The Twangification of a Greasehead
Got myself a diddley bow today. And a small Marshall amplifier. Also a burgundy guitar pick, an empty nip of Gentleman Jack whiskey and a new record by Seasick Steve.
Pretty sweet, huh?
I can’t actually play an instrument, but I am laced with all kinds of obsessions, so that played heavily into the purchase. Plus, Man has every right to wanna get all Appalachian from time-to-time. Nothing sinful about rattling around on a one string guitar.
It’s the whiskey nip that concerned me.
The full cycle of this particular obsession manifested itself from a clip off Youtube. This goes as far back as, oh Lord, let me see, a week, maybe less.
I was checking out clips of Jack White, a rock and roll Messiah, and came across him building in less than 10 minutes a one string guitar called a diddley bow out of a one piece of wire, a 2×4, six nails, a small pickup box and a Coke bottle.
The diddley bow is an instrument that originated in Africa, but became popular as a starter piece to the blues for southerners hoping to “Muddy Water” their way out of poverty. Or to just kill some time on the front porch after din-din.
Now, plugged into a small amplifier, Detroit Jack made that mother go BOOM! Like lightening shooting cross the Tennessee skyline, the frenetic, electric, heavy twang and slide of White’s diddley bow ran through me with Palomino speed.
That very sound, that GROWL, I declared, would lead me out of this dreadful winter. A season I will forever hate…then hate some more.
Constructing a diddley bow appeared easy enough. So little customizing to do. Nailing nails. Stringing stuff. Even I could…Hold right on, I said. I’ll end up driving a nail through the meat of my hand. I haven’t built something since, since, since forever. My father was awful with his hands, his father was an even worse builder.
So I went on a hunt. I’d been driving round for three days listened to nothing but old mountain blues. It’s warming, those notes. Woody, smoky, deep and lazy. The blues keeps you warm, impenetrable from winter’s constant hooks and jabs.
Then, as I was cruising through Boscawen, doing my thing, I pulled into “Steve’s Stereo and Music Exchange” on Main Street to find out if they‘re twangified?
“No diddley bow’s here,” said owner Steve Martin. “But I know a guy that makes and sells them up in Hill. I’ll give him a call.”
Before I headed to Hill, I purchased a small Marshall amplifier off Steve for $49 that is sure to drive my old lady crazy. Diddley bow’s are cool, but way cooler when plugged in and filled with thunder.
Twenty five minutes later, I arrive in Hill at Mark Dow’s Diddley Bows on 3A. I enter the unassuming storefront and find Dow working on a nub of chaw he’s got parked in his bottom lip, chilling, spitting, listening to some easy mountain music. The store is stacked with homemade string instruments — tenor guitars, guitars made out of hub caps and cigar boxes. Cooler than cool stuff.
Was I in West Virginia?
Dow showed me various kinds of diddley bows, all handmade by the man. I’m in for the board type of diddley, I tell him, something I can put on my lap, plug into an amp and pick away at in my ice box of a basement.
“You want this,” said Dow, reaching for a diddley bow made of white pine, a guitar string, couple eye hooks and a Altoids can used as a bridge. Then Dow offered me a complimentary whisky nip I could use to blend the nasty slide and grind I was looking for.
Sixty dollars later, I walk out the store with my first diddley bow. Just like that. No digging through a junk yard for spare parts. No nailing my fist to a board. No considering my hazardous musical abilities. It was perfect.
Later that night, when the house was quiet, when the kids were asleep, when the wife was on the couch fading off into her nightly slumber, I went down into the icebox, readied my mind properly, shook the grease out my hair, plugged the diddley bow (which I named “Missy”) into the amplifier and started sliding and grinding that whiskey nip up and down the neck of Missy.
Making sweet Mountain music, right here in the heart of Manchester, USA.
Rob Azevedo, from Manchester, NH is a radio host, writer and filmmaker. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.