The View From Here

I just do my part in helping the wood become part tool & part talisman; the greatest work is done before and after by other hands.

The before hands, that could be metaphorical to some and literal to others. Any way you look at it I didn’t do it; setting something like a tree up in a tiny seed is way beyond my meager skills. I just live in a place where things like this happen, on a giant blue ball suspended in infinite space. Just that alone should be enough to shut mouths and open minds, pondered for even a moment. So here I am in this amazing place where things just grow, and here is this fantastic material to work with, and get this… it was alive too! It felt and knew and breathed and experienced in its own way on its own mostly stationary experience of life here. 

Now I take this presence and help it to become a tool by which, in other hands, it is helped to vibrate in harmony and rhythm with others; another creation process, another alchemy… the tools assisting that sort of thing between the players; the players AND the tools assisting that sort of thing between them and the listeners, whether live or recorded. The medicine is strong and the gift keeps on giving!

And here I, a complex being just trying to be a simple man and tend to the gardens inside and out by doing work of meaning I somehow have been guided to do with this person I have somehow become, live immersed in this process of transformation; it, ironically, is my constant! I live in a perpetual springtime of becoming and first notes. It could almost be said the tree has become these other metaphorical seeds, flat and edged square, which I then pencil on and start cutting and shaping and fitting together once they are planted here within the walls of the workshop, into THIS fertile ground. These new roots don’t grow down, they grow outward intangibly. Drawing its force to become from our skills here, it blooms again; and sustaining from what it helps to draw out of the player and through itself, and again outward into the music of others’ moments, it lives.

And through helping this, by being its servant, I live. From situation to soul I am fed by this. It still blows my mind where they turn up. I live in a bubble of "nexts" so after 20 years of this it shouldn't be a surprise, they're all over! But it's like hearing your song on the radio. It never gets old and it's never less than amazing how any of it happened in the first place.

Play on and make some beauty happen,

Listening to: Mahavishnu Orchestra Birds of Fire; Grateful Dead Workingman’s Dead, Mars Hotel; David Coverdale White Snake (the 1st solo album from waaaay back in the '70s, very Bad Company-esque); Billy Squier Don’t Say No (I love this album so much); The Butterfield Blues Band The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw; Leon Parker Resurrection (fantastic very unusual jazz album), and some very weird early '70s German LSD commune music called Cosmic Jokers. 
 

Music is Medicine

There are albums that put a soul back in alignment with life.

Yeah, Viva Terlingua would get the nod to start, and I might just keep playing it through 'til dawn. It's just something that's been special to me since I bought it out of the dollar bin of beat up albums at Sundance Records in San Marcos when I was about 19 years old, full of dreams and fresh into Texas. It's sure got a feel to it. Like a loyal old truck and the right worn out shoes. 

The road ahead is never clearer than with its right soundtrack. It's one of those albums like Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Chronicle" best-of that, by the time you're done listening to it, no matter how you walked into the room, it sends you back out into life's ring with a bit of the fire back in you. Looking back, my life can be clearly marked in chapters; each mark a moment in some parking lot in a van, listening to Chronicle, with what has been behind me and what’s next somewhere down the road to find. 

When I feel myself drift a little too far off the spiritual coast into this churning ocean of tasks and time, always a challenge when you do what you love for a living and thus put up no fight against being completely absorbed by it, in goes John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. Crank it up and it’s a soul stirring cleanse-by-force of one’s spirit when music is the medicine. Need a dose of the beauty of life injected into your head & heart ear-first? Miles Davis, Kind of Blue. You listen to that all the way through intently with no distractions and it just REVIVES whatever it touches, whatever is allowed the moment to vibrate with it. 

Music has always been the medicine for me; it’s why now, so many miles down the highway, I’m so reverent about the creation of its tools. Music came into the life of a kid headed nowhere, lost and being overtaken by the waves of life’s challenges. It immediately became my buoyancy long before it showed me I had wings. 

From an unpublished book for those feeling called to a life in the arts:
“Ah, this is who I will be. This I will follow. Part attraction, sure – but mostly epiphany. Somewhere deep inside of me, some dormant force inside the seed found its sun and locked on to its true north.” 

Then Play On,


Listening to: Bob Seger The Distance; Jerry Jeff Walker Viva Terlingua; Leon Parker Awakening; and a shitload of Lightnin’ Hopkins. You think I’m kidding?

The Moments Music Makes...

Music fills moments until they weave together into the tapestry of a life. Here, a sampling from the past couple of weeks. But FIRST two Birdsong SALE notices! The cool & colorful short scale Birdsong spec’d out for Thin The Herd Guitars is ON SALE, we injected our tonal magic into a T-style bass that’s a HUGE bargain and right now even more so! www.thintheherdguitars.com. AND over on the exotic end of things, authorized Birdsong dealer www.hdcustomguitars.com has the doubleneck fretted/fretless bass up for sale, fresh off our workbenches and ready for the player who only thought they had everything… now they can! HD Custom is a friend of ours and they will treat you right. Watch their listings for Birdsongs you won’t find anywhere else.

A good friend showed up for breakfast tacos with a bag of CDs he was letting go of and I’ve been grooving on them all week. My favorite so far? Wayne Shorter Juju which is spectacular small combo jazz engineered by Rudy Van Gelder so the fidelity is unreal for something recorded over half a century ago. But there’s so much more in this pile. I’m trying to savor this stack like new sippings over ice and not treat it like an all you can eat buffet. Music is such a wonderful gift. Thanks Les!

And not so much wonderful but definitely an honor, I was able to bring music back to an older friend transitioning into the local nursing home. To plug in the “music machine” and put on Willie Nelson’s Stardust CD and see him close his eyes and start softly singing along with a smile, that’s what music can do. That’s why I do what I do, to be some small part of something like that somewhere for someone. This vibrant, laughing, genius who knew more about music than I will ever understand – things are very different now. He came to me 16 years ago for guitar lessons to actually apply in simple playing what he understood of the vast math of music. Quickly making him MY guru for an hour a week, I helped as he wished but absorbed what I could. Anything jazz flavored in my guitar playing comes directly from this. Like "Uncle" Johnny’s tools, the bits I hold of Wyly's understandings are now in my hands to carry on and make something happen with, and I will. And my friend will fade peacefully to a beautiful soundtrack in his head instead of loose pieces of what he can’t remember. “…nothing but blue skies, from now on…”

Meanwhile down the road a ways as the crow flies, a younger friend survived a friggin' heart transplant! His family is very important to me and his father is the reason I am in Texas and was a huge influence in my life. The hour of the big cut I decided I’d play some music to help tether the soul and beacon the spirit as either was needed, things I know he loves. So I wasn’t there, but while Sterling got an engine swap Jerry Jeff Walker’s Viva Terlingua album spun on old scratchy vinyl out deep in the Texas Hill Country as an offering. This is an album that, listened front to back like an album is meant to be, will realign the spirit. No matter how you straggle into the room, a dose of VT and you walk out a bit cleared – part bender, part exorcism perhaps – but the sun is shining through the clouds and it’s so damn good to be alive whatever scars it has taken. 

Speaking of sipping, Cutty on the rocks listening to my buddy Mike’s band Shakedown was fantastic. They’re the best Dead tribute band you’ll see short of the almost real thing, and he streamed their gig to Facebook (it’s linked on the Birdsong Guitars Facebook page). I’ve known Mike since we were kids and he was 14 singing Motley Crue songs. If I can find a picture of us I’ll post it below. Now decades later he’s a guitar player and let me tell you, that Bob Weir style of rhythm playing is neither simple nor easy and he rocks it. AND he rocked it on his custom Birdsong guitar. AND I didn’t have to leave the woods. I just kicked back and mellowed out to great live music from a good old friend on a guitar that somehow came through me on its way to groove those good people in the crowd. Massive. The medicine is strong.

Speaking of which, Birdsong player TD Towers from Edensong sent some good quality footage of his Talisman bass in action! Crank up the low end on THIS my friends. Those twin DiMarzio Model Ones (“Models Wi?”) just slab it out down in lower Hertz-land. And that’s a tight band. 
CHECK IT OUT HERE!

Birdsong better half Jamie’s Aunt drove through and spent a day or so with us at the homestead. She is a boisterous lady full of humor, which is good because I believe I referred to the outdoor temperature (at that time 104 degrees) as “Hotter than Satan’s taint.” Anyhow, it came up that I can do incredible, spot-on imitations of various family members, who are all still “East coast” no matter where they have scattered to. Somehow this led to the Archie &  Edith Bunker impressions (most legendary around these parts for a stunning rendition en Edithia of Bob Seger’s “Toin the Paeeege” at a local bar gig years back on a dare for a big tip) and before anyone knew what was happening, right there in our kitchen, the entire All In The Family theme song was given a rousing group a capella version as if it were Kumbaya. Fantastic. 

It is 2:22 AM as I begin sketching this communication out. I am installing pickups in a bass – not always just a “screw in” job here, as our use of P-style pickups is without a surrounding pickguard to hide a big ol’ cavity underneath; we have to rout the pickup pockets tight & precise, then – because router bits are round and these pickups have corners - by hand shape the corners so the pickup fits in nicely. There’s more to all of this than meets the eye… part of the work that is hidden while in plain sight inherent in something crafted.

Play on,

Listening to: Don Felder autobiography audiobook (muttering “Really? You really thought you were worth as much as Don friggin’ Henley to an Eagles reunion by the time it happened? GFY…”); Wayne Shorter Juju; Jerry Jeff Walker Viva Terlingua; some Grateful Dead, Billy Joe Shaver, Wynton Marsalis.
 

The Way

There was an article on the Austin band Fastball recently, and the story behind their song “The Way.” One of my absolute favorite tunes of its era, it was inspired by an elderly couple showing signs of Alzheimer’s just taking off together one day and, well, off into their sunset they went. I have a huge “die free” streak in me. A cow outside the gate? “Run! Run! Better a day on the run than a life in line for THAT trailer!” I see reports of missing teens and my perspective is a bit different having known some of the teens I knew and what their home lives were like. I just feel a big ol’ “Go! Go somewhere, find shelter, and struggle your way onto your feet! You can do it! You got out!” welling up inside. I don’t know why that’s in there but it is. An elderly man escaping from a nursing home? That would be me and I tell you this - it would take one hell of a mortician to pop my face back out of that smile. The blaze of glory is real. I don’t mean to make light of anyone’s situation and I don’t think I am. It’s serious. Life is serious. Safety is serious. But I loved that song, it really tugged at me, at some vital kind of true north in my core. I thought the band was great, and must have taught “The Way” to a hundred guitar students ready for barre chords and songwriting 101. 

I think about those bands of that time that had one or two hits – the whole album Feeling Strangely Fine by Semisonic is fantastic front to back. They had a great tune called “Closing Time”, and there were others like “Counting Blue Cars” by Dishwalla, probably the worst named band in history after Bowling For Soup. But hey, who am I to talk - at 16 I was writing punk tunes about couch springs poking me in the ass as Johnny Vomit. Where am I going with all of this? I have no idea. But I had a good conversation the other day with an old friend about music and points in time where clear influences became something completely different vs. obvious developments along a musical DNA strain. For example, you had improvisational jazz, you had folk, you had bluegrass, you had the blues-into-50s-rock. Then all of a sudden you have The Grateful Dead and the color palette of music is now mixed a bit differently. That’s one example. One for the DNA strain of music would be this – listen to Muddy Waters, then the Rolling Stones around ’69 to ’72, then Aerosmith’s first few albums, then Guns ‘n Roses Appetite For Destruction. That’s as direct a lineage as it gets.

I remember in the '90s when Radiohead hit. Yeah, we’d had trippy bands from across the pond already. Sure people were like “That’s just Pink Floyd with gadgets.” But those are not critical listeners. Those were the people who say your new pickup looks just like their cousin’s because they’re both some shade of blue and have four wheels. Like Hendrix, like the Dead, like The Beatles… there were aspects of what happened that existed, and then all of a sudden here’s this NEW thing using the tools in fresh ways and that music is changed. There was “Before OK Computer” and “After OK Computer”… I remember being absolutely blown away and I’ve been hearing Radiohead DNA in music since. Fastball didn’t achieve anything close to that, but I know for sure at the very least there are ripples from that one song in the formative playing years of a lot of people, and that song meant something to far more than just me... and in that, as it does, art and music’s vibrations spread out and find their needs to fill, their ways to color life, their fertile grounds to seed.   

Listening to: SomaFM.com; John Scofield Trio live at Leverkusen Germany; Aerosmith Rocks; Pat Metheney Group Quartet.

Play Through...

How does one set up an instrument too big for the bench? On the assembly room couch, of course!

Yes, the doubleneck is now done. Here are some final pictures; it’s heading out Monday to a dealer. Yes this, and a steady trickle of other unique Birdsongs, can and/or will be found at HD Custom Guitar Supply online, currently the only other place for new Birdsong basses than right here from our own inventory page. Of course with some patience for the process you can dream one up with Scott and have the full experience; this is how most Birdsongs come to be. A call, a connection, some needs or wishes of yours and some answers of ours. Then we have the the honor of making the instrument come to life, and handing it over to you for your part - fun times and good vibrations. 

As announced in the 13th Anniversary video earlier this month, we’re NOT going to take the August break this year like we did last year. There are a group of wild builds in progress and beginning their journeys from wood & parts to playable art and I’d rather stay on them. The sweat? The sweat will do me nothing but good. Listen, balance is important – but there are times in a very lucky life when you feel like the kid in the yard on some imaginary adventure again, only there’s nobody to call you in. It’s not a school night; there IS no school. That adventure? It’s pretty much real and that’s who you are. I am surrounded by music; I’m in deep with the tools of its creation, themselves coming to be. I live it and I breathe it. I don’t have to come in and wash up, and I’m NOT coming in to wash up! So there. I’m going to stay out here and play through supper, I’m going to get this all over me and get me all over it. The world is full of folks who didn’t make it… or less full. Or, heck I don’t know but I DO know I DID. I woke up with a list of things I want to do and the sun is shining and I can put on some tunes and make it happen. Everyone has their bad days and not everyone makes it off that ship; another rocker was just among them and I’m sad for his circle. I’m sad his dream went sour. 

Chester’s no different than you or me – he just took a different ride, that’s all. He went on HIS adventure. We can judge from the sidelines all we want but not everybody continues to feel the magic and the sunshine and the meaning. And without those you’re lost and no amount of caring hands or crisis numbers are going to put it back the way the rest of the pieces stay together. If you’re in this world you know damn well it loves to steal your magic, time will shadow your shine, and there’s never any shortage of other damaged beings to tell you that you mean nothing. It can be that kind of place to whatever degree you sink in. But every day there are gardens in bloom, beauty coming to be, magical adventures, inspiring beings to associate with, and things to do you KNOW fill a void and are of service to the best in others’ lives, and life – at least certain significant chunks of it until the wheels come off – can be THAT. I suggest you find that; I know what works for me, but that’s all I know. You’ve got to seed that garden for yourself, every day. Feed it the good. Weed out the bad. Sometimes it’s easier to just stand there and sink; sometimes you get convinced it’s even more comfortable that way because (sigh) at least you know what to expect. 

Oh HELL no. You go where the sun shines for you and sing a song that means something. Clean up the mess from there! The others can follow if they want; or not. We’re here now and we’re alive and there’s SO much productive good stuff to do and you ARE needed. You have a place to be and light to bring. Find them. The sun’s out. Shut off the device, step back from the screen, go outside, get dirty and go have an adventure. That’s not a car, it’s a spaceship. It CAN take you to another world. Trust me. I’m light years from where I’ve been and judging by the sky here there’s plenty of sunshine to go around. I don’t want to miss a day… not now. Not now.  

Listening to: The Don Felder autobiography audiobook. Despite being read by a man who sounds halfway through a Rohypnol sandwich, we’re getting to the good stuff. Don couldn’t have read this? This sounds like one of those goofy guided meditations minus the Australian accent only they’re talking about the Eagles. That and some good acoustic Delta blues from Jack Owens and RL Burnside.
 

Come Together

Music brings us together just long enough to remember “Oh yeah, that guy’s human too – he knows the words to this song too.” There’s a great video circulating on Facebook of an entire Green Day crowd waiting for the show to start, singing Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody together. 65,000 of them. A stunning video – this is the power of music and why some of us devote our lives to serving its happening. It’s a far more precarious trek through the human journey to define each other by our differences rather than have them be a footnote and some color in with our dealings and workings together. Music tilts things back in that proper perspective for a while. If these people matter to each other a little more after the music stops, then all those involved in the making of and bringing to that moment those people and that music – whatever else may factor in – are a part of some seed of solution in a world awash in its troubled gardens. 

I remember years ago I stopped to ask about an old converted school bus in a yard with a for sale sign on it. The door was answered by a young guy my age. He had hair like mine. He had a Fender Stratocaster on the couch. It quickly became apparent he was visiting from points far south of Texas or Mexico, so we had no common language to get in the way. But there were two guitars, and we jammed like members of the same band. The bus was cool, but I was a broke-ass musician young & hungry, living the dream, renting a room, writing my future verses by bare bulb on the tricky side of town. So I didn’t buy it and I don’t know if this guy’s sister is still with the hip cat that owned it and traveled in it now 28 years later, and I don’t know what became of Jorge Quintana. But it was one more lesson the music taught me along the path between finding that John Lee Hooker record in the basement as a kid and “being here now.”  

These thoughts were written while the song “Four Cornered Room” off of an old album by a great band called War played in the background. The three somehow tie together through harmony of notes and hearts and the threads of lives taking their paths through each other winding together like some kind of tapestry being woven of us as we go.  

Listening to: Steppenwolf Monster; War The World Is a Ghetto; Donny Hathaway Extension Of a Man; Don Felder autobiography audiobook; dub reggae compilation CDs.
 

Afterglow

Birdsong Guitars wishes to thank everyone who read, shared, commented, liked, followed, watched, friended, and participated in our 13th Anniversary event this past long weekend, and we hope you had a fun 4th of July. It was really something! Some more instruments will be flying the nest to their waiting hands & homes over the next couple of weeks; they thank you all too! For all new, welcome to the family - for old friends, as always thanks for flying Birdsong. There's no way to express our love & gratitude, so we'll just build it into year 13's instruments and let the ripples do their good work. Thanks for being with us and all the best to all of you from the little green workshop in the Texas Hill Country. 

To recap the big news for anyone who missed it (with links to the videos), I have recovered from the Official 13 Announcements video and my appearance no longer suffers from Resting “Ahh Geez That Sauce Was Hotter Than You Thought” Face. I answered 13 questions here. The new PBOne bass definitely seeded its own garden (and the introductory price of $1995 is being held over for a bit). The bass I designed for my friends over at Thin The Herd Guitars has done the same – it’s different than what we do here at Birdsong, but it’s got the Birdsong touch so it’s a great playing, responsive, HUGE sounding short scale bass and if you want that in something more traditional looking but with a twist, gig ready and for short cash, go check them out!  AND there are still some great basses here in inventory & some already cut body blanks we can build your next little gem from.

Dawn is reverse-fading into another day of blue skies, birdsong, Birdsongs, and a fun list of nexts to do in the workshop and in assembly on them. I’ll be in here all weekend and I couldn’t be happier right now. So if you want a known cure for Resting “Good Lordy That’s a Beautiful Bass And I Deserve a TREAT For Surviving Fourth Of July With All Them Rug Rats” Face, gimme a call and order yourself up a heapin’ helping of high end low note short 'n comfy bass goodness, served up fresh out of the plank with a side of Texas backwoods workshop mojo and a BIG tall frosty mug of gratitude! 512-395-5126

Listening to: Aerosmith Get Your Wings, Toys In The Attic; Don Felder Heaven & Hell - My Life In The Eagles audiobook; McCoy Tyner Solo.