In the history of rock ‘n roll and rhythm and blues there are few songs as important then That’s Alright Mama. It was the first hit record released by Elvis Presley on Sam Phillips’ Sun Records, but Elvis was not the first to do the tune. That distinction belongs to Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup who, borrowing ideas from Blind Lemon Jefferson, wrote and recorded the tune in 1946. I’ve heard both versions of the song and they are very similar. Elvis didn’t wander too far from Crudup’s tree with his version.
I have a friend in France who is a wonderful cigar box guitar player, singer, and video editor. He performs under the name Delbarjo and I’ve featured some of his videos on this site before. To my ear Delbarjo has an understanding of the blues that came straight out of the Mississippi Delta. Since I first became aware of him I have watched and rewatched all of his YouTube videos and never tire of his style and try to patiently wait for him to come up with something new.
Just can’t get enough of Playing for Change. I love the concept, the variety of music, how it’s changed the life of musicians, and how it’s bringing world music to the world. I also love that they are sponsoring musical scholarships and schools in many world locations. If you find yourself with a few extra shekels you may consider making a small donation. It doesn’t take much to really make a difference.
“This song was composed by Jason Tamba, PFC band member and recorded in Australia during the Peace through Music Tour in March 2013, when the Playing For Change Band was opening concerts for Robert Plant. This amazing song is a fusion between Congolese rumba and reggae and has been a hit during the all tour.”
Several years ago I heard about people playing cigar box guitars and found a few YouTube videos of back porch players picking their homemade creations. I gave some consideration to building one but shelved the thought until this past winter. After several failures, I finally whipped the learning curve and emerged from the basement with what I call, “a player.” Not to be confused with, “a wall hanger.”
In May I took a drive to Huntsville, AL and attended my first cigar box guitar festival. One of the headlining acts was a young guitarist named Justin Johnson. In the world of CBGs, Justin is considered one of the reigning royalty. He is not a vocalist but during his performance, he plays a wide variety of non-traditional stringed instruments ranging from a single-string “diddley bow” to six-string lap steel built on top of an old wooden ironing board.
Saturday afternoon of the festival Johnson led a workshop on basic slide guitar playing and I was fortunate enough to find an empty seat. Being there hasn’t made me a better slide player but I did get to sit within a few feet of the magic emanating from his fingers. afterward, we shook hands and exchanged a few pleasantries.
Since Huntsville Justin and I have become friends through a Facebook group comprised of CBG enthusiasts. I wasn’t able to attend but in late August he was a headliner at the Pennsylvania CBG Festival. During the event, he appeared on local broadcast media as well as in print media.
One entertainment magazine, Fly Magazine, published a story about the journey Justin and his girlfriend, Nikki, have been on for the past year. My youngest daughter has long talked about wanting to cash in her chips and become an RV road warrior. Well, that’s exactly what Justin and Nikki have done. If you’ve ever entertained similar thoughts you will probably enjoy reading about this couple and their Gypsy Van. Click HERE for the story.
Also, check out the following video of Justin playing a great sounding 4-string CBG and you’ll discover why his fans and fellow pickers call him, The Wizard.
I’ve made it no secret about how much I enjoy the projects of Playing for Change. First of their videos I saw was Stand by Me. Since then P for C has produced almost eighty videos, formed an international touring band, and spread the message of peace with the world. The one I’m featuring now is Three Little Birds and like always, it includes artist from all over the globe and it’s wonderful. Music is truly the world’s language so listen, watch, enjoy, and learn.
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BLUES FACTOID: Ever notice that B.B. King almost never sings and plays his guitar at the same time? He’ll even sling it to the side while he’s belting out the lyrics of a song. I was reading some biographical information about King and one of his biographers claimed that the reason is simple, he can’t sing and play at the same time. I can relate to that in any number of ways.
In country music the first three frets on a guitar are often called, “The money frets.” Watching a lot of B.B. King videos lately it’s become clear that the money frets for him are those between the seventh and twelfth. He’s made a career from the notes found in mostly that part of the guitar neck.
I’ve been watching a four-part PBS series called Billy Connolly’s Route 66. The Scot is traveling on a VW powered tricycle and taking in the sights of America’s “Mother Road.” I’ve made that trip several times over the decades and seeing what remains after the Interstate system made Route 66, and many of the towns it passed through, obsolete.
One thing that captured my attention was a stop he made in Missouri at the undisclosed home of a major collector of many things but especially stringed instruments. This man claims to have the world’s largest, if not only, collection of zithers. He also has amassed a huge amount lap steel guitars, ukuleles, Fender Coronado guitars, and who knows what else. I’m guessing his many rooms have to contain over 2000 instruments, many of which would be extremely valuable. He never sells anything but just adds on when pressed for storage space.
If you’re a lover of guitars and stringed instruments and/or a fan of shows like American Picker you need to take the time to watch the video I’ve embedded below. It’s about five-minutes long and I know it will make you shake your head in wonder.
Just completed my 10th cigar box guitar and it’s the best one yet. It was born a player with no fine tuning required. No fret buzz, no strange sitar like effects going on, the neck feels comfortable, the playing action (distance between frets and strings) is correct, and it looks pretty darned good. Still made a couple of beginner mistakes. First, the sound hole is in the wrong place, should have been in the bottom right quadrant so the metal cover doesn’t interfere with picking or strumming the strings. Secondly, I made the original neck too long and had to do some “hacking” to make it fit. It’s all hidden inside the box but I still know it’s there.
The specifications for this one is a red oak neck with poplar fret board, 22 nickel frets, 25″ scale, enclosed tuners, Cohiba all wood box, red oak nut, 1/8″ steel rod for bridge, tail plate is a hammered out silver plate spoon, and the jack plate is a 1.25″ fender washer. It has a piezo disk pickup run through a volume control and plays very well both acoustically and amplified. I stained the neck and fret board a golden oak and gave it several coats of spray lacquer.
I’ve never been a great fan of Bonnie Raitt but there have been moments when her talent just couldn’t be surpassed. The first experience of this was in a duet she performed with legendary blues man, John Lee Hooker. Together they performed Hooker’s song, I’m in the Mood. There was a connection and passion between them that simply left me wondering what would have happened on that stage had Hooker been a younger man.
Recently I came across a video of Raitt and Jerry Portnoy doing Love Me Like a Man. It’s not as passionate as with John Lee but I did notice two things of note. First, while her trusty Fender Stratocaster wasn’t far away, it’s the only time I’ve seen Raitt perform on any other type of guitar. Secondly, it’s the only time I’ve seen her play guitar without a slide.
Ron Coffey posted the following video link on his blog yesterday and being a guitar guy it caught my fancy. It also appealed to me because of its environmental and ecological message. I am a tree hugger and this is all about hugging the trees that make the best of our stringed instruments so good. It’s all about creating a reasonable balance between what we want and what nature can give.
I was watching a series of YouTube videos on the making of a simple stringed instrument called a strum stick. It is mainly a form of dulcimer that you strum like a guitar rather than play on your lap.
The videos had been produced by a Scottish immigrant, living in Michigan, named Andrew Mackie. Mr. Mackie spend his life tending to cattle and his spare time in his wood shop. He was also an avid harmonica player and lover of Celtic music.
Heart problems forced him to retire so to fill his days he turned to his wood shop and began making his version of a strum stick. In the mid 1990s his medications were costing him about $600 a month and he felt they weren’t doing him any good. So, he decided to stop taking pills and live out his life doing what he enjoyed, spreading the gospel of music.
He took the money he’d been spending on medicine and began buying harmonicas to be given to the middle school children of his county, along with written instructions on how to play them. Before his death in 2011 Mackie had given away over 20,000 harmonicas.
Also, he began setting up programs in high schools teaching shop students how to build his strum sticks and pass them on down to middle school students where others would teach them how to play. With volunteers he was able to build countless additional strum sticks to give away and sell as fund-raisers.
Mackie and his kids made their way into the Guinness World Book of Records by assembling the largest harmonica band performing in a single location.
I just think this is an amazing story of a loving and caring person who put the future of others before his own. Andrew Mackie made this a better world to live in and set an example we should all learn from.
Recently finished my sixth attempt at building a cigar box guitar. This one began life as a Rocky Patel Decades all wood box with a roughly textured black finish. The neck is all poplar and stained ebony to match the blackness of the box. For contrast I used brass frets and silver plated hardware I made from old spoons and knife handles. It has a piezo pickup inside for playing through an amplifier.
Several people have asked me about buying one but in my opinion they aren’t good enough yet to sell. They all play but not at the level I could ask money for.
I’ve given several away to family, I play a couple, and the others are probably better suited for decorating the wall in someone’s man cave or recreation room.
Chap’s Stick No. 1 is pretty much a finished project. It consist of a 6×6″ cigar box I got at a tobacco shop and a neck made from a scrap piece of red oak. The neck scale is 22″ and the pentatonic or blues scale is marked by small brads driven into the side of the neck. Jay Wile’s junk box provided the tuning machine and the 1/4″ amp jack. The amp pickup is a simple piezo disk hot glued inside the box as near the bridge as possible. A scrap bold, piece of 1/2 copper tubing, and sleeve from a pop rivet make up the other parts.
I’ve loved folk or roots music since back in high school. The older I get it seems the more basic the music the more I enjoy it. Recently I’ve been trying my hand at building and learning to play simple homemade instruments from scrap boards and cigar boxes. My first completed project is a simple cigar box one-string diddley bow.
There are many variations of this instrument, the simplest being two nails on a porch rail with a piece of baling wire stretched between them. B.B. King says this is how he began his musical career, plucking on a stretched piece of scrap wire. Continue reading The Diddley Bow & One-String Willie→
In the history of the blues guitarist Sylvester Weaver is given credit for being the first country slide guitar play to ever be recorded. It took place in late 1923 when Okeh Records recorded him playing Guitar Blues.