43. R&B “Ian Siegal” guitar
A VERY special instrument this – as befits Guitar Number 43 (still a good few to come, by the way!) Inspired by a friend who is one of the most gifted artists I know, built by another incredibly talented chum and facilitated by the amazing generosity of third dear old pal.
I’ve known Dennis Dudley (aka Blues Boss) for the best part of two decades – we both used to post on an online international blues forum called the Blindman’s Blues Forum, where I ended up making friends all over the world. Dennis lives in Seattle, Washington State, USA, where he’s something of a big wheel on the local blues scene. Not a musician himself, he is nevertheless one of the movers and shakers the Washington State Blues Society who knows the local artists and all the local blues venues. To say he’s keen, loyal and enthusiastic supporter of the musicians he admires is a vast understatement!
Dennis came to the UK in the mid-2000s, spoke on my radio show and stayed with me in Burnham for a couple of days. On two occasions towards the end of the 2000s, I repaid the compliment and visited the Pacific North West and each time, Dennis was a wonderful host and tour guide. (He even managed to swing us guest tickets to see Taj Mahal in an intimate local jazz club. Truly a night to remember!)
Dennis also introduced me Mark Riley, a tremendous guitar player who lives in Tacoma, a thoroughly good guy and builder of fantastic guitars under the R&B brand. (His customers include the great Sonny Landreth, who has a couple of Mark’s distinctive “Map” guitars, including an incredible resonator.)
It was me who first introduced Dennis to the music of that amazing talent Ian Siegal. It happened long before I met Dennis in person and he quickly became a huge fan – so much so that he ended up booking and tour-managing a string of Pacific North West dates for Ian, clocking up a couple of thousand miles of driving in the process! Mark and his band provided the backing on those gigs.
In the middle of 2011, Dennis contacted me to say he and Mark were making a guitar as a gift for Ian. Would I be prepared to help out by taking delivery of said guitar and then publicly presenting it to Ian at an opportune moment? Both WOLFPACK and Ian were due to play Newark Blues Festival in September, so that was the obvious place to do it. And yes, of course I was willing to help!
The guitar duly arrived at my house. It was a stunner. Beautiful mahogany neck and body, tortoiseshell scratch plate with a matching headstock facing, incorporating the R&B logo. Evidently, Ian had spent some time on the road with Mark enthusing about the ferocious-sounding pickups Supro used to fit to their old lap steel guitars. Ry Cooder famously fitted one to his “Coodercaster” and Ian would later wind up with something similar in a Tele. This guitar sported one of Jason Lollar’s replicas of the Supro lap steel pickup at the bridge plus a Tele pick up at the neck. It was an idiosyncratic guitar, the shape unique, but vaguely reminiscent of the old Silvertones Ian favoured at the time, definitely a work of art and a labour of love – crowned by an engraved brass plaque on the back of the headstock.
September came along and I duly presented it to a suitably gobsmacked Ian during of his set on the main stage at Newark. A couple of months later, I got a message from Dennis. Ian had contacted him to say the guitar was absolutely beautiful, but he really wasn’t getting on with it and didn’t think he’d be able to put it to much use. Rather than see it go to waste, Ian very graciously suggested that I might like it instead! Wow!
So the guitar returned to Burnham. I was delighted.
First thing I did was to string it with a set of my favourite 13-56 Newtones – this instrument was always going to be about slide guitar – and take it out. I played it quite a few times at jams and on plenty of WOLFPACK gigs, but as with so many of my guitars, eventually, it went back under the bed, relegated by my old faithful Squier 51 with the Hipshot bridge.
There was something about that lap steel pickup that didn’t work all that well with the Tele pickup. I ended up removing the neck pick up altogether, an arrangement that worked rather better, but if I’m perfectly honest I haven’t used this guitar as much as I ought to have done in the intervening years. That’s the trouble with so many guitar players. No matter what gets put in front of us, we unerringly seem to return to the familiar.Having said that, I do dig it out from time to time. Most recently, when I started writing this blog I tuned it up and – as is sometimes the case – it instantly gave me a song. It’s called the “Lockdown Boogie” and you can hear the demo I recorded on Mark’s R&B here. You can probably guess what it’s about…
While I was recording with the R&B, I took a notion to fill that empty front pick up slot. On the advice of two people who know about these things (Mr Siegal, and Owen) I ordered a Mojotone gold foil pickup, which arrived in early May. I haven’t fitted it yet, but I’m hoping it will site nicely with the Lollar pickup – after all, that’s the combination Ry Cooder uses on the Coodercaster. Watch this space for confirmation!