I don’t know if I ever shared this but several years ago I got interested in making primitive stringed instruments from mostly found objects like cigar boxes and tin cans.
When Blake’s Coffee Shop was demolished I scavenged through the debris looking for pieces I could incorporate into primitive stringed instruments. I ended up making three instruments from what I found, a one-string diddley bow, three-string lap steel, and six-string lap steel. I kept the six-stringed lap steel but gave the others away. One may have gone to the Greenfield Historical Society.
I’m not much of a player so I asked Jay Wile to bring out the voice of these pieces of scrapped wood. All but the six-string were made from pieces of 1″ board and siding I found and the six-string a piece of 2×4″ studding. One of the Blake granddaughters gave me a couple of the restaurant’s coffee spoons which I incorporated into one of the instruments along with an old Maxwell House Coffee (the brand they brewed) can.
A couple of years ago I was in Clarksdale, MS, the birthplace of the blues, and drove by a recent house fire. I stopped and dug a couple of charred studs out of the debris and brought them back home with the intention of making lap steel instruments and naming them “Mississippi Burning.” I laid them next to a pile of firewood and damned if they didn’t get used in a family campfire some months later. So much for good intentions.
As a historical note, when you read the history of blues and early roots music it was these instruments that were commonly played. Everyone could afford a box, a stick, a few rusty nails, and some old wire. The legendary Texas bluesman, Lightin’ Hopkins, started his career…
“So I went ahead and made me a guitar. I got me a cigar box, I cut me a round hole in the middle of it, take me a little piece of plank, nailed it onto that cigar box, and I got me some screen wire and I made me a bridge back there and raised it up high enough that it would sound inside that little box, and got me a tune out of it. I kept my tune and I played from then on.”―
MORE INSTRUMENTS MADE FROM BLAKE’S DEBRIS (Click photos to enlarge).