Magic Moments

Watching episodes of Dave Grohl’s Sonic Highways (absolutely fantastic) and a new Nextflix Joe Cocker documentary (really good, even the uncomfortable bits about his blurry 1970s – hey, that’s the life of a medium-been-spent at times) made me think about some top-of-the-top music moments. There are so many but here are some that really moved me.

Joe Cocker at Woodstock. Covering the Beatles’ A Little Help From My Friends in the sunshine of a dawning new day, you may never see another more possessed by the music or pour more of what’s in him out. I saw the film as a kid and I’ve seen a lot of music since. But I’ve never seen another man leave it all on the stage like that. On my list of moments to visit in a time machine, this is up there on it.

Stevie Ray Vaughan Little Wing. A live studio performance from years previous released about a year after his death in 1990 on the album The Sky Is Crying. An instrumental rendition of a Jimi Hendrix song so beautiful the first time I heard it on the radio, a minute and a half in I had to pull off the road. I remember I was driving a 1972 Buick Riviera. I turned the car off, and just let it wash over me like some kind of river, like a cleansing from Greater Hands. Now not so much, at least just below the surface, but at that time in my life it took quite a lot to get an emotional reaction out of me. I still feel it every time I hear this.

Pearl Jam honors The Who. Probably my favorite Who song, as performed by a band many not paying attention (or not interested) would think were themselves long past their prime. Good God; couldn’t BE more wrong. They absolutely owned this, and this by the way is how you TAKE a stage.

Led Zeppelin Kashmir from the 2007 reunion. A sloppy live band finally nails it to the wall... as elderly men. I was totally unprepared for how good most of this Celebration Day reunion show is; their genius and albums and legacy are undeniable, fan or not. But live? Meh. Even when they were Rock Gods. It’s hard to play any of it right & tight sober, let alone in the shape these conquistadors were in during the 1970s. 40 years later? Are you kidding me? This is completely amazing and you can hear, underneath the roar of the band, the crowd reaction when Plant hits those notes. A stunner.

Sonny Rollins G Man.  Simply one of the most incredible jazz performances I’ve ever seen. Or many of the jazz aficionados I’ve known have seen. Or some really heavy cats in classrooms using this as part of their teaching have seen. Or the guys in his band… or anyone I’ve ever showed it to… you get the picture. If I ever get anywhere where anything even like this ever happens and it’s happening and I’m there and I just fall over dead as dirt don’t you even shed a tear for me, but for everyone else who wasn’t there, or was there and had to leave afterwards and try to return to a normal life. I saw Sonny a few years back, a bent and ancient shuffling form framed in frizzy white hair and holding some shiny heavy brass...

We were halfway through the first piece before we realized he wasn’t even coming through the PA; we thought it was just a sub par mix and the soundman would eventually move the Sonny fader up about three notches. No. The clip-on pickup on his horn wasn’t working at all! Lungs ordained and honed and sheer will filled that theatre in that moment, and where most others would have cut the number short, he wouldn’t stop playing. He kept going like this, bar after bar after bar of serious blowing. You don’t stop the prayer for a pebble in your sock. You don’t sacrifice the magic of the moment to the problem. It was amazing to see the force coming out of this man through his horn. And he played just as hard once it was fixed. Respect.

There’ll be more in a future blog. For now I hope these bring something to your world.

For me in this chapter of life, the magic moments in the workshop are the best. I had a great conversation the other day with a long time client about how things get done in the shop and what some of my favorite parts of the process are. I do have a few! 

I love scrolls. Some of the most enjoyable workshop sessions for me are when I put on some long jamming music and my late friend Johnny’s ragged old red work apron and grab the chisels. Then, with either my favorite little shop hammer or former helper Jake’s (hand made from zebrawood), and a pencil, start drawing and carving a scroll into the extra wood we leave up there when cutting out a body destined for one. Sometimes builds with scrolls take a bit longer because I have to hold back the whole world in here to do it. The “I could spend all day on this one thing or rout this entire stack of other bodies” balance every gnome works with in their own shop in their own way. Sometimes I can pull away from the other benches to make it happen and other times I need to leave a bit more of a trail of sawdust and assembly behind me, so they wait. I’ve had a run on scrolled orders recently so there’s always been one or two waiting for me and inside I wait for them too. 

Most of what I do with my hands here in the woods I truly love. The parts of the process I don’t, or that I feel make a better instrument when done a different way, hand picked others take care of those. This is how I’m still doing it 20 years in (13 as “Birdsong the company”) and why the instruments are of a certain standard. That doesn’t just happen. Oh it might now and then or if you’re putting out ten a year. But consistently and of enough to be a viable self-supporting enterprise? That’s a few sets of hands each doing what they’re best at. I’ve been lucky to have some great assistance over the years, and I’m blessed to be able to do so much of it out here as a craftsman in a magic workshop in the woods, helping the music happen. Thanks for being with us!

Listening to: Hearts of Space broadcasts; Sonny Rollins Volume Two; Slip Into The Night, a Phish Mix for Groovin’ (Curt Lyon on YouTube); and Live From St. Louis, An Evening Of Jesuit Jazz by Fr. Frank Coco.