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, 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.

Vibes 'n Raves

Happy Hemi day from Sarge the Road Runner. He doesn’t have a 426 Hemi but even crusty old machines have dreams.

Was just thinking the other evening about the perception of acoustic instruments being more organic. They’re simpler in a functional sense, more direct between your touch and the note that comes, with a greater influence coming directly from the wood. So I can see that… and I can feel it in a way, but that’s not how I’d describe it you know? Dig this… it’s vibrations and air. Of the vibrations we perceive as solid, it’s wood and metal. A little plastic, but in mostly benign positions. Water factors in, in the growth and then the processing of the wood; as does fire and air in the drying. Fire, water, air, earth – all in this one machine for affecting vibration. People may see an electric as less natural, but it merely uses more elements from the earth and its different energies like magnetism and current flow. Ponder that. I know I do, this is the sort of thing I drift off or wake up thinking about.

Onto a few recent raves. Almazan Kitchen, The Kiss Guy, and the latest hippie soap that turned up in the shower. Almazan Kitchen is one of my favorite YouTube channels. Jamie and I relax watching cooking shows – not that competition crap, the stuff that celebrates the art of preparation and quality and cultures of food. Well, the skills and photography of AK are phenomenal - these guys are a whole ‘nother level. (Heeere ya go. May it be the start of a journey for you.) OK – what can one say about Austin’s “Kiss Guy” that made it onto the Foo Fighters’ stage and absolutely TOOK IT like you’re supposed to do when that chance moment comes your way? Nothing. Here. This is how you own the moment when the light finds you, wherever, however. (Note: language advisory).

Soap. Soap is good. To some anything more than discount copy Dial is an extravagance, but they’re probably not the folks reading this on the Birdsong Guitars site; they’re probably off on a wine board calling them idiots because wine is wine, right? Ummm… no. No it’s not. One might like cheap wine, it may merely be a tool for them – but that doesn’t negate the craft and devotion in anything crafted merely because they don’t “get it.” Here at Birdsong, your money gets you a finely crafted instrument and, since it sure as heck isn’t going to paint jobs on my cars, and Jamie works hard too, we have no problem justifying good food and hand crafted soap. We live small so we can live large, and like to spread the love sideways to other folks making good things whenever we can in a world that judges by what’s the cheapest. And, well, let’s just say some rather odd soaps from some fairly interesting characters have lathered the grit off over the years. I don’t know exactly where this block came from or how much it was... but if it makes my ass smell like a giant piece of French toast, I’m in!

Did I mention I have books for sale? One on life’s paths, departures, and change – and another on being called to a craftsman’s path? Pick them up here, and thanks for being a part of the ride. Have a great weekend!

Listening to: The Cult on House Of Strombo; Black sabbath Seventh Star; Blues. Delta blues. Ooooh I feel it bubbling up inside as I have since I was kid discovering the old John Lee Hooker record in the basement. Soon as I’m a leeeetle bit more caught up, I think it’s time to let it out and make the album.

Old Wood and Old Steel

Old cars and old guitars. Who used them? What were their lives? Their dance together - that’s where a lot of the magic is for me. I don’t see them as empty objects owned. We don’t really own anything in the bigger picture, we only have possession. Where legal possession defines ownership, well… that place is temporary too. These are all temporary arrangements by which we get to caretake cool things for a time, and much of them outlive us. They are possessed for a time and move on to new chapters, and some of them – well, they might just be possessed in that other way as well! And that’s not inherently bad unless you've watched too much TV. Hell, that Hawaii episode of the Brady Bunch did a number on a whole generation. But I digress.

What reminded me of this is I got a ride in a great little hot rod last weekend, based on a 1930 Ford Model A pickup. To this cool old cat who welded and wrenched its pieces together, it was parts and steel to cut & shape and paint and have fun with. To me? I put my hand on the door to get in and immediately clicked into “I wonder whose hands have been right here before?” mode. In a much different time, in a very different form, somebody put their hand on that very door in the same way to drive it home, fresh from the Ford plant, right off the dealer’s lot – it was someone’s dream. Its chrome reflected that new day’s sun on into its first chapter. That person is long gone. Most of the people who knew that person and many of those who knew of them are gone. Everyone who had a hand in making it is gone. And this is just the beginning of the lives that touched it and the lives it touched along the way... along its way. These old cars, these guitars, they have lives of their own. They pass through many lives as we pass through. They migrate through us. They meander. They mutate. They change hands, and - if they are very lucky in their service to be the right tool for the crucial task - they change lives. And they keep on going…

And their lives change. This was a truck for one or for many, then it might have been another kind of farm implement, a different dream or yard art, now it is a fun machine. Almost 90 years it’s been here and there as one thing or another doing this and that. This is amazing to me and I sense it even in things that have not changed... the fit of an old stone wall. The well worn spots on the handle of a hammer. The brush lines in a painting. These are our real fingerprints - aside from the intangible and indirect we leave, these things we have touched and used and worn and marked in our way, and our chapters, we are a part of their journeys too. And though an old toaster or stapler or railroad spike brings about similar thought, for me the deepest depth of it comes from old vehicles and old guitars. Over the years other people’s old wheels and wood have brought magic to me and me to it. I rode them like magic carpets and at times felt along for the ride. While we’re together I treat them like friends; we make memories and I let them know they are more than just a means to me.

Listening to: Jim White No Such Place; Sonic Youth Daydream Nation; a compilation CD of Brewer Phillips tracks, live stuff, and interviews – he was the rhythm guitar player in the Houserockers with Hound Dog Taylor (legendary off-the-rails bluesman of endless influence and even more wild stories); Fu Manchu Eatin’ Dust; Jimi Hendrix live at Royal Albert Hall 1969.

Friday's Update... Wednesday!

Welcome to the Friday blog for Wednesday! I snuck in a bit last Monday on the new book – and this week you get the end of the week update a couple of days early. It’s not actually the end of the week here either, but an oddball week of swapping around weekend and workdays and fitting it all in – which can usually work, it just ends up looking kind of nutty on paper – makes it easier for me to just put this here now and not have to hinge my Friday around it.

Those who follow on Facebook noticed yesterday that “Temptation Tuesday” was back and I’ve put up the list of inventory builds I am working in with the batches of instruments for clients. Just makes sense to glue up that one extra or cut four when you’re cutting three. So these builds in progress are available, the only way you can order right now and get a new Birdsong delivered this year, and can be seen on the inventory page. If you see something you like, jump on it – we don’t make that many, there’s been a line out the door since 2004, and this is what we’ve got. 512-395-5126 (calls, no texts) is best, the computer is going off for a few days after this evening so I’ll have to get back with any emails Sunday or so. And, instruments that are claimed, it’ll be then I’ll get back on here and mark them sold. Not everyone is connected to this internet layer of reality through devices 24/7 and I’m definitely one of those not everyones!

Here’s something to temptationally tickle your taste buds, one that’s NOT for sale but I’d love to do a little batch of in different woods would be “Scott’s bass.” Yes, the one I made for myself. There is really no other bass in the world I’d rather play, and I’m not really looking to introduce a model for customization with different pickup setups… just do a little batch of them like this but in maybe walnut or korina or cherry...

Functionally it’s a Fusion, with the Fusion pickup & all-wood dress out (a wood lover’s instrument in voice and looks) but built starting with the Cortobass body shape. Add to that a “German carve” carved edge and an ornate, hand carved scroll, and here it is – the Especial Supremo. I made mine a couple of years ago from a plank of cypress from one of the trees taken out by the Blanco river flooding through our town, sort of the best I could do to turn tragedy into good vibrations. That for the body and a bunch of rosewood - I just love it. So, maybe this is what I could offer as 15th Anniversary builds, something really special. What would I build yours from? I do have some special pieces of wood we could talk about if you’re in a “Scott’s bass” kind of mood…

As always thanks so much for being with us, have a great weekend, and make some moments.

Listening to: Lots of Pink Floyd, some David Gilmour, Richard Betts Highway Call.