The Goings-On of a Wood Whittler

There have been a few times in my life where it has been my great honor to meet someone. Sherry and I went to the East Coast during the early part of June 2010 to visit the old folks. On the way back, we stopped at a jazz museum in Birmingham, AL. We got a guided tour. Part of the way through the tour, we found out who this gentleman was who was showing us around. He is Dr. Frank Adams. Back in the day, he was the clarinet player for Ella Fitzgerald, and the saxaphone player for Duke Ellington. Since I didn't really have any idea that I would get to meet a legendary person, I didn't bring the camera in with me. But real quick like in a hurry, I ran back to the truck, and he was gracious enough to allow me to have my picture taken with him. He's 82 now, and his mind is so incredibly clear and sharp. As he told the stories, I listened as hard as I could. But alas, my mind is not good enough to retain all the things he said. Perhaps while we still have a treasure like him with us, somebody will come along and write a book or do a documentary on him.


There's a professor at Louisiana Tech in Ruston, LA, who gets me to come to his class every year or so and speak to his students on the subject of guitars. In particular, he wants me to speak about the acoustic properties. There have been a couple of occasions where his students got a stroke of inspiration. They saw me and listened to me talk, and it only took them a little while to figure out that I'm a regular guy. King David played a stringed instrument, and they didn't have any kind of state-of-the-art tools. So, before you know it, some of these students had set about building their own instrument. While I was at the concert in West Monroe, listening to Andrew Osenga recently, a young man approached me and showed me his guitar. He was one of those students. And here's a bit of truth. I'll never build a guitar as good as he did. I guess if I was just going to build one guitar, and it was going to be for me, and time was not important, then I could do the same thing. But alas, time is important. I love what I do, and it's always fun when I see that somebody else picked up on the idea and did it for themselves.


A gentleman who lives outside of Shreveport, LA gets me to build a new mandolin every time a new grandchild is born. Just recently, he came by to collect the new mandolin built for the grandbaby who was adopted from China. I built his first instrument in 8/98, the second one in 02/02, the third one in 06/04, and the last one 09/09. The first one I build looks like a Stratacaster. I only built 2 like that before I decided not to imitate anybody else. I developed the Ambassador body shape, and that's what all of his other mandolins are. Since the new grandbaby is from China, he wanted me to somehow incorporate cherry blossoms. So the sides, back, and neck are cherry, and the sound holes are cherry blossoms. Billy, who is sometimes mistaken for Santa Clause, is a bluegrass picker. It's too early to tell, but his hopes are that all the grandbabies will dig Bill Monroe and Ricky Scaggs.


Fifteen years ago, I really just meant to build one guitar, and it was a solid body electric. I still have that guitar. Finally, one day, I had a powerful hankeriní to see if I could build an acoustic guitar Ė and this is the one. And itís been a long time since Iíve seen that guitar. Tony brought it by my shop in the early part of 2008. An older gentleman, who was a good friend of his, bought it from me, and it was given to Tony after that old friend passed away. Some of my guitars are world travelers. Folks play them awhile, and then sell them to someone else who plays them awhile, and they keep traveling. I love knowing that this first acoustic guitar is staying in one place.


Scott got me to build for him awhile back. I know I'm shameless. When I build for somebody, I don't mind giving them a free t-shirt. What I'm really looking to do is to turn somebody into a billboard for Elloree Guitars. Thanks Scott.


Thereís a reason I never get bored in what Iím doing. Hereís what I completed one week. Thereís a headless bass, a long scale 7 string guitar, a standard solid body electric, an acoustic electric chambered 6 string, and a mandolin. Now how can it get any more exciting than that?.


All of my favorite singers are folks who sing songs about Jesus. At a concert that came to our town, this mandolin I built was given away. Rebecca St. James, who is a Christian singer from Australia, autographed it prior to the drawing.


In keeping with the fact that I'm following Jesus, I want to hear folks sing songs about Jesus. I'm not really needing to listen to somebody sing about how I should be unfaithful to my wife or any of the other crusty things that are sung about. I want to hear about following the Lord and treating folks kindly. We have a Christian radio station in my town - 100.9 FM, The Hill. They can be heard at www.hillradio.com. They brought a concert to town the last day of February. The singers were Rebecca St. James and a brother/sister duo called LaRue. This was a 6th anniversary concert for the 6 years that The Hill has been on the air. I built a mandolin to be given away at the concert. The artists autographed it, and the winner was a big guy named Kevin Michael Berry who is a music major at ULM, which is right across the river from where I live.


Sometimes I get honored to be in the presence of someone I think is great. This is Carolyn Arrends. She's a Christian singer from Vancouver, British Columbia. I was able to meet her when she was on tour with Steven Curtis Chapman. Here's a subtlety about the guitar I built for her - the sound holes are C and A for her initials.


I do a lot of things in the name of business, but one night in March, my wife and I did something that was purely fun and just for us. We joined a bunch of other folks in a Catholic church to listen to some most excellent singers and guitar pickers. Three guys were travelling together - John Michael Talbot, Terry Talbot, and Barry McGuire. I'm too old to be a groupie or to get overly impressed with meeting someone famous, but there's a couple of folks I've always held in high regard and have wished for years that I could meet them. This is my wife and me with one of the greatest men I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. This is Barry McGuire. You wouldn't know it by that slick head of his, but back in his younger years, he had a role in the broadway production called "Hair". If you're my age or older, you might remember that he put out a song in the middle 60's called "The Eve of Destruction". He got following the Lord sometime later and put out a lot of Christian albums. Our children grew up listening to his album "Bullfrogs and Butterflies". I dig his album "Cosmic Cowboy" and most of all the album he did with The Second Chapter of Acts called "To The Bride". I would say he's getting old, but I'm kinda heading it that same direction myself. This was one of those nights where you should have been there. This guy can still sing and he plays that 12 string guitar like nobody's business. I didn't have any guitars that I was needing to sell, nobody I was needing to impress, and I actually took time out and did something fun. I've had lots of folks autograph an instrument of mine in the name of business, but I've never met anyone whose autograph I wanted to have on my personal guitar. Not until my girl and I got to see Barry McGuire. That was a night. That's a man. I'm a thankful boy. If you feel inclined to catch up with John Michael Talbot, Terry Talbot, or Barry McGuire, you can email them at DebbieMoss@JohnMichaelTalbot.com or you can mail something to them at: The Brothers and Sisters of Charity Little Portion Hermitage, 350 CR 248, Berryville, AR 72616-8505


Now you realize that everybody has to live somewhere. So when I tell you who this is with Barry McGuire, don't act all surprised. The most impressive part to me is that not only do I get to know someone who has been famous, but also this gentleman is just a very nice guy. He's Ken Fletcher. Here's where I show my age. Most of us think that the music we grew up with is the best music that there will ever be. I dig the bands like Petra, Rez Band, Pat Terry Group, Dogwood, and Sweet Comfort Band. Ken Fletcher was once a part of the band Dogwood. They traveled with Petra for a while, and for folks who are old like me, you might be sitting there thinking about now, "Well, doggy. I always wondered what happened to Ken Fletcher." He's married with a family and has quit that 'on the road' thing. Truth is, he's my insurance man. My shop is very humble, and in the end, I'm just a dusty old wood whittler. But the nice thing about my job is that I get to meet good guys like Ken and Barry.


I need to say that I often have good motives, but I've never had pure motives. Sometimes I give an instrument away in connection with a concert or some other special event. While I'm trying to be real big hearted and helpful to the cause, I'm always keeping myself in mind also. A band came to our church called Jolly Napier. They're an upcoming band with an acoustic rock sound. Grassroots Music voted them to be among the best independent picks, and they really are right good. The turn out at the concert was a bit more than we had expected. All the available seats were taken up and folks were either standing or sitting on the floor. I gave a mandolin away in connection with this concert. Now here's one for good southern hospitality. The man in the picture with me is the individual who won this mandolin. He was in town from California visiting his mother. He had heard about the concert but knew nothing about us or the band that was playing. He had a bit of time so he thought he might come by and as a result, he won a mandolin to take with him back to California. Now is that a nice southern way to say "howdy" or what? If you think you like songs about Jesus and done with a blend of acoustic and rock music, then check those guys out at their webpage - www.jollynapier.com. On their page, they even have it arranged so that you can hear a bit of their music.


March the 2nd, Rebecca St. James came to town with her "Wait For Me" tour. In this tour, it's her thing to encourage young people to wait until marriage for sexual intimacy. Without a doubt, sexual intimacy has got to be good. It's from the Lord. But the down side of involvement before marriage outweighs the good, and it's just best to wait. She brought several bands with her. Fusebox, which started out to be just her backup band. They have gotten so good in their own right that now they take to the stage and do their own thing. Also she brought with her one of those boy bands and their name was Go Fish. Also there was Ginny Owens. I only saw bits of the concert because I needed to stay at my post. I was giving away a mandolin in connection with this tour and in association with Christ Church in West Monroe and the Christian radio station, 100.9 FM - The Hill. I stayed in the lobby most of the time so that I could help folks who were looking to sign to win the mandolin. I always enjoy giving an instrument in connection with a concert if it's somebody and something that I like. If you're into Christian music, you'll know that Ginny Owens is blind. She's an incredible singer, songwriter, and musician. Whatever she lacks by not being able to see is way overshadowed by her other gifts and abilities. I think Ginny Owen's presence accounted for a lot of the blind folks I saw there that night. As I stood in the lobby helping folks register for the mandolin and watching the crowd, I saw an unusual number of white canes tapping the floor. At one point, three blind girls approached the table. They had heard there was a mandolin there to be given. Two of them were able to write their name clearly but one kept writing something that was completely illegible. After two failed attempts, I got her to tell me her name and I wrote it and put it in the box for her. And they finally shuffled on off to the concert. I always have personal things in mind even when I'm giving an instrument away on occasions like this. As I build that instrument, I'm always praying and asking the Lord to help me do my best and asking Him to get it into the hands of the person of His choosing. I don't try to barter with the Lord, but as I recall the years that I've given instruments in connection with concerts that have come to town, it occured to me that guys had always won my instruments. Without trying to tell the Lord what to do, I just kinda sorta suggested that He might want to take note of what I had noticed. I just left it at that. At about half way through the concert, one of the disc jockeys from The Hill, Rick Godley, went to the stage with the promoter of the concert, Jared Carter. Jared drew the winning name. I wasn't in there for the drawing, but when Rick came back with the mandolin that he had taken to the stage with him, he handed me the mandolin and the winning name. I looked at the winning name and noticed that it was my handwriting. Her name is Tonya and she's a student at a college near where I live. I remembered that a few years earlier, I had given a guitar in connection with a John Elefante concert. The person who won this guitar was a music major at that same college. I contacted this guy and did some serious begging. I have raised begging to an artform. He said he's still in contact with folks in the music department at that college and that he would make every effort to get some tutoring for Tonya so she could learn to play that mandolin. I never see the big picture all at one time, but every time the Lord adds a piece to the puzzle the picture gets clearer and I always remain amazed. The bits and pieces I saw at the concert were always good. This was her third visit to Monroe. This is all I'll say about it at the moment. The picture will get bigger and clearer later, and on that Great Day, we'll see everything clearly.


I love it when one of my children does good. This one was custom built and the owner is giving that child of mine some exercise. This mandolin is a Messenger model. I don't get to see the faces of the folks I build for very often, so I can't resist letting everybody else see what I got to see.

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