The Guitar That Love Built

The guitar that love built will be in my hands in a few days. It’s the end of the week as we know it and everything’s different now.

Last month, I did a mini-tour of the southwest with Robert Fisher from the Willard Grant Conspiracy, a normal tour: club dates, club promoters, club crowds. Fine, fine and fine again, nothing out of the ordinary, really. The only problem was that I was playing these old Shady Circle songs; songs written in houses for friends, family and interested onlookers. In clubs, hey come off as art pieces: interesting old paintings, but nothing a twenty-first century individual would ever think to crawl into.

Billy and I flew around the country, thinking, talking, then scooped up the kids and shoved ’em back into the truck, still thinking and talking, Shady Circle songs in our ears. We gazed off into the distance, wondering what the New Old World’ll be like, when songs written in houses for friends, family and interested onlookers can be played in houses for friends, family and interested onlookers.

Crackpot Theory meets Wild Hare: Billy books Shady Circle house shows with fan promoters on the drive back to California. Kids, dogs, snakes, guitars, amps, groceries, suitcases and schoolbooks tumbling out of the truck and into the loving embrace of smart people, backyards, laughter and potluck freakin’ dinners! Allow me to repeat: everything’s different now.

Here’s why:

  1. All real songs are written in houses (and garages and motels and the back seats of cars) for friends, family and interested onlookers. This is music to crawl into. Music played just for commerce is, in my snooty opinion, not real music. If we have to go back in musical time to before there was a music industry in order to learn this lesson, then that’s what we should do, ’cause it’s an important one.
  2. Normal people like music. Not just people who look like the rock bands they listen to; all kinds of people are moved by sound. They don’t need big corporations to tell them what music they like and they also don’t need to jeopardize tomorrow’s work day to drink expensive-cheap beer in the middle of the night in a rock club if that isn’t their thing. They still like music.
  3. People are giving. When they aren’t being taken advantage of, they know it. They deserve respect and when they get it, they share: ideas, jokes, opinions, money, food, stories, music and beer.

At Michelle’s house concert, like all the house concerts, I laughed and talked through my set and everyone else in the room laughed and talked with me. We were together in the room, not separated by a wall of performer vs. audience. Afterwards, I watched in envy as bandmates scheduled rehearsals with each other. It seemed like everyone there was in a band with everyone else who was there.

I told them I’d give anything to be able to play with one of my bands on a Tuesday night in a basement (or anywhere, for that matter). “Why can’t you play with your bands?” Michelle’s drummer asked.

“Well…because…of the music business,” I answered, well aware of how stupid that sounds.

I bought into the conventional music business a long time ago. Shame on me. Michelle’s world is the New Old World (bring it on!). Someday soon, there will be such a thing as a musician who does not suck and does not starve. Imagine: local bands again. Playing in one’s own city for friends, family and interested onlookers. No more begging, for tours, radio, publicity, T.V. and movie placement, etc. No more rich rock stars, just passing the hat and working hard to support your music habit. There is no shame in that, but there should be shame associated with playing lousy music just to make money and get famous. That’s failure.

I had given up on ever seeing the guitar I asked Collings to build for me almost 3 years ago, before money got really tight.  Collings builds their beautiful guitars to my specifications. Bill Collings watched me play and chose the wood, while I chose the bodyshape.  It was gonna be perfect. My old Collings C-10, the reason I ever had a solo acoustic career, was beaten to shit, barely playable any longer; I really needed a new guitar. But I simply couldn’t take food out of the kids’ mouths to buy a guitar, even if it was built for me.

The people at Collings sympathized and apologized for having to replace the “KH” headstock with a generic one in order to sell it to someone else. Billy was heartbroken, having spent the last few Christmases and birthdays struggling to find a way to surprise me with the guitar, but ultimately giving up.

Friday morning, out of desperation, we decided to share our frustration with this community. We were overwhelmed by the response we got. Billy received (and answered!) almost 600 emails from people wanting to help me buy the guitar. Hundreds of contributions came into “The Hat”, my online tip-jar, mostly small ones between one and five dollars, sometimes ridiculously generous ones. “The Hat” runneth over. By Friday afternoon, we had enough to buy the guitar. We laughed and cried, awe-struck, and begged people to stop contributing.

When the guys at Collings heard what happened, they shared our shock and glee, blown away that any musician could have such a loving following. “They’re buying it for you?” Today, they’re happily boxing up and shipping off my beautiful New Old Guitar.

You people continue to amaze me.

A special “Thank you” to the first Shady Circle house concert promoters: Echo (Brooklyn, NY), Tine (Franklin, MA), Michele (Buffalo, NY) and Tom (Lee’s Summit, MO)


Me, playing “Deep Wilson”, fireside, in Tom’s Backyard.

Posted in: words on October 12, 2008