I thought I’d give you a quick update as to the state of my musical situation as it stands now. Many of you know that I have been in a few bands before, usually singing and/or playing bass, and mostly with my brother Derek. We have played everything from alternative country music to punk rock and whatever it is that lies in between. He was also instrumental (no pun intended…okay, maybe a little) in helping me complete a rock record I put out several years back that was “too pop for punk and too punk for pop” which means that people liked it but had no idea what to do with it.
Anyway, things kind of slowed down a little after that as I walked away from music for a little bit. Then, just as we were starting to talk about maybe doing something else together, the pandemic hit. So I have done pretty much nothing musically since.
Last Summer I saw a documentary called “Strung Together” which was about the Cigar Box Guitar movement that has sprung up over the last few years. For whatever reason, this had completely slipped by my radar and I was mostly unaware of this sub culture of music and musicians. I mean, I have seen people playing some old-timey resonator guitars, but I had no clue about the depth of the movement.
For those who don’t know, a cigar box guitar is just what it sounds like, a musical instrument, usually a three or four string “guitar”, made by using a cigar box as the resonator/body of the guitar, and a broomstick or wooden slat as the neck. This is the standard set up, but pretty much anything can be used as long as it gets a good sound! These instruments date back to at least the Civil War, but were more popular in the 1920’s and 30’s with hobos riding the rails, farm workers, and pretty much anybody hit hard by the depression and in need of a musical outlet. Countless blues musicians have started their careers by playing on a cbg, or its cousin, the one stringed diddley bow (which is, of course, where Bo Diddley got his stage name), an instrument that evolved from West African instruments.
I became fascinated with this world of instruments and the people who played them, and wanted to try it myself. Now, I’m not really a blues guy at heart, though there are many blues artists I respect and come in and out of my regular listening rotation. Still, the idea of playing home made instruments not found at your local chain music store intrigued me. After some research, I learned that many country and folk artists had also used similar instruments, and that musical style seemed to be more suited to my tastes and abilities.
So I figured I should start small. After researching the blues based diddley bow, I found its country cousin, the canjo. Again, this is exactly what it sounds like. A canjo has one string, on a diatonic scale fretboard with a can as a resonator. That’s it. I got hold of one and found it not only easy to play but also a lot of fun. It may seem like a joke of an instrument, but you can do a lot with it. I am a fan of the canjo. Or as the kids say, I stan the canjo.
I’m a stanjo.
I played this thing for months on end, and it wasn’t even a high quality instrument (yes, there are good and bad ones, like anything else). I have since added a few other instruments to my collection. I have a cbg version of a canjo, which I guess would be a “woodjo”, but that just sounds weird. I also have a three string cheap from-a-kit cbg that is pretty much made for slide work and nothing else. So far I have not “really” built any instruments though I would like to try one day. I’m not very mechanically inclined, so that’s a little overwhelming but is sure to happen sooner or later. There are a few more things I’d like to add to the collection such as a hobo fiddle, and a two string canjo, among others.
The question though, is “What the heck am I dong here?” Really, what in the world do I expect to accomplish with all this, other than goofing around on some cool though unconventional instruments. The answer is, “I’m not sure. But I’m up to something.” That something is still being fleshed out. Will I be able to write some new songs to play with these instruments? Will I be resurrecting a bunch of half forgotten old-timey songs and playing them in my own way? Maybe both? What form will this take? Will I find some like minded individuals and form a band? Will it just be me and a stomp box, or maybe some pre recorded tracks? Will I put music out on the interwebs, or just play loudly in the park, annoying passers by? I dunno, but I am excited to find out.
Wherever this takes me I’m sure I’ll drag my brother into it in one capacity or another. Bear in mind that I am nowhere near ready to officially present anything yet. It’s going to be quite some time, but it you follow my socials, I may throw out something, just for fun.
Like the drifters, wanderers, and rail riders of the past that live in so many songs, I am standing in front of an open road and I’m ready to see where it leads, even if it’s a dead end. I hope, when the time comes, that you will come with me. Until then, see you right here for more MonDAVEs.