Grateful and Feeling Very Grounded... You?

According to the old axiom about lightning never striking the same place twice, the Wingfeather Workshop – where the little Birdsongs come from – is now the safest place to be in an electrical storm!

Yeah, yeah – I know it’s bupkis, but I’m going with it for now because our little green shop of wonders is not a skyscraper or cell tower and we don’t have big antennas on the roof. It’s just another of the bazillion little tin roof buildings out in the rural trees of the south. To me the odds are with us, and the fact it didn’t blow the little place sky high is pretty amazing too. Huge scorched racing stripes down the insulation, exit wound outside just under the gutter, splinters impaled in foam insulation, grenaded switches, light fixtures blown off the wall, and… get this… an old land line jack cover popped off with enough force to knock things off my desk… in the assembly shop next to it… speak to the hit it took. From maybe 50 yards away it sounded like a bomb in a cymbal factory.

“Feeling very safe up here at the moment…”

Thankfully, nothing was damaged other than some wiring and outlets etc., and miscellaneous lightbulbs all over the compound. A motion sensor. The shop stereo… that sucks. Overall though, simple fixes. We were, however, knocked back into the dark ages. Power outages during storms out here are routine, but let me tell you, this was one with style! Once I was able to get out and see what happened, I was ready for a week or two without power and making priority lists in my head as candles and other emergency supplies were gathered in one spot. And this… this is where I’m going with this week’s words. Do you even know your neighbors? Do you know where your flashlight is right now? Is it working? Can you cook if the power’s out?

Dig this – my place WAS HIT BY LIGHTNING. Regardless of who you are, what you think, how well you’re doing, what the odds are… that could have been you. That could have been your house. It could have been your neighbor’s house. It could have been your whole apartment building. It could have been your whole area. What would you do? This is what I want you to think about. BAM. No power, potentially for days. Big rain. Are you cold? Are you hot? Are you hungry? You will be. And if you consider yourself the head of a family, there is no excuse not to have some basic preparations aside and plans in place. Water is free, ramen is cheap, fire is easy. Inexpensive camping heaters and cookers and all kinds of stuff is literally at yard sales every weekend. There should be some in everyone’s closet with a few gallons of drinking water and some water to clean with and flush the toilet a few times. Why? Not because you’re worried – so you don’t HAVE to be worried. You know it’s there.

This storm came up in literally 10 minutes and got really hairy and BAM. Not just lights out for a while, but a hit. And not the power line transformer where someone magically shows up to fix it, even way out here (bless those people). You’re fried, buddy. However lucky you are to have a great electrical guy in your circle, it could be more days and dollars than you know until you know the extent. We take a lot for granted in our life of switches and buttons. We live in a precarious world, that’s why you have band-aids. I want you to consider gathering some supplies, skills, and tools, as a bigger box of band-aids for a bigger list of potentials. That’s all it is. Not some TV reality show, not some bunker in Arkansas and camo pants. It’s having a week of dry beans & rice aside and a little camp stove to cook it on. Knowing what to do is a choice – be that person. Being prepared is rarely the wrong answer. I love you folks and I want you all OK and out there playing music!

When the lights go out or things do down, if you’re not dead, it’s merely a test of your systems. Daily life is just a series of systems and there are simple ways of alternatively doing most of them. Out here for us a week or two without power would be a camping trip. A hot one, one full of other ways of getting done what are usually simple daily need tasks, but it’s going to be OK. It’s certainly not going to be life or death just because the power goes out. And it shouldn’t be for you, wherever you are, and it shouldn’t be for your family. In that moment I didn’t know if the rain would stop, how much we got or would get, the condition of the roads or low water crossings going out and away, extent of wiring damage (the 200 amp main was fried), nothing. It went dark, and I had other means. Thankfully the rain did stop, the wiring damage was mostly contained, everything was slowly and methodically tested and powered back up, our neighbors are great, and our handyman friend is an electrical genius. Mid week we were 95% fixed up. I took it as a chance to rearrange, put it back together a bit differently and clean up a bit. By mid-week next week I’ll be routing and carving and shaping again. Just another wild scene in a real trip of a life.

I organized all the wood and let me tell you - we have some interesting pieces, but we’ll get to that. For right now, time to get dusty and continue to work on the shop. And then there are the notes to go over on what plan Bs worked and what weren’t ready, so maybe a trip to the hardware store so I can have those all aside and totally let go of worrying about little – or even moderately sized – what ifs. Life happens; have the band aid.

If you need any advice on being a little more prepared than you might be, feel free to call – no purchase necessary – and I’m completely serious. Call me. It could have been anybody and it could have been much worse. I stand in awe of my little temple having been touched by greater forces. I’d have like to have seen it happen, but as what’s basically a cup of water with hair, that could have gone awry fairly quickly. The energy in there still raises the hair on my arms, and though not positive about it (har, har) I think the instruments in process that got to experience it are going to be extra special. I can just feel it. Thanks everyone!

Listening to: Well, not much unfortunately! But that’s an easy fix. I’m grateful.

Hello Day Crawlies & Goodnight Night Tripper

“Hey, buddy!” They hear it all the time in here. The tiny jumping spiders on the workbenches, the mud daubers flying in & out looking for a quiet corner to build their little adobe storage units, birds nesting in nearby junipers, squirrels peeking in, deer slowly moving through the tree line, harvestmen (“Daddy longlegs”) climbing in the heat of the day to nest in the eaves in bunches like some kind of architectural merkin. Any of the smaller crawlies in harm’s way I move and hope I’m doing the right thing for them… my act of mercy vs. their own fate or destiny. If I’m brought in front of it, I usually feel it’s because the energies of the moment consider me a method for action, the tool for the job, so I use my best judgment and do my best. I mention this and move them aside. I’ve felt it done to me and I’m just passing the favor along as one would share a gift.

Yeah yeah – you might think I’m a different tool altogether. You might be saying “Did this guy ride the short bus?” But I’ll take that – I think any short bus is full of untapped, unrecognized potential - while the kids on the big bus are trying to front more than they actually have. I see life as an extension of the little bit of it I get to use for a while, and that’s how I behave toward it. I walk around webs and give ant mounds warning shots. It’s just the way it is.

Now if something is trying to take a bite out of me, literally or metaphorically… I still have empathy for how difficult their position in life must be to where this is their best option, but with apologies – they’re gone. That’s extreme juice for extreme moments, though. It’s there but I don’t need to lead with that. At all other times I so prefer the harmony that makes for sweeter life and smoother doings.

It’s been quite rainy here, which is a blessing considering how dry it can be – but everything has its price, and there are tons of bugs around this spring. I like my space, so I let them be; I don’t need to conquer anyone but me. It’s muggy and looking to be a hot one too, but I’ll take it. I’ll take it with a smile; I’m at peace out here in the woods, doing my thing just as they’re out here doing theirs. For their own reasons they do their things, and for reasons I’ve dressed up to believe are mine I do this. Or I’ve BEEN dressed to believe are mine. I only know that I don’t know.

I do know I’ve known kill-smush-rage-punch-hate first guys, but – to whatever degree – haven’t known them to be very successful at gardening or anything in life of a process similar. And much of life is a process similar. Their strengths are in other positions, for other tasks. Situations may require a little fang here and there, but I’ve learned you can plant seeds or throw rocks; it’s very difficult to do both and be all that effective at either.

But… what do I know. I’m just a little fuzzy man in a workshop, making basses, talking to the critters. Thanks for sharing this moment. Wish another of any kind well today, and have a great weekend! And as always, fill it full of music wherever possible. I’ll be listening to Dr. John – he has passed. Though any life can be difficult in chapters, the gardens he leaves in his footsteps will continue to bloom forever and seed others. One album of his that has been in steady rotation in the workshop for years is The Sun The Moon & Herbs (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0l9OqFw6Ops) - I hope it brings something to you. And if it does, please consider offering a gesture of good or safe passage to another, maybe in Dr. John’s honor or as a kind ripple in carrying on the best of those who’ve helped your garden and gone.

Listening to: Skip James Devil Got My Woman (some of the deepest of the delta blues); Joe Henderson So Near So Far (Musings for Miles) (just beautiful jazz with one of my favorites, John Scofield, on guitar); Dr. John The Sun The Moon & Herbs and Dr. John & The Nite Trippers - Landmark Music Festival 2015 from YouTube.

Musings For The Last Day of May

More great progress this week. Pushing the ones in sanding, finishing, and assembly is this batch being routed. Once the wood is prepped, planed, and joined and the body shape is cut out & the edges smoothed, THIS is where it begins. That blank becomes a body – getting locating & through holes, neck pocket, cavities for pickups and controls, and beautiful roundovers to soften the curves. Most of a client’s wait is getting to this stage; this is where the wood transforms from “Wood that’s going to be an instrument” into “An instrument that just isn’t done yet.” A little more contour carving from here and it’s off into sanding & finishing!

Had some wonderful talks with some of you this week. Folks have been getting their basses and I’ve been getting great calls and emails from happy people… a relief since these are clients that have been waiting a long-ass time. When my little slow-down slowed me down there were builds at the end of their wait-in-line time it was about time to start on, and it took a lot longer to do that and work them across the benches. I want everyone happy, of course, but especially you long-haulers who stuck with me.

Because it’s not about me – whether it was 20 years ago or yesterday, I’m just the one who gets to orchestrate the creation of a tool for you. That tool is FOR YOU – to channel your muse, to be your voice, to bring your part to music moments and into those – and the lives – of others. When you pick up an instrument it should be pure inspiration and an extension of you in that moment; it should transcend what it took to get it, transcend you looking at it as a dollar sign. That’s for objects. This is more than that and if I’ve done my job in listening to and reading you, in honing my craft and honoring what has been given to me to work with, in presenting the best of my workshop and the highest of me personally, the time and money shouldn’t be a part of that moment. It should be so overly worthy of them that it’s a non thinking point anymore. And it may seem an intimidating summit to aim for given how much of both it takes to get what I do, but that’s my part of this and it didn’t just happen. It grew to this. I grew to this. And really, the process is a series of well-rehearsed nexts we bring our best to and apply. FOR YOU. Thanks so much! I work for the coolest clients in the world…

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And hey, on a personal note, I had the privilege of picking a friend up from rehab this week. Listen, there’s no weakness or failure in asking for help when you know you need it and it’s something big. That’s strength and betting on your own survival. If you’re struggling, reach out. Commit to figuring out how you can learn to be OK with yourself… EVERYTHING, ALL the troubles, get a bit easier when you’re looking out from a more balanced perspective. It’s like feeding the tree from the roots – feed there and all the branches, all the leaves, everything gets healthier. You’ve got a friend – call on them. Don’t ever doubt you’re valid and worth saving and cared about, but understand that if YOU don’t feel that way about YOU, it’s time to get a second opinion and some help on that OK? OK. Have a great weekend. Life is good. Watch the sunrise. Feel the rain. Make some music.

Listening to:

Bob Dylan Nashville Skyline; Crosby, Stills & Nash (self titled); a very cool playlist from a rail rider (RanOutOnARail on YouTube); and some Skip James delta blues. And today, Soundgarden Down On The Upside and some live Uriah Heep from their second Austin show this week.

The Gift of Music... and Gratitude

Music, I told many of my students, is the most powerful force in this world next to love. To offer music, whether it’s a Clint Black cover in a bar or one voice of many in a church choir, playing a simple song to honor one passed or being part of a soundtrack to another’s life in the moment, this goes very deep and its ripples go very far. Even the simple act of passing along an album to another can literally better a life. It’s not some inert object you’re passing along - it’s a force.

Before we get to that though, Memorial Day weekend is here and I want to take a moment to offer humble gratitude for the sacrifices we honor on it – those of the brave who gave all. I’d also like to acknowledge and offer respect to the ripples of those sacrifices - the losses to their families, their children, their friends and colleagues – and further extend this to thank all veterans passed, past, and present, for your service. I may be the exception in that I don’t turn all of this into a circus of commerce and sales – that’s not how I honor, that’s not what this means to me. I’ll be happy to sell you something and if you served I’ll probably extend YOU an extra courtesy savings of some kind. And, of course, my gratitude. But the rest of you? Respectfully, spend this weekend with your families, with your children; with friends and colleagues; with veterans. With the lonely and the sad. Not in line at some big store for something shiny because it’s another 10% off. Go spend your selves – go spend your time – go enjoy your freedom. Be safe, brothers and sisters.

This week we were gifted a collection of CDs from dear friends downsizing into a simpler, smaller, later chapter. There come times of letting go – of situations, of friends close, of stuff, as we resize our chapters. These are all things we all have in common, just like music. Through these all it is there for us and part of the soundtrack to our very existence; its joys, its sorrows, its changes, and those strange moments where they all meet as LIFE changes. For some there are “Living estate sales” and yard sales, for others there are gifts outward in all direction – deliberate placements re-homing things that have been important to them into the hands of others who have been important to them. All we have will go somewhere; we either decide that while we can, or leave it to others to decide. Either way it is a great honor to receive music.

Among many cool things sent to Birdsong headquarters over the years was a box of reggae CDs for Maggie. Years back I wrote in the Friday update about how our Blue Heeler just chills out to reggae, and we leave it on for her when we leave the house. This client saw that and (to get all Shakesperean on you) “Lo! There cometh to the shop a boxeth of oom-CHAKA-oom-CHAKA-ness to filleth thyne soul with levity!” Those CDs are still rotated into the workshop player and I’ve built many many basses to them. And Maggie still loves reggae, but she’s into mellow jazz these days too.

If you are in my life and I’ve given you Miles Davis Kind of Blue, that is the “give” equivalent of having your name tattooed on my heart. Whatever your position in my life, that is a love I cannot express any other way but to spill that music into yours from mine. It has been gifted to the living, and it has been provided for the dying to pass to. I can’t think of anything more heavy in my world to share when only what’s on that album will convey it. I’ve been through more copies of it than I have Walden’s Thoureau, for similar reasons, and for that I consider myself blessed.

When you sell a batch of used CDs, don’t you feel cheapened? I do. Not only because of how little you get, but also… here was this stack of parts of my life, and now it’s a $20 bill. Even that much in pizza and beer won’t even that out. No, when it’s time to move on from some music – for whatever reason – give it away. Then it becomes ripples! Direct, deliberate ripples. Find someone you KNOW will enjoy some (and will find homes for the rest) and GIVE it. Give it like blood. Give it like breath. Give it like it means more than money. Give it like love.

Listening to: Guitar Classics, a 2CD set of classical guitar; Fleetwood Mac live at The Shrine 1969; Richie Havens Grace of The Sun; Aerosmith Rocks.

One Two Three Four...

Music keeps you moving. Lenny the mechanic once said “Work without music on? Fughedaboudit.” While not true 100% of the time (sometimes it’s nice to be absorbed by the silence, the space between the sounds), there have been plenty of hours in this workshop where the music set the beat to move to and kept things rocking AND rolling for those few extra tasks or the extra juice to get after the big one.

This week it’s been The Ramones. Long before I was communing with nature and carving the wood, waxing philosophically from little spaces in the woods of the Texas “Hill Country”… I was an east coast kid with Road To Ruin on vinyl and Rocket to Russia on cassette. I can’t remember which came first, but it changed everything that came after. I almost started a band called Johnny Vomit and the Scumbags to play my little songs about springs from a couch poking my ass, little red wagons, and spontaneous combustion… you know, the usual. It was some of my first songwriting and I still have the tapes. Under lockdown.

Yes, friends, before “Rock to the river, wind to the tree, one drop of the rainshine in search of the sea” there was “I sat on a couch and a little spring stuck in my ass, a little spring; a little spring; a little spring!” However Cro-Magnon, one in some way begat the other, much like a lot of music woven into the DNA of pop traces back through original punk right to Joey, DeeDee, Johnny, and Tommy (and then Marky - “Mooahkey” - they were all from New York). They cast a mold and forged themselves as originals.

Usually in the little green workshop where the woodchips fly, it’s music; in the shop next to it where assembly happens (and I type all of this stuff) sometimes it’s an interview or documentary playing while I wire and fit and nut and string. This week, docs on Joey (inspiring) and DeeDee (harrowing), and about the tribute concert to Johnny. And the first album, which is – as my Grandmother would say – “Full of piss and vinegar.” But it’s good piss and vinegar, it still makes me smile, still fires something up further inside, and to ever see where one is going one must know from whence they came.

And the Ramones occupy a very sparse and special spot in my heart with the likes of Tascam Porta-One 4-tracks, eating a pizza from George’s watching a Cape Cod sunset at Red River beach, the woods in which I dwell, a certain old ratty Road Runner, Toole’s A Confederacy Of Dunces, and bowls of Asian noodles.

I saw the Ramones once, on the Too Tough To Die tour. 1985. Providence, RI in a small concrete venue with Neutral Nation opening. NN rocked, but then after a short break, in an instant the lights went down and “Onetwothreefour” and all hell broke loose for the next half hour. No pauses. No banter. No quarter. I had never experienced such a thing. “Onetwothreefour” I was up front but didn’t last long and sort of jostled to the DeeDee side of the stage by the main speakers. I think it rearranged my molecules. “Onetwothreefour” Joey the singer looked like a giant praying mantis. I couldn’t BELIEVE the intensity they created and sustained. It was incredible. “Onetwothreefour” Like, 16 songs in 20 minutes.

Now, I know to some of you who feel music is exclusively brain surgery to be performed by only the most qualified, this is an abomination. But really it’s art and expression and there’s room for it all and room to enjoy it all for whatever one particular flavor brings. And lemme tell you, I was in that room and it was allllllright. It inspired me to no end and I took the bits that were transferable and planted them as seed in my life and in others’.

For years when a student was a rocker and gearing up for their first gig, I would show them this picture of The Ramones as an example of how you don’t just inherit the stage, you TAKE it. Not the leather, not the style of music; but that intensity, that do-or-die, that sustained focused explosion. That’s how things happen. The chance comes and you TAKE it and go all in… whether it’s a gig, time to write a book, a life or death moment, deciding to live a dream, or a piece of land and you need a place to live and you look down and there’s a hammer in your hand. Game on right now here we go “Onetwothreefour!”

Make something happen. Something’s gotta give.

Listening to: Ramones stuff and some nice Latin guitar smooth jazz. It’s a balance, you know!

Music Rocks... and Time Rolls

I wonder whatever became of Jorge Quintana. About 30 years ago I was living in a rented room in San Marcos, TX, having arrived to do three things – become a singer-songwriter, use my bass playing to support myself, and start my life as if it were the kind of great journey that only truly begins thousands of miles away from where one starts. One day in a side street yard I saw a painted up ‘70s school bus with a for sale sign in the window. Of course I had to knock on the door; any kind of nomadic living has fascinated me since I was a kid hiding out in the library reading Blue Highways and Rolling Homes and accounts of the Woodstock era. A young long haired guy opened the door, guitars on the couch, and I was like “This dude could be my brother!” He was up from somewhere way south of south-central Texas, visiting his sister – who had evidently gotten on the bus when the driver came through years back, and now they were back and living in this house. So Jorge came to visit.

Right away two things were apparent – he was a cool cat, and he knew about as much English as I did Espanol. Which was about a five words. But when there is music involved, that doesn’t matter – he showed me the bus, unable to get the hood open (“Sheet? Is say sheet?” “Ahhh, shit, yes – shit!” “Si, OK – shit! And… son o, son o…” “Son of a bitch?” “HAHA si, son… ama… beetch!”) They weren’t around, so we went in – now knowing maybe a dozen words in common - to write my number down and I pointed to the guitars. I did what anybody like me in that moment would do – whipped out the universal phrase “Carlos Santana?”

We jammed for an hour.

Through gesturing wildly and many diagrams (and hilariously ineffective phone calls), over a few weeks I helped him record a demo tape and took him to see an Austin music street fair, and to an open mic or two; I remember one of his songs was called “Arriesgado” about taking a chance. He went over big! I remember thinking of finding a drummer who could speak Spanish and backing this guy up on bass. One of the many fascinating characters who drifted in and drifted out of my script – and/or I, of theirs.

Some of his art, and his sister if I remember, were involved with the Mexic-Arte Museum in Austin, and the only trace I could find is a photo of him there with his sister. He is the one with the guitar. This would be around 1990.

jorge.png

Jorge, if you’re out there – “¡Amigo! De formas extrañas todos mis sueños se hicieron realidad. Espero que también hayas vivido tus sueños.”

Speaking of living out a dream, word came through the bass community that luthier Mike Pedulla is retiring after 45 years. A Pedulla was the first really high end hand made bass guitar I saw in person, sometime in the ‘80s. It was like seeing my first Paul Reed Smith guitar – “Well, this is definitely another level from the every day thing, isn’t it!” I came of age in Massachusetts, where M.V. Pedulla was based, so his legend was known. And over the years it has been amazing to see where he took his craft and the things he innovated into the bass world. I love the old Pedulla-Orsini builds from the mid-1970s, and to see where it went from there is amazing. It takes vision and discipline and a hell of a lot of work to create something iconic as he has done, let alone sustain it as an independent name for so many years. On behalf of the hands at Birdsong and SD Curlee, we send Mr. Pedulla our gratitude for his work as one of the ‘70s independent luthier/designers who blazed that trail we all walk down now, and our wishes to him for a fantastic retirement.

And to YOU, we thank you for being with us! Have an awesome weekend.

Listening to: mostly rocker interviews this week, and a Joey Ramone documentary.

Major Progress... You Remembah Him?

First Friday in May? How is this possible?

Whenever I have felt a little behind over the past 20-plus years of building these tools for music, or even the 30-plus of working on them, it shifts my focus from what’s next to the ones who just happened to be toward the rear of the line when the time shifted. Usually, being a force of nature and on top of things, they take care of themselves and very quickly move mid-pack in various stages of wood selection and joining and shape, awaiting their turn on the routing bench or the shaping fixture. Of course we all realize going in that this most certainly isn’t – can’t be – fast food. No, this is Papa’s special eggplant parmesan with the tables full and a line out the door. The measurements of progress still apply though, to a certain extent, and I want to share this week’s with you.

We started the week with four Birdsong basses in assembly! Now that may not seem like many compared to 2018 when I took these orders, at that time there were twice that many or more – but then I slowed down. Not you, not the business, not the demand… me. We’ve talked about it here and I’m back to where I’m gaining on it again and it feels GREAT. I can’t run it down as fast as I’d like, but just having four in here, a few in finishing, a handful into sanding now and off the routing bench making room for the next eightall with necks almost ready too - some of those stragglers I mentioned who got the short end of the whole long-wait timing-shift stick – man oh man I FINALLY feel like I’m in gear again.

I know a couple of you couldn’t wait and I know a few of you with really wild builds had to get moved around in line to keep things rolling here while I got back up to speed, but everybody – everybody – has been so understanding and for the most part there’s been no question of hanging in until you get the goods. I like to think that’s the other side of the personal access and attention I love to offer a client, that human-ness, that in the rare moment I drop the ball or get sick you’ll be there for me with your patience and good wishes. You all know I’d fall on my own sword rather than NOT come through for you. And I know you know that by how you’ve handled ME over the past six months. I work for the best clients – people – around. When the day comes the leg really does stop working or the eyes go or the hands just won’t do it anymore, YOU are what I will miss about all of this more than anything else. I hope to find the balance between now and then to where I stay healthy and having fun and am just busy enough to still pitch sideways off the workshop stool before any of that happens… but for now I’m hitting on all eight. It’s more of a middle lane ride than a drag race every day, but all eight are still there. That’s an automotive reference… but two hands, two legs, two eyes, and a good set of nuts’ll do just fine too. Thanks everybody!

Your bass will be worth the wait, I guarantee it, and I’m all over these like a bad suit. Have a great weekend!

Listening to: Aerosmith Rocks; Motorhead live at Wacken 2006; some Doobie Bros. and Journey’s Greatest Hits.