(Slippin' one in here on a Thursday for you...)
Terroir is a French word, or at least it sounds French because I’m just making this up as I go and my mouth simply won’t curve around the last syllable adequately. “Terr-wah. Teaggghhrrr-eeeuuaaauuhhh…” I just can’t do it. But it’s a beautiful word meaning that of the surrounding terrain and its climate which somehow ends up identifiably within wine of a certain region. The trained palate can name and even identify these subtle nuances; the rest of us just taste that wine A is different from wine B and accept that this might be part of why among other things like the blending, purity and process. Well… most of the rest of us. Some with no taste, gulping it on ice with a splash of fruit juice with their hot dogs and yellow table mustard will be spouting “Meh, it’s all the same, that’s all just a myth.” No, they’ve simply left no room for it to be in their world. To be tasted in that stew it’s got to be black or white or it doesn’t even exist; you’re not going to smell the centerpiece at the baked bean dinner. In truth though, terroir exists, sommoliers exist, and subtle nuances can bring so much.
Though I never lick a piece of wood to identify it and think, “Mmmm earthy, licorice, coffee grounds, a hint of old attic newspaper…” I DO listen to the first notes of an instrument as it first sings in here and say “Yeah man, that wood with these pickups always does that dance they do, needs a hair more bridge pickup to balance, there’s the snap in the upper mids that fingerboard wood brings, I can feel that E in my belly – this whole thing’s alive again.” I live in a world of subtle nuances; work in a bunch of those in little layers and suddenly there’s tangible difference – an evident betterness, if you will. Now there’s a name for a psychedelic band… The Evident Betterness. But seriously, you stack the subtleties and tiny improvements and single digit performance enhancements and they all add up. If one of those stackings carries a bit from the surroundings and area where the magic of manifestation is happening, there’s your terroir. And an instrument swings when it has character, so one could truly say “I got your terroir right here pal, swingin.” That would be rather crass, however, so we shall refrain.
We’re way out in rural Texas. Not quite as way out as it was twenty five years ago with folks breeding like locusts and everybody wanting a piece of no man’s land, but still more wild west than not. And for a half-Italian suburban kid from Boston who first arrived out here not knowing one end of a tool from the other and with no real plan but to live off of music, this area has been very good to me. Sometimes that meant there was a thriving songwriter scene, other times it meant it fed my soul with the natural rustic beauty of land I could plant myself in like a seed to regerminate. Still other times it meant the place didn’t kill me. I have been down here more of my life than I have not, and its ways have worked themselves into me in layers as it all happened. It’s in everything I do; certainly in everything that comes out of the workshop.
On a Birdsong, the top of the headstock is the top of the Alamo. The logo is a feather symbolizing freedom and connection to the land; there’s one inked on my right arm. We are one. The carved arrowhead truss rod cover speaks to the depth of spirit one finds in formerly unformally settled spots – the previous caretakers of this little patch of planet. Some instruments – the D’AQUILAs and some Texas Lap Steels – have a pearl star on them. This is the Lone Star and the pearl is a tip of the hat to the pearl snap shirts the old timers around here used to wear. Texas woods are some of my favorite to build with – some are so local we go right to the rural mill or to some guy’s chainsaw milled stack that’s been drying in his yard for ten years. Some of these builds even start with a chainsaw of my own!
Mesquite, spalted pecan, cypress, escarpment cherry; these have been used as main woods for entire bodies and like all woods in the build impart their particular resonance and tonal gifts… but even more than that, their story. This place’s history. The generations of beings who have used this particular tree as home, food, shelter, and shade have all left their mark – and as in us some you see and some you don’t. But you can tell by character what was coddled in controlled safety and what had to do some growing in the wild. It’s in there; it’s in their way. It’s part of what they became and it’s in the song they sing.
Sing it to the world,
Listening to: Luciano Pavarotti The Best, disc 1; Augustus Pablo East Of The River Nile; Brazilica Lounge, one of these great box sets of themed groovy music I used to be able to pick up at Hastings before they went bye-bye; and a compilation of Brewer Phillips stuff, he was the rhythm guitarist in the Houserockers backing up Hound Dog Taylor. You’re talking Chicago-style blues but well done way on the raw side. Aretha Franklin Amazing Grace; Frank Zappa Road Tapes, live in Finland 1973, disc 1. Quite a variety, I know! I'm a very lucky man.