Monday morning, and we’re back in the shop ready to take on a slew of new stuff. Over the weekend I was reminded of The Crow guitar when I saw Jim Carroll’s last novel, The Petting Zoo. I like to read on the airplane, and a friend offered me the book for the trip home. Right there on the cover was a big black crow.
Carroll is best known for his autobiographical book, The Basketball Diaries, which of course was later made into a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio. More than just a celebrated junkie; Carroll’s work in poetry, prose and music spanned over forty years of ups and downs, from New York’s lower East Side to San Francisco.
As a singer and songwriter, Carroll burst onto the world stage with his 1980 release Catholic Boy, and its single People Who Died. That song has been covered by quite a few artists, including the Drive-By Truckers. Carroll himself died at age sixty from a heart attack—reportedly while working at his writing desk in New York, in 2009. Such a loss.
Seeing the book made me think of when I’d played with Carroll on Back to the Streets, a tribute a tribute to Don Covay, many years ago. It was a cover of “Long Tall Shorty” and it’s not what you’d expect from Jim Carroll. He was a fan of Covay’s work, and I think it’s a good track from a very interesting guy. The rhythm guitar is a Strat into a Vox AC 30 and for lead I used a Chaparral straight into a 50 watt Marshall.
I’m going to put on some Jim Carroll music, and get back to work.
Sweaty and breathing a little hard, I stamped the snow off my boots and leaned the shovel against the barnboard of the workshop. It was a beautiful Winter morning, so I paused for a moment to drink it all in and fill my lungs with the crisp fresh air.
The sun was breaking coldly through the trees just above the horizon—making the icicles glow with a pinkish light. Turning inside, I was greeted by the Bakersfield boys streaming from the sound system. Don Rich’s sweet twang had segued into AC/DC by the time I had my coat off.
Yesterday, the interior carves were finished on The Crow guitar. I’d gotten the spruce top and maple back glued up and it was still in the vacuum press. As tempted as I was to take it out—I resisted. The Sakura guitar had been the subject of my dreams and I wanted to put some ideas down on paper before they slipped away. I got some books on Japanese art out of my library for reference. The basic idea fell right into place.
Here’s a quick look at what I’m thinking. In my dream, the guitar was heavy like a ’60s Les Paul, with that banging midrange that sounds so wonderful through a Marshall stack. I’d dropped the idea of an elaborate body inlay, and wanted to concentrate on the engraved front and back plates. The first step was to consolidate my overall design in a series of sketches in the journal that will accompany the guitar through its construction. I like to think of this as building the soul of the guitar.
As requested, here are some closer views of the journal.
This is my sketch of the cherry blossoms, which will be engraved on the metal plates. Check back in a few days to see more progress.
“There is no percentage in remembering the past”
— Taj Mahal, Take a Giant Step.
For the most part, I view lingering in the past as a cry for help. If you are afraid that your audience will abandon you, the first thing some performers do is dig into the archives for the old hits. I’m not saying that old hits are bad, I’ve had my share of “glory years” but they’re all in the rear-view mirror now.
As time passes, I become more attuned to the different needs and desires of my own motivation. I want to build guitars that have a back-story built in as opposed to building the back story for the second or third time.
Here’s a look at the hand-made book of sketches, dimensions and ponderings that accompanies each “Signature” guitar that I build. It’s a place to draw, doodle and communicate the concept that drives the build. It’s a place to record dimensions and ideas. The pages step through the thought process behind my choices—the true back-story that is built into the guitar. This is one that I’m calling “The Crow”, and when the instrument is finished, the book is hand-stitched, bound with a beautiful cover of original artwork and goes with the guitar.
I bring my experience, my taste and my sense of humor to each project. Serving the client is only one side of the coin; just as fitting my designs into a template dictated by a company policy isn’t my priority any longer. I’m free to express my own desires and esthetics with my own projects. I love what I’m doing and I hope it will show. It’s not such a bad place to be.
All of this comes to mind as I am simultaneously designing new instruments and building a classic “replica” for Anthony. In that regard, it certainly feels better to obsess on someone else’s past than your own.
The question that remains is, can guitar designs that owe so much to a vintage esthetic, move ahead without being purely nostalgic?
Down to the scale-model of a city known as Hartford, Connecticut I went. Trading a perfectly good afternoon in the woods for the grit of the ‘hood and the concrete bunker of the Webster Theater. It takes a lot to coax me out of the home-20—but seeing my old friend Gavin Menzies and the boys in The Cult is a lot of coaxing.
After a thorough tour of the gear, including a few choice licks on Billy Duffy’s new Nash-built “Esquire” we repaired to the tour bus for some catching-up, cold beer and general mischief.
I’d planned to wimp out after a few Cult Classics, but happily, my car was blocked into the staff parking lot. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to call in sick tomorrow.
Everything happens for a reason, and I just relaxed and had fun with it. Gav’s old buddy Lenny from Huntington Beach was there with a homemade Calzone and the hang was just what the doctor ordered.
I never tire of the sound and fury of a full-blown rock rig pumping out rock rhythms in a small theater. and the pinball rebound of the Cult’s chugga-chugga repertoire truly turned the Webster into a Sonic Temple. Instead of feeling trapped there, I felt delivered. This is why I do what I do, and it’s good to realize that.
A double-dose of P90 and Filtertron-through-tube-amps-on-ten was still ringing in my ears as I dragged my ass into the shower at 10:00 AM, but hey, I’m the boss. Anyway, I was really working—dreaming of a new guitar I want to build.