Art & Craft In The Woods

Whenever I listen to Eric Clapton I think of Ruthanne Arbeit. She was a big fan, and had everything he had done to that point – except for the bootleg cassette I got a hold of from a radio broadcast and copied for her. This was 1985. Looking back, not exactly peak era Clapton, but she loved it. She was an art teacher I had back in school, a bit of a hippy, from New York. She encouraged me endlessly in my creative process regardless of how I wanted to veer. The class was going to do batik but I really wanted to do a mug with a nose coming out of the front of it. “The schnoz mug” still exists, holding business cards on a shelf by the computer. “Miss Arbeit” though, she’s been gone many years now… boy the conversations I would like to have with her as an adult about art and calling and creativity. And Clapton. 

Some music I put on for purpose – Aerosmith “Rocks” is great to rout to, Alice In Chains serves the more physical and aggressive aspects of the instrument building craft. And there’s little better than a half hour Grateful Dead jam when something detailed and creative needs to happen and the sun’s shining in the windows of the workshop. I just felt like some Clapton. I’m not a huge fan, but I do like blues, and love George Harrison & JJ Cale. Put those in a blender and out comes ‘70s Eric. That’s the Clapton I like most, and a favorite from that time, right next to the ragged and glorious Rainbow Concert CD with the extra tracks, is the Eric Clapton album from 1970. To me it has seasonings of everything good about such music’s early, loose blendings from pure strains in that era. I feel good when I listen to it and it never gets old.

And I never get tired of thinking about someone that had such a profound impact on my path. At the time it was just a nudge, but it was the nudge I needed in a young life full of other nudges from all sides. This far out as a ripple I can't imagine I'd even be the same guy had I not been on the receiving end of that little nudge. 

There’s a stack of wood that’s been waiting a few weeks for me – poplar and mesquite, mahogany and walnut – to help it (them) out of the plank. Planing to thickness, laying out body halves & pieces from template tracings onto them (with your instrument’s serial number written in the neck pocket area), then cutting – at which point they’re no longer tree – and dressing where the pieces will be glued together. Then once the glue is spread and the clamps are on, each has taken its first real step as a guitar or bass to be. It has crossed over from what it used to be to what it IS BECOMING. That’s huge. If we’re lucky in life we get to feel that a few times and find ourselves and fix ourselves where we’re supposed to be. Wood needs a little more help with that, but it’s a similar journey metaphorically. I was aiming for last or this week to get about a dozen going but sometimes life takes its own schedule with your plans. So long as you’re ready when it’s ready, a little dose of acceptance goes a long way. That and a whole other list of things to do!

It’s been raining all week so I’ve shuffled around the to-do lists a few times, one of those things that happens when you work out of a backwoods workshop with a front porch. The porch is where most of the planing and raw lumber dimensioning gets done. Yes, your Birdsong gets partly made outdoors – the little green workshop is one of the most inspiring places I know, but the porch of the little green workshop is the best spot out here in the mostly great south Texas weather. This is the way it works best, way out down a dirt road. Well let’s say that’s where I work best! I've tried in the past to carry enough of the backwoods good vibes into a big industrial work building every day to fill it, and there’s never any question enough basses could be made to keep something like that humming, but things change and years ago we went to that edge. There’s a middle spot when building using small workshop process has to evolve into smoother, more efficient production to get bigger better. Otherwise it’s chaos. It can be done, it’s done all the time. But I decided the way was just as important to me as the results, and I like the rural workshop way. Look at it this way – the result is yours, you live with that every day as your instrument... as soon as it’s truly done and dialed in it’s off to you. The process – how these come to be – that’s where I live. That’s what I am a part of every day. I send you the destination; I get the journey. And if you’re not enjoying the journey…

So these years are really the dream, for me at least; not a factory. The green workshop in the woods. And plenty of  instruments have and continue to come to life this way too, even if nature occasionally has to be worked around. I’ll work with the character of the hand built workshop these get made in just like I work with the character of the wood, and keep it working into the basses & guitars as part of their character as well. I want them to have a good life, to go out and serve well; and I know that’s helped greatly by knowing where you came from and waking up where you belong. 

Thank YOU for being along on the journey with us!

Listening to: Eric Clapton Eric Clapton; (among other cool stations - like from Georgetown, Saint Helena and some great music from Ghana - worldwide on this AMAZING site); dub reggae by King Tubby.