The Thread

I’ve heard a few times recently that the little list of what I’m listening to while I work gets checked out every week. That’s fantastic. That’s my hope with ANYTHING I share, not that you think like me or listen to what I do… but that you do think about things a layer or two deeper and you listen to new-to-you music. I was gifted this podium along with my craftsman’s path, and part of that means I’m supposed to share and inspire. If a tiny bit of how music inspires and fills me somehow transfers to you by a recommendation or even something else you found in the used CD bin while you went LOOKING for something I was into, I mean that’s life right there! That’s how it all hooks together! That’s how little paths happen into other artists’ work, and musics, and even lives – go ahead and SAY hello to the person next to you. Stop at that bar or restaurant or shop on the way home you’ve driven by all those times but wanted to. Life is a tapestry of these thin threads somehow entwined. My whole path traces back to one thumbtack holding my first business card as a musician for hire at 17 years old into a cork bulletin board at a drugstore for two years. You think the guy went there to find my card? No, he was on a quest doing something else and picked up my thread, which I have followed through and to a thousand others over the past 32 years right to this moment typing this for you, light years from who, what, and where I was when that tack got pushed in... but somehow connected by that one thread. Now, I’m not going to send you out for shaving cream, but I will get you going for music. The rest is up to you and the universe.

When I write I was listening to Kamasi Washington’s “The Epic” SURE I’m hoping you’ll find something there that will season the flavor of your life. That’s a badass work that could blow your mind! Way more than that, way deeper than that though, I’m seeding a tiny little journey into your garden. A little quest! If it takes, Kamasi or not, you’re going to be out off looking for something and find a lot more on the way. It’s that “lot more” I really want to share, from the seeking to the path to the nuggets along the way to the new soundtracks you have for moments you might need to make now too. All uniquely yours, most of which I’ll never know… but I know you’re there, and I know music – in a world of viral spiraling lunacy from all sides – is a virus of connection and good vibration and inner health. It takes you on GOOD little journeys, sometimes where destiny can find you and plant her little seeds too. Your life doesn’t need to look anything like mine – but I’m here to inject you with the good musical virus so YOUR doings and feelings and ripplings come from the best place in YOU. This dis-dis-ease is spread by music, and that’s what it does. Share, spread, soothe, and inspire.

This is a busy time of year. Feed yourself well, but feed yourself wellness. That includes daily affirmations that whatever’s difficult you’ll get through it, whatever’s coming you’ll work around it, whatever’s happening you can handle it, whatever’s not working you can change it. AND TO all of that, and all the joys and magic moments, is a soundtrack, also taken in daily doses. Add to that. Share it with the people around YOU. Keep the music playing around you and it will keep the song in your heart.

Listening to: Kamasi Washington The Epic; Jerry Jeff Walker Viva Terlingua; Marcus Roberts As Serenity Approaches.

One For The Hands

One for the hands.

For those of you who didn’t see it in the Throwback Thursday post on Facebook this week, Halloween 2005 found first real Birdsong Guitars workshop help Tommy coming to work as… ME. Truly one of the greatest moments of the early first chapter! There have been some surreal moments in my life, but the realization that you have become someone else’s Halloween costume… that’s still difficult to even describe. Hilarious.

I might be the face, the mad scientist, the quarterback… but none of this happens without the helping hands. I wish some of them would have stuck around, some could have been Captain by now – and more surely been Captaining ships of their own – but not everybody is cut out for this kind of weirdness. It’s unpredictable. You wear so many hats. The all-in factor to maintain sail – let alone build the ship and get it off the shore to being with - is just beyond belief. It’s one of those things you can definitely be in love with the idea of but find, no matter how good you may be at the craft, the rest of it too much to handle. Being in business is a challenge – being in business as an artist / craftsperson is a challenge mixed with just enough of the creative madness so that if that’s you it’s the only thing that has ever felt so right… and if it’s not, you end up in the water. Jumped, pushed, or washed overboard by the hand of the universe. It is what it is.

Similar things can be said about anyone who comes aboard to help, to some extent. It’s like you have to be just the right mix of stable and nutty. Too regimented or nutty as squirrel poop and… over the rail you go. And let’s face it, life is to go build your dreams – not to stay building someone else’s. Unless it’s your dream to be that Captain. Even as a Captain though, you know well no ship sails by Captain alone. It’s one role for the one with the charts and the vision and the balls. When it comes to actually making things happen, the whole reason for all of any of it anyway, helping hands help it all happen… and we’ve had some great times with all of them over the years.

These are just some of the faces, but this one goes out to ALL of you who flew, swam away, fell off, or crawled under the fence at night. I hope you all are chasing your dreams and gaining ground. Birdsong Guitars salutes you and I, Captain by default, raise a frosty glass of mead in your honor. It is not autumnal.

Listening to: Yabby You, Dub It To The Top; Static X, because you just have to shuffle the deck occasionally; and my favorite radio station

Special gratitudes to Jamie, Birdsong co-pilot, still sanding on the side!

Simplify and Focus

Well, looks like they got a rock and roll guy heading up Gibson now, I wish him and the company good luck as they emerge from bankruptcy and hopefully onto a path back into solvency. I’ve loved the dances I’ve had with their guitars over the decades, and you can bet your left whatever that if I had won the lottery I’d have been buying a few. The basses? Meh, I have an old EB3 that’s beat but has a story and it did influence the Cortobass in ways, so I keep it around. Other than that one specific bass, their basses… meh. And I did offer to help in any way with short scale designs I KNOW work well but even with a connection inside I couldn’t even get near the moat. If anyone from the new regime even has a clue we exist, look up our reputation and know the offer still stands. I know we’re tiny but we’re pretty good. Give me 5 minutes in a room with someone who can make decisions and I’ll offer whatever I have that that may help that area. Good luck to all of you over there! Simplify and focus.

Sometimes design is not what’s added, but what is left off. Just like if you leave a few empty spots in a bass line, those rests give it groove. Composing with silence as an ingredient. In the sharpening of a knife, or a life for that matter, or even the ways of a giant guitar company - it’s what is removed by the process that hones it sharper to be more effective. A photograph with just the right amount of empty space can bring more focus to the main subject. You might ask yourself “What does this guy do for laughs?” I know that’s something I always wonder about people. And just how does this tie into what we were just talking about? We’ll save minimalist road travel, sitting in the woods until my bone marrow hums, and plain pizza for other times and go with a little tomfoolery on the ‘net, shall we?

To me, like in years past when I would send odd, random items back in the self-addressed stamped envelopes of junk mail that clogged my mailbox, and go right to bizarre-land with phone solicitors, if your ad shows up on my screen you’re fair game to have a little fun with. And this… this is a perfect example of refining out just a few superfluous things and suddenly the design is SO much better.

Here (above) we see the graphic that accompanied a marshal arts ad that showed up in my feed. A nice, if sketchy, kick to the side… pardon that pun. And below, by quickly removing just a few excess lines, now it’s a good square kick right in the applebag. Straight to the shenanigans! Right in the ol’ Paulie Walnuts.

Took all of three minutes, I laughed myself silly… and I reposted it in the comments underneath their ad. Just a little assistance; you know I try to be helpful. Anyhow, it still amazes me during the process how a small refinement can make such a vas deferens.

Moving along, the rain finally let up a bit so it’s been, well, balls out here catching up on the things we simply won’t do when it’s 90 per cent humidity outside. I like my routs to stay tight, my glue to stay strong, that sliced to stay straight and those sanded to stay smooth. We’re in high gear. It’s that time of year, too – the end of the year (“EOY” on the build sheets in here) push. Not faster, just more focused and longer hours at it, doing a few extra steps every day. I live for this. As I told one client, “I’m all over it like a bad suit!” The new camera is here and working, still putting pictures up on the builds page. Life is good. Go make it happen.

Listening to: Boz Scaggs Live 2004 (on YouTube) (it’s awesome); WTF podcasts; a mixtape CD called “Eclectic” a neighbor gave me of everything from Sting to Fever Tree, Chris Isaak, Redbone and Tina Turner); and some live Jerry Garcia Band.

Random Thoughts

My inbox is an interesting place. Most public addresses are… but in amongst the whole lot of emails from places I’ve bought parts from here and there sending their latest sales pitches (sometimes 5 or 6 times in a line, thanks BBG – I know you’re there OK?) are the steady stream from folks who somehow think I’m “Birdsong Builders”… as in houses… the best of which came through this week. Reminder: Your 0% offer is waiting. Take advantage of our latest…” Thank you, thanks very much. I really appreciate that.

Well, there aren’t any new pics up on the builds page this week but it’s sure not because we’ve been slacking or anything. The old digital camera gave up the ghost. I know, “Camera? What’s that?” Well it’s what I, Scott, luddite, take pictures with. Because my phone is a phone. A new one is on the way to me but for a few days here I’ll have plenty to show but no pics to share. We’re getting that taken care of as quick as we can.

It’s mid-October and this is where I realistically look and refocus on what can possibly be done by the end of the year. We’re blessed to be busy, but things flow through here from orders in to instruments out how they need to in order to get the most done the most efficiently for how it happens in here. All of you are – of course – equally important to me to serve and work for, but at the end of the year there are always a few who get surprised with basses a little earlier than expected, and those who get apologetic call from me that it’s going to be on the other side of the Holidays instead, as no matter how hard or efficient we run we do run out of road. December ALWAYS comes quicker than expected. All I can promise, other than always to do my best and offer the highest of those who help, is that whatever is being worked on for you will be worth the wait, and the cost, completely. That’s the reputation – 15 years worth almost – and it’s like that for a reason. You will get it, you will be happy, and you will plug it in and put it on and be inspired. And the wait and the numbers will be forgotten. That is my main priority… time, time has to flex a little. It’s just the nature of it, and the nature of attempting to do things like we do them and apply that to a time grid six or seven months in advance. Time flexes - it does out there and it certainly does in here. Thanks for your patience with the process!

The calls and questions are coming in about the weather, there is some flooding in this part of Texas but we’re not near any of it here in the hills. Someone did put a life vest on the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue up in Austin, though! We’ve had plenty of rain for sure, but it’s hard around these parts to be serious when we wish it away because there are months it doesn’t come at all. Wimberley flooded a few years back but even then – we’re on high ground. I grew up around the Atlantic and weathered plenty of what that can be like. When it came time to look for land far faaaar away, I didn’t want anything to do with unpredictable water. Don’t get me wrong, I love the water – some of the best memories of my life involve parking down at the beach and watching the sunset. But to have it as a neighbor? Hell no, it’s even crazier than that Jason guy who used to headbang out front of his trailer to Dead Horse. So when I went looking for land, Mr. man with the maps would say “And this is a property with a creek coming through it” and I was like “Thanks, I’ll pass. You have something up on a hill?” He’d say “Here’s one closer to town, by the river…” “Mmmm, show me a few out where the roads aren’t even paved yet OK?” So no worries here other than concern for those in the areas affected. You know, it’s a strange balance – once you’ve been without water, you never have enough. But once you’ve seen a flood up close, hard rain does put a little dread in you. So it’s been a bit of “Thank the Lord” and “Ho-leee SHIT” at the same time. But isn’t that life most of the time? We do thank you for your checking up on us though, friends!

And as always thanks for checking in! Have a great weekend. Pour some music on what’s happening, good or bad – it’ll make it better.

Listening to: Steely Dan Pretzel Logic and The Royal Scam; Kyuss Welcome To Sky Valley.

Information and Inspiration

*** The computer will be off all of Friday through Sunday, if you need me please call 512-395-5126. If you leave a message, kindly verbally leave your number and I’ll call you back ASAP. Emails and Facebook, I’ll access when the computer comes back on. Thanks! ***

Evidently the great Facebook scare of 2018 happened this past week. It was mostly a hoax, but just so you know - this is what I look like.

Go see if we’re friends – look in my pictures for this guy; if we are, I won’t be sending you another request. There WILL most likely be cars involved if you DO get one from me. If I get one from you, I look at your profile. If we’ve never spoken or never talked in a car or van group and there’s not a picture of you playing a guitar or bass, I probably won’t accept without a message. If you’re only showing a few pictures and no real content, I definitely won’t accept even if I know your name – that’s what fake profiles look like. If I see your name already IN my friends list or you’re the ubiquitous “hot single chick” in everybody’s friend request lists – also with few pictures and no content - you’re definitely a fake profile and I decline and report these as SPAM. And most of you know this, but whether on Facebook or YouTube, I’m the guitar guy – not the racecar driver, gamer, random family guys or the street preacher of the same name. If it’s a political post, it’s not me. I don’t make them, and I don’t comment on them publicly. All you get from me are inspirational Monday morning posts to help you get out there and kick its ass so the rest of the week falls in line (believe me, I’m helping me in the same way – I just figure I’ll share it with you too), guitar or bass related posts, or the occasional old car content. That’s it. That’s most of my life and that’s the part of the garden I share. And don’t take it personally if I don’t comment on your posts – there’s a bunch of you and only one me, I don’t actually see a lot of them, and – like any piece of post-1980s technology – despite how it may appear, I can barely work it.

So speaking of old cars and sharing inspiration, I get a lot of inspiration in life from the old machines around me. I don’t know what does it for you, but when I need to be something other than Scott The Music Guy, I get in one and go driving. Though I don’t drive every day, most machines here are daily driver worthy and the newest model year vehicle I have is a 1983. They’re what I drive. They’re what I love to look at. They’re what I understand and enjoy. Their hoods are what I love to look out over to view the highways and the back roads - my favorite view of the world. I’ve been a car guy even longer than a guitar guy – always having a Hot Wheels in my pocket as a kid. As a grown up, they just got a little bigger. Here’s “American Beauty” – a 1960 Pontiac Catalina. Newest to the fleet earlier this year, it has elements of boat & rocket in its curves and lines, with those sweeping wheel openings of this era I just love… this kind of curve is where my eyes became fascinated with curves and how they fit in with other elements, directly influencing the curves in the instruments I’d eventually design and build. Electric guitars & basses’ lines may be somewhat similar, but that’s because there are only so many places to put them so they functionally work – balance on a strap, sit on a leg, accommodate an arm, etc., then this goes out up here and in about this way and curves out over there. But the curves themselves? On a Birdsong, mostly inspired by the automotive world. Or the tops of grandfather clocks, maybe a detail here and there from the ends of fancy silverware… but a LOT of old car wheel opening sweep.

Beauty is resting for the moment, needing some little things I’m not going to get to for a bit. (Your stuff comes first – that’s part of our deal!) But there is nothing that rides or cruises like this car except another of the era – a hopeful era when thick steel was sculpted into things built to last, with style. I can’t believe someone could walk into a car dealership to buy a practical, conservative “4-door for the family” and drive off in THIS. This is what that looked like in 1960. Once Beauty’s ignition system is fully sorted (for you car folk, the 389 has been fitted with an HEI distributor) and the carburetor rebuilt, and a few other things tended to, this will be road trip ready. It’s one of my favorite cars I’ve ever driven and will see some highway time. It’s good to have hobbies on the side that – other than being inspiring – have nothing to do with “Who you are” most of the time. Being out of that context for a while, even for a cruise through the hills, is replenishing and lots of answers and perspectives come that don’t when you’re in the thick of playing your main character. On a long enough jaunt they even run out to where you simply “Be” by the moment and mile, a human being not a human doing. Thanks, as always, for letting me share my inspiration with you – whether it be in words & music, wheels & steel, or wood & wire. I hope it inspires YOU in ways YOU need – maybe go find something to do for YOU with what’s left after you serve and devote so much to others. If there’s nothing left? Maybe claim some. It’s healthy. You can’t carry everything and you won’t fix everything – part of doing your best is being your best and that might mean taking the time to fix yourself when needed. Have a great weekend!

Enjoy the scenery,

Listening to: Cream box set; Yabby You Dub It To The Top; tenor Mario Lanza; bluesman Jack Owens.

Music For The Mouth

Love is the most powerful force in this world, followed by music. And then? Then comes food. Food is the most powerful force for the body – so eat gratitude, eat what has been offered in thanks for it. Eat good clean food. Here at the nest, I’ll tell you what, we have been on a Thai food kick for a little bit now and it’s amazing how going deep with something can bring new experiences. I’ve eaten a lot of stuff… though the decisions made in this long mid chapter about what I will and won’t consume as food definitely narrow the options in the typical American restaurant (and honestly, though wonderful, how many Chili Rellenos can one eat either?), Asian & Indian food has amazing options. Growing up around Boston 40 years ago, “Mexican food” to me was Ortega tacos! Asian food I saw a little more of with Chinatown a subway ride away and a good Asian presence in the area, but I was still only getting the tiniest tip of its Americanized truth. To compare those dishes to what’s been on my plate recently… not even close.

Cooking is a passion you can learn a lot about how an instrument generates its overall tone by participating in the experience of how a recipe ends up with its final flavor. King Trumpet mushrooms. Jackfruit. Kafir lime leaves. Lemongrass. Fry up a handful of Shishito peppers; cook your rice with coconut cream and thank me later. Even the dried red pepper flakes direct from a Thai grocery are different – the red looks a shade lighter than the stuff we’ve found on pizza tables, and is less harsh and forward – yes it’s hot, just use a light sprinkle, but there’s a floral warmth that just builds as a background. Similar, yet different. You might be doing yourself a favor walking right on past the durian and bitter melon – I probably would have. But any quest has its missteps and hey - that may be just the flavor YOU are looking for, and yours is the tongue that matters! Favorite side oils / sauces / seasonings to use in during or on after cooking? Mae Ploy, sesame oil, sambal oelek (an absolute taste overload) and something we call “Asian Lady” because there’s (no big shocker here) a picture of an Asian lady on the front and we can’t read a word on it except “Hot chili crisp.” Simply the best, richest tasting basic crunchy hot pepper oil you can spoon into your world.

Some we discovered in our continuing cuisinal quest for the new and exciting, leading us to an ingredient here or there after some great Thai restaurant experience, but there have been three main contributors that skyrocketed the understanding, enjoyment & level of what we’re now cooking. The first is Mark Wiens – probably the most gracious and respectful travel/food blogger on YouTube. He’s not looking to shock, just to enjoy food and share that. He knows about where he goes, shows some of the actual cooking and talks about the ingredients so we know why it tastes like it does. I’ve learned literally cooking classes worth about food from him, used a bunch of that directly or adapted into what I DO eat, and watching him enjoy it all and be among other people in their worlds makes ME excited about food and what it brings to the home and carries to others we share it with. He’s based in Thailand but travels the world with his family.

The second was the first trip to an Asian grocery store. There is a fine but small Thai grocery in San Marcos, Prik Nam Pla - which also cooks fantastic food. That was a mind blower itself, having access to such ingredients… it set us on the path. The #3 real mind blower was MT Supermarket in Austin. For me it was like walking into E.U. Wurlitzer music shop in Boston that first time. EUW was a huge place FULL of guitars & gear, and at that time most of what I was seeing I had no idea what I was looking at - but I knew my world had just gotten MUCH bigger. This was the food version of that. Some sections were not for me, again given deliberate food decisions I make for myself, so I just walked past those. But the produce? Seasonings? Canned goods? Noodle selection? Sauces? Un-freaking-believable. Literally a whole culture of food I had only merely pinky-toed into. It was like discovering jazz existed, or hearing what comes out of your instrument early on, the notes and sounds when it’s all new. Onward a ways into life it can be difficult to really feel like anything is all new again – that excitement at everything, that purity of the moment. I feel it in food and the many roads and mysteries it will show me as a seeker, and I find it in music and the roads of IT yet to walk and what new flavors wait there for me.

Go cook something up, my friends! Be reverent toward the ingredients, honor their sources, wish well on all who took a part in what makes it to your table, and share it with good people. It’s just another form for your song to take. As always, be inspired!

Listening to: Augustus Pablo East Of The River Nile. (On repeat. I love it.)

Reflections in a fallish mood

The temperatures have dropped and there has been morning Delta blues picked on the porch – a sure sign the worst of the weather is behind us for a while. Not really “Fall” as we just have “A little less of a summer, what might be summer somewhere else”… and then our version of winter. And really I use worst in tiny little lowercase letters because there are places that get hit with storms the likes we just don’t see here in the south-central Texas hills, and the winters where I come from were brutal compared to the little occasional freeze ‘n flurries here for sure! Sure we get some “All the way on or all the way off” rain and sometimes it can be an issue, but most of the time ours is not a hardship, just uncomfortable. And it’s uncomfortable with the summer sun. The sun! Too much warmth. I just have to laugh. I’ll take it – it’s a blessing to anyone who knows cold. And it is in ways; and I do like to sweat when I work. But I’m glad for a little less intensity right now and a touch of gray, thank you.

This week many years ago there are many of us who remember exactly where we were when the news came of bassist Cliff Burton’s tragic passing. In the context of the day in 1986 Metallica were shaking things up but it was a slower build and you have to remember most of us on the east coast maybe knew somebody with a third gen cassette copy of an album by one of these “Speed metal bands from LA” as we lumped everything in as. We didn’t know. We bought Hit Parader but there was no real airplay of anything harder than Ratt and maybe the occasional more commercial Iron Maiden or Judas Priest tune. We traded horrible sounding bootlegs, drew band logos on our paper bag book covers, painted goofy stuff on our denim jackets and went to concerts. That was it. I was 17.

I had seen Metallica the year earlier opening for Ozzy and had barely known who they were – my buddies were WAY more metal than I ever got despite the hair and denim and pointy-ass guitars. But after the concert, as raw as they were – maybe a bit sloppy, perhaps a bit drunk – I left a fan and bought the first three Metallica albums. And that was it. I’d listen to them walking home at night after washing dishes at a restaurant. At the time nothing had the production of the then-new Master of Puppets – it was light years ahead of the heavy stuff around it. The album before it, Ride The Lightning, was a game changer. Their first? Kill ‘em All? Meh, I know it’s hallowed ground to some but kind of a novelty to me, jumping in when I did with the huge crunch of Master. Honestly I was way more into late ‘70s Cars and Eddie Money’s first few albums, some Neil Young, and grooving pretty hard to Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force and the whole neo-classical shredding thing. Andreas Vollensweider. The Ramones. Journey.

And yeah, Ratt and that whole scene Metallica and their peers were reacting against. The ‘80s was an amazing time to be young. As cheesy as a lot of that LA stuff seems now it blew our minds when it was easy to be over the top and got us excited about playing our instruments and starting bands. But for me, Cliff was just the craziest thing I had ever seen fingering a bass guitar. And when he died at 24, I was very sad. I remembered guitarist Randy Rhoads who died young in ‘82 but I had been younger and started playing just after that. 13 and 17 are totally different existences… very different levels of consciousness and awareness of your being and context. The news broke on MTV and I was at home, realizing for the first time that my heroes were men and they could die horribly… that life was changing and sometimes things happen so fast… but that ultimately it’s more about the mark you leave than how long you last. Whatever the tool of your trade, whatever the song you sing, it’s about the work you did and the inspiration you spread while you were here.

Listening to: The My Favorite Album Podcast on Jeff Buckley’s Grace ( ); Norman Greenbaum Spirit In The Sky (really a cool whole album); a Modern Jazz Quartet 10”; Nirvana Bleach; Dr. John The Sun The Moon & Herbs and In The Right Place; Andres Segovia My Favorite Works (a perpetual workshop favorite, been in rotation in here for ten years plus.)