Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmas day will be exactly one year since James Brown passed away.

A few months before his death my friend Chet gave me the neck, headstock, and body of a demolished Les Paul Standard that had been autographed by James Brown. He was commissioning me to use this guitar to make a piece of art for his home.

This guitar was completely destroyed and raped of its pots and pick ups but it still has its soul. Not only was this guitar handled by the godfather, but it was destroyed during some sort of “moment” during a Quadrajets show. I asked Chet why he broke it and he said it wouldn’t stay in tune.

Originally this was supposed to be a shelf piece but I couldn’t break the composition of it up in a way that seemed to make sense for this to be on a shelf. No matter how I positioned these parts, it still felt like a guitar, so I decided to align the parts in the order that they should be, head on top, body on bottom, with the neck in between.

The arrow shaped handles on the headstock and the body came off of the cabinet doors from a 1800s home in the downtown Tuscaloosa area. I built new kitchen cabinets for this home and during the installation noticed the original cabinets in the dumpster. I got in there with my electric drill and salvaged a handful of these pulls and a few pair of matching hinges.

The black cat inside the pick up cavity came out of my boys toy box. Neither of them can tell me what toy it was from. Probably one of those damn machines in the grocery store that they pour quarters inside everytime we go inside.

The guitar cable that ties all the parts together belonged to Paul Wine Jones. Sweetdog and Matt were his rhythm section for the last couple of years of his life. Many times Paul would use the Dexateens silver burst Les Paul and it would come back with things that belonged to him inside the case. I ended up with a few of Paul’s items this way.

I would guess that when James autographed the Les Paul, it was a functional guitar. Chet told me that the signature was in black marker and was pretty hard to see. This is why Chet scratched on top of the markings from the James Brown writing so that it could be read and preserved. This linear crazy looking scratching is an important part the assemblage in my mind because it looks like some sort of expressive line drawing. It says something like “to Chet from James Brown” I like to think of this as a collaboration between myself, James Brown, Chet , Gibson guitars.

Monday, July 09, 2007

i was headed home the other day from an installation when i passed a home that had a extremely large tv sitting in the front yard. the tv was pushed out next to the road and had a note taped to it that said "FREE-NEEDS TUBE". i called my buddy bo to come and meet me so that we could load it up and take it off of these folks hands. my truck was already full of tools, so we laid the tail gate down and let the tv ride there on it's back. bo made the remainder of the trip home sitting on top of a saw that was in the back of the truck while he kept one hand on the tv so it wouldnt slip off the tailgate. im sure we looked like red necks. this sort of activity may be illegal depending on what part of tuscaloosa county you are in.

you can see by the photo that this is more that just any tv. not only is this a tv, but it is also a record player, cassette player (yes), a tuner, and an eight track player. it is a curtis mathis brand and is made to look like it is constructed of all wood. funny that i cant find any real wood in it what so ever. lots of press board, particle board, and Masonite. the plastic parts even have embossed textures to recreate the heavy grain you might find in oak or hickory.

all i need is more junk that doesnt work in my shop. really... that's all i need. matter of fact i live for it. i own an old waffle house jukebox, a couple of broke guitar amps, a PA system, various shop tools, and two old organs. all of which do not work correctly, if at all. sometimes i like breaking into the guts of old electronics just to look inside. lots of times there are cool inspection stickers, wire bundles, wire harnesses, transistors etc, all of which can come in handy from time to time when one of my lightboxes needs a small detail. there is something about bundles of colorful wires running in unison that reminds me of muscle tissue drawings that you might see in an anatomy book. it interests me how the organic shape of the wires contrasts with the other parts of the electronics that are shaped in a manner that is very stiff, mechanical and man-made.
i told bo if the thing worked then he could have it, but he and i both knew it didnt work. the sign said so. the cassette player and the tuner however do work. i had an old copy of Ramones "Loco Live" laying around in the shop and we put it in to find out that the speakers actually sounded great. the turn table motor was blown, but the needle was still working. because of the blown motor, you can spin the record forwards or backwards. i also had an lp of Bread's "greatest hits" and put the needle on the record, in both directions. no backwards messages in any of the Bread recordings. bo said he had never heard of Bread. i keep thinking i can figure out a way to texture up some home recordings with the turntable. vein ambition.

after bo left that day, i took the back of this thing off and realized that there never were any tubes in there to begin with. this thing is solid state. that may not be technically correct, but regardless, there was no place for tubes to be found.

a few years ago my friend chet asked me to make him two speaker cabinets for him. a 1x15 for organ and a 2x12 for guitar. i wasnt sure what he wanted out of the design. all he kept saying was that he wanted them to be like pieces of art. i needed more direction than that, so in an effort to get my wheels spinning he sent me an old 1970's advertisement for a magnavox console television. the add that chet sent over that was pretty similar to this monster that i had picked up from the side of the road.

chet is in the Immortal Lee County Killers and he planned on using the cabinets as part of their live show. they travel in a gold astro van. chet insisted that he be able to use his rear view mirror, so that left me with height restrictions and he said that JR needed half of the space for the drum kit, so that left me with width restrictions. its hard to make art with restrictions, especially if it is supposed to be functional.

the photos show you what i came up with. not really groundbreaking in the realm or furniture or art, but unusual for speaker housings. unlike the folks at curtis mathis tv, i used absolutely nothing but solid wood and veneer on top of wood core. thank you.
sweetdog and i co-own chets old les paul that he used during the Quadrajets days. the guitar is beat to hell and is well worn, so i knew he was going to be hard as hell on these cabinets. the first thing i told him was that he really needed to get some flight cases made before he started trekking all over the US with the speaker cabinets. it wasnt six months later when he told me he needed me to repair the corner of one of the legs.

chets cabinets are made of southern red oak with a blood red dye stain you can get from behlen. they have Celestian Red fang Speakers and they sound like a million bucks. they look like they belong up there on stage with the ILCK. the back of the cabs have a tilt back mechanism much like the flap on the back of a desk top picture frame. this way you can get the same floor to ear direction much like the arms on the vintage fender amps. this tilt back arm is my design. i have not applied for a patton on this idea and im sure that someone will make a bunch of money from my idea someday. you saw it here first.
if you play in a band or are a collector of gear and would like me to design and build you a custom speaker cabinet, i will gladly provide you shop drawings free of charge. if would like me to actually do the work, i charge one million dollars, per cabinet. thank you.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

i built a hurdy gurdy recently. maybe i should say that i built a real dumbed down version of a hurdy gurdy. they traditionally are hourglass in shape and are sometimes fairly organic looking. my version is more of a big wooden box, not traditional in the least, but does however look sort of neat,... sort of. the "sort of" expression also sums up the way my instrument plays and sounds. it sort of plays, it sort of sounds like the hurdy recordings that i have heard. im learning as i go. as long as i can successfully build and design kitchen and bath cabinets (which i can) , i will be ok. this instrument stuff is strictly an exercise for me to learn about something new that is related to music and woodworking.

the sound reminds me alot like the bagpipes in the respect that it has a constant drone behind the melody. the tone is similar to a cello,... sort of. the box resonates to a sound more like that of a wind up victrola as opposed to that of an acoustic guitar.

the sound is derived from a wheel that is coated in violin rosin. the stings rest on the wheel, which is turned by a crank at the far end of the instrument. you turn the wheel with your right hand and play the keys with your left. the strings vibrate the top and the sides of the wooden box. i have 8 keys on this one. you can reach one octave, plus one note beyond the octave. i have tuned it to either a d drone or to an e drone.

this is the second hurdy gurdy that i have built. four years ago or so, Tim Kerr asked me to build him one. he said he knew of a place online where a fella had put up plans for one and that it could be built for under 20 dollars.

on this sight, the guy who designed this type of hurdy gurdy also says that it can be built within a weekend's worth of time by a person with only basic woodworking skills. it is true that i had about 20 dollars in expenses, but it took me about 40 hours to build. cabinet makers only work to the tight 16th of an inch and in addition to that, you rarely ever deal with wooden pieces that can fit in the palm of your hand. these plans call for small pieces worked to 64rths of an inch. so needless to say that on my first attempt, i was lost and had a lot of trouble. turned out like complete shit, but i gave it to Tim anyway. matter of fact, it turned out so bad that i felt like i should give it another shot in hopes that i can at least give him something that is usable. he says he has ideas to use the instrument as part of the recordings he does for compositions used by the dance department at the university of texas.

the second go around i took the plans from the sight above and worked up a simplified version of the instrument. i also put on an electric pick up in hopes that i could electrify the sound and get some cool feedback. Tim and i had a conversation along time ago about conjuring up spirits into the room by getting electric feedback. i remembered the conversation and thought making it acoustic/electric might be just the thing to make it special, especially because it is so simple and basic.

i used a 60s dimarzio acoustic guitar pickup. its the same thing Cobain had on his guitar in the Nirvana Unplugged show. really a shitty plastic sound, but i think for this sort of amateur instrument building project, its perfectly appropriate. punk rock.

the hurdy gurdy mach 2 is simplified in the respect that it only has two strings right now. one is a drone and the other one is fretted by the keys. most gurdys have two fretted strings and many times several drone strings. im definitely gonna have to put at least one other drone string on there to make the sound more full before i give it to Tim. the sound is fairly thin and not very loud at all, but it is playable. this is a considerable improvement from the mach 1 hurdy gurdy. again, im learning as i go.

i used electric guitar tuners and a bridge from an austin les paul copy. the strings are made of weed whacker twine, the top is made from that old shitty paneling that most lower/middle class families had on the walls of their den when i was a kid, the small key pieces are made from cherry and maple, and the sides are made from real thin spruce planed down to about 3/16ths of an inch.

ive yet to put electric guitar strings on it to see how it would do, but the weed whacker twine is real faint when plugged up through he dimarzio pickup. i dont think the pick up is gonna work unless the strings are metal. duh

i took it to nashville to use on our last dexateens recording which was done at mark never's beech house. we put it on a song that isnt titled yet, but it turned out pretty neat. we are gonna softly lay it in the back of the mix as a droned texture that plays a supporting role to the sound of the song. there are parts where i am bearing down on the strings where they meet the wheel and it gives this john cale squelch sort of thing which worked well, sort of. sounds like shit, but it works.

a few years ago a customer of mine gave me a buffet piece of furniture that is about 6 feet long and has drawers throughout. i have an idea to take all the drawers out and scale up the size of all the hurdy parts to fit the length of the furniture. i am thinking that if i put cello strings on it, then the old piece of furniture will serve as a carcase for a big over sized hurdy gurdy. probably a bit ambitious for the level of my skill at this point, but im going to do it anyway when time permits. the sensible thing for me at this point is probably to keep building more of these things until i have the fundamentals of building this instrument within my reach, then at that point, the 6 foot long hurdy gurdy might be a realistic project.

if you are a woodworker and have any interest, you can go to the link below and access the web sight with the plans for the first hurdy gurdy that i built. from there you can go to this guys home page where he has plans for several other way cool instruments.

Friday, June 08, 2007

"you shouldn't bring your work home with you"... i have been telling myself this for the past 5 years. i built my shop on the same acre of land as our home. i see my cabinet shop when i look out the window of our living room. my work is my home. my home is my work.

"not doing business with friends and family", is another nugget of advice that most businessmen would gladly own up to. as selfish as this sounds, i cringe when friends come to me with a job or a project. i dont want to charge someone who is close to me, but i also dont want to loose time (money) on a project that im not getting paid for.

personal life and business are many times regarded as completely different things and most of us would like to keep them as separate as possible. even if my shop and my home weren't so close together, its safe to say that these two parts of my life would merge into eachother. personal and business collide at their own will. i have had many personal/business situations, some ending just fine and some not so well.

part of the service that comes along with being a cabinet maker is to refer and work with the counter top fabricator and installers. although that is absolutely not what i do, it is part of my job to coordinate with them.

my wife's uncle is in the counter top business. he and i have done many jobs together over the years. i can honestly say that he has done alot of really nice things for me and my family over the years. i always considered him to be a friend and ok person.

uncle granite is pretty much the only granite counter top person in town with reasonable prices. he fabricates corian, laminate, marble, and granite counter tops. he does a fair job at a fair price. even if uncle granite weren't my wife's uncle, it is more than certain that he and i would work on the same jobs together because we live in such a small town.

uncle granite's payment policy requires half up front along with a signed agreement. the remaining balance is due the day he installs. that's totally fair. i have a similar policy. although just because i ask this, doesn't mean i always get it.

i have recently built and installed a set of custom cabinets for a customer of mine that has unfortunately overspent on his budget for the home. so now the last 20 percent of the loan is being held by the bank until the home closes at completion. this is to prevent further overspending ( i guess)

according to my customer, we are talking about 180 grand worth of cash that the bank will not let go of. this means that my bill and other subcontractors outstanding bills have not been paid and will not be paid until the home closes. all i can do is wait on the other subs to complete their work so that the house can pass inspection and then be cleared to close with the bank. then and only then, will the funds be available.

the good thing about this rotten situation is that the homeowner has become a friend of mine. he is honest. he has been completely open about his mistakes in overspending and i have no worries that my money will come when he closes with the bank. it eases the pain of not having the money to know that i am not about to get the stiff from the homeowner.

so obviously a key part of the home closing (me getting my money) hinges on the countertops being down on the cabinets. the countertop person on this job will have to agree to not be paid until the home closes. this is more than a small favor to ask of anyone that is trying to run a business. that is more or less, a request from the builder to finance the building of the home.

because uncle granite and i are friends, i decided i would call him and vouch for the honesty of my customer. i explained the circumstances of the bank loan and told uncle granite that i felt he could trust the word of my customer. i concluded by saying, "if you don't want to do business on these payment terms and bend your payment principles for my customer, then i understand, just let me know and ill find someone who will do the job on these terms". i really thought this was a courtesy to uncle granite. i was giving him a way out in case he felt like this wasn't a risk worth taking.

this barely gets out of my mouth when he starts into a heated rant saying "if you want to get someone else to do this job then you go right ahead young man". he kept calling me "young man" repeatedly. after i started arguing back at him he began calling me "boy". he would say "boy, ill tell you what....." then we would sit through a pause while he thought of something profound to say about the situation and the way i had screwed him.

i repeatedly explained that i was not trying to run him off the job. i told him over and over that the nature of my call was out of curtousy to him. I'm pretty sure uncle granite had some pent up hostility towards me and this was a good excuse for him to get it all out.

he tells me that his payment arrangements are none of my business. this is true. he could have even told me this like a rational adult and it would have been cool. indeed it is not my business, but i have an immediate interest in seeing the counters go down as quickly as possible. sometimes you have to pry and prod in order to make things happen, especially when you are owed money and desperately need it. I'm desperate.

after he ranted for a while about our business relationship, he then began ranting about how selfish i am and that i care only about myself. this is all probably true. Ive heard it from other people as well, but it was completely not the case in this instance. maybe this blow up was to account for all the other times i deserved it and he refrained. regardless it was childish and unprofessional.

the conversation topics moved from our business dealings to the way i lived my life. it became personal. he talked to me like i was a sinner without regret, as if i was on my way to hell and he was the voice of reason that i needed to hear. at some point he said to me "go smoke you a joint a think about it". this part really kills me because it is a total pass of judgement and on top of that, uncle granite is an recovering drug addict.

it was really crazy and irrational. born from vicious anger and hate.

once he couldn't think of anything else to say about me, he starts hanging up on me.
i keep calling him back. i kept telling him that he and i were friends and that i wasn't gonna let it go down like this. i really, really wanted to work it out.

the hang ups went on for about 15 minutes. i kept on calling back. then he started saying "don't call me back". i kept calling back though. sometimes i would pace around thinking "should i call that dude back",... and then,..i would decide to call back. i was mad. i like to work things out right then on the spot. i dont like carrying anger around on my shoulders (in my stomach).

i figured, ..ok he will call me in the next few days and it will be talked about in a calm, adult fashion and it will be over. that was almost two months ago. so now i know exactly where i stand with this guy.

it wasn't even a year ago that this same guy was giving me his "christian testimony". we were on a job sight together out in the country somewhere. i was there finishing up small details on my cabinets. he was bringing the countertops in with his helpers. the next thing i know he has tears rolling down his face and he is telling me about the power of the holy spirit.

i couldn't tell you what started him on this holy spirit business. he was telling me a story about when he was a junky and had spent his last money to buy a barrel full of black tar heroin as his baby lay in her crib crying hungry for food. he said that the lord sobered him up right there on the spot and spoke to him. he was in his front yard of his trailer and he said he was overcome with the holy spirit. he turned from his ways because of this. i remember feeling really awkward that he was crying and telling me this. i mean we were on a job together with several other workers present and it was real, real weird.

that day i remember wanting to get the hell out of that house as quick as i could, but at the same time i remember being inspired by the way he didn't care about what anyone may think of him. even though i obviously don't see Christianity the same as most Christians, especially this guy, i was inspired by his conviction.

but now all that "testimony" doesn't hold anything with me. he gave another kind of "testimony" to me that day on the phone.

my problem with this guy isn't that he blew up on me and lost his cool. my biggest problem is that he hasn't made any sort of move to redeem our relationship and make right what is wrong. that tells me that he still feels the same way today as he did two months ago. i think he acted that day in a fashion true to his character and his feelings about me.

this Easter we had the family lunch at my wife's grandmothers home. that was the first time i had encountered him since his blow up. he came up to me while i was fixing my plate, grabbed my elbow from behind and says "are you ok?" almost as if that is his way of saying "are we cool now?" i mumbled in response "how are you?" i didn't look him in the eye or use any emotion. i wish i could have come up with something clever like "oh i just smoked a joint so im high as hell, how are you?" its probably best that i didn't say that.

i believe i would just rather him be a dick when he sees me. if this man is a dick to me, then i can see the truth in that. i can believe that he is being real with me. i can respect that more than the lie of pretending to be "ok" with each other.

see the thing is this.... he and i both know we will see each other again. we will have holiday meals that will be at his mothers home. when we are there im sure we will shake hands and pretend to be kind to each other. we will go through the motions and it will all be fake.

because he and i work for many of the the same contractors and homeowners, we will have to do jobs together. because we both want to maintain good professional standing with our customers, we will act like nothing ever happened and it will all be forced and fake.

i got nothing to say about the heart of this uncle granite character. im just going to live my life as if he doesn't exist, even when he is standing in front of me. i now try to look at him as if he were a robot that installs countertops. you don't have life conversations and personal dialogue with a robot, you work with them. you use their labor to get the job done. then you cut the power off at the end of the work day.

im going to use this event as a reminder of how my actions hold me accountable for the personal who i say i am. im gonna use this to remind me of how easy it is to blow it.

personal is meshed in deep with business. business is meshed deep with personal. as much as i hate it, that is the way it is. the older i get, the more i realize how happiness comes through keeping it simple and eliminating all the bull shit. but sometimes you cant shake it. sometimes you got to wade in it to get where your going. sometimes it is a part of your personal life. sometimes i create it, sometimes its handed to me, but none the less dealing with bull shit on a personal and a business level is part of life.

living is living, no matter if you are at work, with your family, or at play. you cant make the separation if you are exercising the same set of morals and values. it becomes one in the end. if you have a different set of values set up for how you do business vs. how you do things on a personal level then something somewhere is contaminated with a lie. something, somewhere is artificial.

maybe i take everything too seriously, but it all seems personal to me. its all business. recently i have realized that there is nothing i can do to separate the two and im better of just accepting it.