Wood and music – there is no separating them in my world. One enters my consciousness and I think of the other. You can’t really carve rocks or dirt, so I guess it was meant to be for wood to become drums and planks and vibrating boxes with strings. Thousands worked on, hundreds owned, and somewhere near 800 built, these stringed wooden tools and their songs fascinate me now as much as ever. My life is a daily dance with creation – some songs in wood and wire, others in word and notes.
Following the path of the word and note is what led me here. I found for many reasons it was not the end, the means, the home for me. I love the craft aspect of music creation and the words flow like water; and being in the moment with a band and improvising or all nailing that G cord on the one beat together is very powerful. But it’s ceremony to me, not entertainment. I’m not an entertainer. I’m a shaman. It’s ritual. It’s different.
It’s all tonewood to me, most of that is how you build the instrument. From mahogany’s midrange bloom, to walnut’s even woodiness, maple’s sharp bite to the sonic flavor of the many others – predictable ingredients that may either be slapped together by the line cook or conducted by the chef. Some woods shocked the hell out of me. Though more of a seasoning in a solid body vs. an ingredient that will drastically change the voice, never underestimate what a good pinch of smoked paprika will do for an entire bowl of soup. Hackberry, mesquite, the bloodwood and cherry combination, poplar… these can be magical pinches. Hackberry is a soft, greenish and usually half rotten (spalted) wood locals consider barely even worth the time to burn. I don’t have any of the handful I’ve crafted with this, but I do have a guitar by Jake Goede that’s one of my favorites and there’s nothing unusual about it except for the body wood – it sounds like no other.
I didn’t come to this because of a fascination with wood – that came with it. Wood to me meant trees, peace and solitude, birds and connection to the natural world. And a guitar to pick on of course. But mostly, wood was my escape, my shade, my safety. That’s why I live where and how I live now, and why I grew my life and workshop this way. It was later I learned that well, if it can’t stay a tree for whatever reason, the best thing its wood can be is a tool of music. If it’s no longer shade or shelter, perhaps it can sing. It never leaves me that I am crafting with something that was a living being. Conscious in different ways than I, sure – but it was born, lived and breathed, and died… The same as any paws or claws or wings – or hands – that would ever touch it. And like those others it is now not all gone, but in a state of transformation. And I am the little spirit–supercharged monkey who guides this. What an honor! What a high position I have been offered. What Good Work I have been saved for. My soul lives where I give spirit back to trees and present them with a voice, and you with this talisman of creativity. Wow.
From the benches I work on, to that given to me as my livelihood… the temples of my life to the tiny meditation beads of the morning… that which shelters me and the instruments I create through… it’s all here of wood. With wood I build places to be; with wood I paint the air with sound; with wood I put food on my table, also of wood; with wood I pray back my gratitude.
Being prolific at what you devote yourself to is important. High standards are numero uno, but then after that is hit, you push – you spend yourself on your craft. You sacrifice for your art. This is you proactively seeding the garden you will be when you are “gone”. Spread it far and wide and go deep. Conjure. Manifest. Offer. Then conjure more. Make everyone your highest but do it ‘til you drop. It is indeed a dance. A balance. And time and tide eventually win… but not without an epic chase – not without a blaze of glory.
A few years back my only frustration was that I had a tremendous amount of songs, music, and creative ideas and goals on the word-and-note side of things that, should I just pitch off the workshop stool one fine day, would never be heard. Not because it has anything to do with “me” or fame or fortune – but because music of others has filled, colored, tapestried and soundtracked my life, and if anything I do could be that to another, then these pieces - these children of mine – should not die with me. It’s not like there is a surplus of harmony or meaning in this world and that is the garden I want to offer my seed back into… that which has fed me.
So I organized and listed and listened and recorded and arranged, and I’m now offering this back out into the world – in 2016 I will release an album a month, each a deliberate package of its own, accessible, downloadable, sharable. Each will have a page on my personal site with artwork and liner notes, selected lyrics and credits AND publishing info for anyone wanting to record one of my songs or use these recordings. You probably won’t like everything but that’s ok. If there’s something in there that moves you, it’s the greatest thing an artist can do.
So we will start this side of things with an album from 2000 I wrote and recorded out here amongst the trees as my life was changing into what it has become. American Bandwagon is folky Americana and the story behind the recording is a pretty good read. Go to SBeckwith.com and click on JANUARY’S ALBUM for info and download links.
So that’s wood and music to me, thanks for reading and being with us on the journey. Go create something and, if it’s part of what you do, make some wood sing and be grateful.
Next week we'll talk about what I've been listening to.