at it!
trybriguy 1 month ago
Anyone who plays guitar knows who can play and who can't. When someone comes out and grabs an acoustic guitar and it's an electric playing, and tries to play it , most all know it's fake. Also, timing and finger placement you just can't fake. Jim was a very talented actor, but, no way could he play guitar or fake it for that matter!
Todd 1 month ago
I always wondered if he really played. I think it's a little strange to bring him back when he couldn't play.
ncadams27 1 month ago
I’d rather have a good actor mimic a musician (where the music is enhanced anyway, like on a record) than hire a musician who is a bad actor.
JamesBest 1 month ago
Other than being Roscoe, these were some of my favorite episodes.
ljpalumbo 1 month ago
Your wrong Chucklehead. Earle Hagen "wrote the theme song in 15 minutes".
RobertCload 1 month ago
He did a horrible job of faking his playing. I enjoy the storyline of both episodes but have an issue with the technical aspects.
Nadya92129 1 month ago
He did not seem like an authentic male, IMHO.
WordsmithWorks 1 month ago
They must not have been too upset with him since they asked him back for another episode. Also check out Best's three Twilight Zone episodes.
He sported a guitar in the TZs "The Grave" too!
JHP WordsmithWorks 1 month ago
BAR-NAY was able deputy too (haha)
JHP 1 month ago
never thought I'd say this but that pic of best and andy - andy was the better Guitar player (ERP!)
Chucklehead 1 month ago
Andy Griffith later said that he never had an issue with Best not being able to play the guitar because Andy himself had gotten his role on the show as a result of promising producers he was an excellent whistler. When it came time to record the show's theme music, Andy had to admit he'd lied and producers were furious. Fortunately for Griffith, Rance Howard, the father of "Opie" Ron Howard, was a classically-trained whistler and save the day by recording the theme flawlessly on the first take.
JoeyZone11 Chucklehead 1 month ago
I read that was Earle Hagen that did the whistling.
You are so right, Chucklehead, good to see we have a knowledgeable fan on the site :-) Most folks believe that old story about Earle Hagen doing the whistling and how he wrote the song in a few minutes but Andy Griffith's and Don Knott's biographies both verify that the performance was actually done by Rance Howard.
BabyBoomer Chucklehead 1 month ago
Yes, I also read producer Sheldon Leonard's biography that mentioned how Ron Howard's dad Rance came to the rescue and whistled the theme perfectly on the first take.
Wiseguy Mayberryexpert 1 month ago
He didn't say he believed it only that he read it.
bubbasmith 2 months ago
Not only could James Best not play guitar, he wasn't very good at faking it either. His miming playing is really bad.
MrsPhilHarris bubbasmith 2 months ago
I have always thought that too.
RobertCload bubbasmith 1 month ago
My thoughts exactly.
JHP bubbasmith 1 month ago
the camera shots of him playing were like he was sitting someplace and doing something natural - or trying to do it
JohnBates bubbasmith 1 month ago
Not as bad as Jesse Pearson(Keevy Hazelton) in season 6.
MikeyMello JohnBates 1 month ago
“My Hometown....” super cheesy but Opie liked the rock version! Clara and Aunt Bee were very ungrateful if you ask me. Terrible lip syncing, electric guitars without a cord even plugged in (way before wireless units) All those old shows struggled when there was music, The Brady Bunch comes to mind also. I guess most people don’t pay attention to that like I do though.
JHP 2 months ago
he couldn't play a lick? Look at any of the eps the guitar player was on. Fake as can be. This isnt news at all..gees
Barry22 2 months ago
I think Best was related to The Everly Brothers. Maybe that is how he had two guitars
stephaniestavr5 2 months ago
James Best lying about not being able to play guitar, Reminds me of I think I learned, that Michael Landon said, that he and the others when Bonanza was starting up, lied about being able to ride. I did a Googlescan before typing this seeing if I could find anything about this info...I couldn't. I know I heard/ read this about someone/others who lied about being able to ride. Maybe it wasn't The Cartwrights.
All of the Bonanza actors had been on Westerns before, so they had some experience with horses. Pernell Roberts didn't know how to ride when he appeared on Gunsmoke in "How To Kill A Woman" (1957) but he got quite good practicing for the movie "Ride Lonesome" (1959, right before Bonanza).
Greg stephaniestavr5 1 month ago
As prevalent as westerns were in those days I'd think riding horse would be part of acting class. LOL
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