Poverty, Creativity and a Home Made Tandem Pick Up Truck

Monday, November 24, 2014 9:30 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: As you know from reading previous posts, I am impressed with the creativity of the rural Americans who have little money, but the same needs and desires as others. 

The lack of money causes them to come up with ideas and knowledge that most of us never tap into. 

A perfect example of this is the tandem axle lorry - truck - that Marilyn found online when visiting the library and printed out for Doc and emailed to me for this post and for me to use as a reference when interviewing Doc about it. 
So, Doc, tell what you can about this interesting vehicle. I have never seen one quite like it...

 Doc: Well, Tondy, this is one more work of genius by a unsung hero. Marilyn printed this one out for me so I could just sit and look at it and get inspired.

Tondeleo: And what exactly is it, Doc? I have never seen anything like it.

Doc: OK, well, it's a custom Chevy Astro pick up that was made by a guy named Jim Cramer, up there in Michigan. I ain't never been up to there, but I can tell they have at least one genius up there. He probally is broke, but is rich in ideas.

He made this work of art by taking two Chevy Astro vans, and cutting them up and putting them together so he has a custom extended cab pick up that he can put big loads on, and probally get about 20 miles to the gallon when it's not too loaded. Plus, it's the only one in the world like it.

Totally custom! Who else has a custom Chevy Astro six wheeled pick up? Maybe no one! But if they did, it wouldn't look like James'!

Tondeleo: Can you tell how he did it by looking at the pictures?

Doc: Sure. But I never woulda thought of it myself. He took the blue one and on the right side cut it off about two thirds the length of the sliding door. He used the sliding door from the maroon one. Maybe it was better than the blue sliding door. Or maybe the blue sliding door was his practice run. He kept the blue back fender. on both sides. He used the maroon front fender on the passenger side, too. Probally the blue one was messed up.

You can see that the blue one at least was a window van, 'cause you  can see on the picture taken from the rear that it has seat racks in the floor. He cut that floor off as far back as possible, and then used 2" angle to extend the length about 32 inches or so. He woulda then used the floor from the maroon one to fill in where he lengthened it.

Look at the back of the cab, Tondy! Genius! He took the back corners and maybe 6 or so inches of roof, and the back doors, which he cut 3 or 4 inches off the bottoms of, and used that to make the back of the cab! Easy, and smart. Now, for the side back windows, I don't know where they woulda come from. Maybe from a fiber glass camper top. That's where I woulda got them. He mighta done something else.

Look at how he added the back wheel opening and the rest of the back end, to stretch it so he has a good length for hauling a load. Looks like he can get about eight feet in there. The front set of back wheels would still be the drive wheels, so he didn't have to do nothing there. The second set of back wheels would just be hooked to the same rear from the maroon one, but not hooked to a drive shaft. that's called a tag axle, well, that's what I call it. Probally the right name is something else.

And last... he put on six pimp wheels! Now where in the world did he find four of them, let alone SIX of them pimp rims? Only a genius coulda found six of those pimp rims. Only a genius. Jim Cramer, I salute you.

More Homemade Guitars - Made from Cars; the power of creativity and crossing the lines in your skills

Wednesday, November 12, 2014 1:31 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: As you know, I get fascinated with the resourcefulness of people who have a desire, some skills and not the money they need to get what they want. They overcome their obstacles through sheer determination. Doc and his friends are able to make almost anything our of almost nothing. I admire that and wish I had the creativity and the skills that they have.

Only recently, I realized that while they are very creative and can make almost anything, they have their own heroes and people whose skills they aspire to. Doc showed me a couple of pictures of homemade guitars that he thinks of as works of genius.

To him, a "work of genius" may not be something that is beautiful, but is something that serves a specific purpose and reveals the heart and soul of it's maker. He has some pictures of some things that to me are just plain ugly, until he points out all the details of why the maker is a genius.

Doc: Look at this, Tondy. This is a guitar made from an old MGB. That's a car from your country! I didn't even know that Brits made guitars from old cars and garbage like we do. That's really cool, Tondy!
 Marilyn found this on the interweb and got it to me.  

It's a work of genius. I don't know who made it, but he's a good body and fender man - and a genius. I'm a body and fender man so I can spot someone who's good at it and this guy is good.

His welds are clean, and he's got the top of it arched out just like it was a wooden guitar. I like how he's got metal wrapped around the headstock up top, too. It just ties it all in together.

He's only got 17 frets on the neck, but he's got room for at least 3 more. I bet he ran out of fret wire and will finish the neck when he gets some more money together. 

I just wish I could play that thing. My guitars look like they were made by a cave man compared to these. I mean mine sound real good, but they ain't even in the same ballpark as these.

Tondeleo: That really is a nice guitar, Doc. I must confess that I've never seen one of those before. It may have been made in England. Or in America, where they might not appreciate the value of a fine old English sports car. That car would be at least 25 years old! it probably was a classic sitting in someone's barn who didn't even know what he had!

Doc: Well, he knew he had something that you couldn't play music on. That would be enough for me if I had one of them Brit cars and the idea to make a guitar out of it.

Look at this other one, Tondy. It's made from a Volvo! That is a good use for an old Volvo. If you can't drive it, play it. I like this one better than the MG one. It just looks like something I would like to make. I might make one of those. I ain't got no Volvo's around here, but there's plenty of junk cars out back, and I could make something like that out of one of them.

Look how he put a fork on the trapeze that holds the strings. I'd like one like that. I'd make a fork on it and a spoon, too. I'd put magnets on 'em so I could take them off when we play at places what has a lot of food. That's what I'd do.

I already started makin' a guitar out of metal, 'cause these pictures inspired me. Mine is a flat top one and I got the top and sides done. I gotta get the neck supports done. It ain't gonna be as nice as these cause I ain't that good. 

It's gonna be a steel guitar, Tondy. you know why? Because it's made outta steel! I'm gonna probally finish it over the winter. Then I'll trade it for something. I don't know.

If a Brit made it, maybe you can ask around and find out who it is.

Tondeleo: I will, Doc. Since he MAY be from England , I am sure that I would know him.

Doc: Well, you MIGHT. You never know til you ask.

From Homemade Instruments to Store Bought Equipment... while still being broke

Wednesday, November 5, 2014 10:21 AM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: One thing that Doc and Marilyn are kind of known for is that they use instruments that aren't very nice. I have been with them when they show up at events with other bands. In the same way that women size each other up by looking at their shoes and purses, bands size each other up by looking at each others' equipment. 

This has always been a sore spot for Doc and Marilyn and the band, because for years all Doc had was home made guitars that he made by re-purposing old parts that people gave him, and fixing warped or broken necks. He learnt how to mix and match pickups until he got the sounds he liked, and how to put slab wood into the wooden boxes he would use for the guitar bodies, but still, his guitars and amps were clearly not commercially made. Now, there are times when they use regular instruments like other bands, and they don't feel as self conscious...

Doc: Yeah, well, you get used to people with nice stuff lookin' down on you, Tondy. It ain't nothin' new. Like when I was in school we got made fun of for bein' poor. People lagh at you if your clothes are torn or don't fit right. In high school, the girls went for the boys who had store-bought underwear and cars and money. We had to make do with what we had.

But we learned how to work hard and make a penny stretch. My daddy used to say that two of his uncles invented copper wire... they were fightin' over a penny. But, yeah, we had bad hair. Mama cut our hair with scissors so it never looked right. That's why we wore hats when we could. We had hand me down everything.

And that's where I learned to make guitars from. My first one was a diddly bow. It was a board about 3 feet long and a wire stretched tight between two eye screws. Then, Daddy showed me how to put a single edge razor into a block of wood and put it under the string. When you slide the block of wood with the razor in it back and forth it makes the notes higher and lower. That was the beginning.

Later when the boys at school started gettin' guitars for their birthdays and Christmas, I started wantin' a guitar real bad. Well, as the other boys would break their guitars or tore them up, I'd get them from 'em for a couple dollars and bring 'em home and try to fix them. I'd take 'em apart and use whatever I could to try to get somethin' I could play. 

We had old wooden boxes sittin' around and I started usin' those for guitar bodies...

Tondeleo: What kind of boxes?

Doc: Boxes like dinner knives came in, that mama would pick up at the thrift shop, or what other things came in. I picked out ones that was the right size and then figured out how to make 'em play good and sound good.

Tondeleo: Did you ever build cigar box guitars?

Doc: Yeah, sure I did. But I didn't like 'em too much. They are small, so you got to have a shorter neck and that makes 'em harder to keep tuned. Plus, they didn't have so good of tone or sustain. I like sustain. Cigar boxes aren't too strong and I kept breakin' 'em.

I started makin' guitars out of tackle boxes back in the 90's 'cause they are strong, cheap and the right size for a full size neck and three pick ups... plus I got room for a couple sandwiches and drinks in them, and a guitar cord. I still got one of my first tackle box guitars.

I still make guitars out of smaller boxes. Some people like smaller guitars for when they're ramblin' around or whatever. I sell 'em or trade 'em for somethin' they have that I might want.

I like makin' bigger guitars, with six strings - my cigar box sized ones also got 6 strings - so you can actually play a whole show with 'em. They ain't a novelty for me, Tondy, they are tools.

Tondeleo: What do you do to get them to sound so good. I hear that all the time from other musicians, that your box guitars sound good and play well.

Doc: Well, first of all, I balance 'em pretty good, so the neck ain't heavier than the body. I put in a slab of like two inch thick wood inside, so they feel right and so they sustain real good. Also, I ain't stuck on one kind of pick up. I mix and match til I find some that I like how they sound together. Same with the pots.  On the necks, I usually just use a regular guitar neck, but sand it down til it is slimmer and has better action. Like I said, these ain't toys to me. They are what I use when I play.

Tondeleo: Tell us how you use those home made guitars to get other guitars.

Doc: Well, I'll be playin' somewhere, and someone hears my home made guitar, and then they want to play it for themself. Sometimes, they want to trade one of their store bought guitars for it, and if I like what they got, I'll do it. If not, then I don't. I got a couple of old Telecasters out of that over the years, and some other guitars. Got a couple steel guitars. Some acoustics, too. 

I done that with amps, too. I got some that I put together from old parts and speakers and they sound real good. If people want to trade for somethin' that I like, I'll do it. Last Summer, a guy traded me a  100 watt Marshall 410 cabinet and amp for an old tube amp I had what was only 60 watts. He's happy and I'm happy. Got a 100 watt Peavey Valve King 410 the same way. Our lead player Jerry only had a small amp, so I got that one for him to play with. Those amps are louder and sound good. I'm a tradin' fool!

Least now, if I need to have a real store bought guitar somewhere, I got a couple I could bring so people ain't starin' at me all the time.

Being Different and Making Friends with with Other Musicians

Monday, November 3, 2014 2:00 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: One thing that Doc and Marilyn and the band are very strong about s getting along well with other musicians. Some musicians I have met have an "I don't care what they think; they're not coming to our shows or buying our merch" attitude. And while that may be true, and while musicians definitely can have attitudes towards other musicians and bands, I have found that Doc and Marilyn and their band aren't at all like that. They don't seem to comprehend the idea of competitiveness.I quizzed them about why they don't compete with other musicians and seem to like everybody...

Doc: Well, first of all, a man needs all the friends he can get...

Marilyn: So do girls, Tondy...

Doc: ...and we ain't competin' with nobody. Alot of bands and players are competin', an' that is where they can get an attitude toward other people.

Tondeleo: Competing for what, Doc?

Doc: Well, depends on what kind of music they're playin. Mostly, competin' for gigs, bookin's. Like, if you and five other bands are all tryin' to play at, say, the local bar or club, and you know only one's gonna get it, amd another band is undercuttin' you, you might get mad or ...
 John Hungerford from Hometown Band inspects one of Doc's homemade guitars. Bill Hull from The Roadhouse Band looks on benevolently. In the background is Paco Blake from Hometown Band.
 Marilyn:  At least get your feelings hurt...

Doc: Yeah, or feelings hurt if someone else takes your gig away. Especially if they's not as good as you. Even more if they play the same kind of music you play. So, you got your set list and you're good at it, an' then the place stops callin' you so you go down there since NOW you got nothin' to do on Friday night, an' they're pretty much playin' your set list. And not as good as you. You might decide right then and there you don't like them.
You prob'ly need the money to keep the lights on or to pay some bills, and now these other people are playin' your show, and you feel like they're takin' food outta your mouth.

Marilyn: That hurts. Especially when you need some new shoes or jeans or something. Money's tight for everybody.

Doc: So that's one reason you might not like the other band. Another reason is just because they might have an attitude or something like that.

Marilyn: Like a pre-Madonna attitude. 

Doc: We're pretty lucky 'cause we aren't in that situation so none of it matters to us. We play what's in our hearts, and we play it how it sounds in our hearts, and we're already broke, so ain't nobody playin' what we play... and we don't have a set list.

Marilyn: Me and Rick have a list of a couple hundred songs we might pick from, but we never know what is coming next. Doc basically just sings what comes up in his spirit, and that might bring something to my mind, so I might sing that next...

Tondy: Marilyn, why is it that only you and Rick have song lists and nobody else in the band does?

Marilyn: Well, me and Rick need them 'cause we play harp and we need to know what key the different songs are in. Brian is the drummer, so he doesn't need to know any of that. Jerry on lead guitar doesn't know what key he is playing in and neither does Jay on the bass. They just play. But me and Rick need to know, because you have to have the right harp for the right key.

Doc: Yeah, we pretty much go by what the crowd is responding to, and then change it up as we find out what they really like. We might get booked as playin' blues, and then find out what they really like is old country music. Or rockabilly. Or even Gospel. Or rockabilly Gospel! You can't never tell up front. So how you gonna have a set list for that? I cain't read and play guitar at the same time anyway.

When it comes to other bands, once they look at us and hear us, they know we aint any kind of competition for them, and we could not steal their bookin's or their audience, so it's a lot easier to get along.

Some of the bands we are friends with heard us somewhere, or heard us busking or playin' out on the streets, and invited us inside to play with them. You're not gonna be a mic hog when people have been good to you.

A lot of these bands can sound just like the records. We can't do that. we have a hard enough time just sounding like us. So we think real high of a band that can sound like a whole lot of different groups and singers. People don't even realize how much work that is and how much talent it takes.

They can tell we look up to them, and that helps a lot. Most of them have good equipment, which we don't. Plus, we don't even play the places where most the bands play. We mostly do festivals, conferences and conventions... community events...

Marilyn: Civic events, church anniversaries, fish fries, barbecues...

Doc: and pig pickin's and family reunions. I like playin' wherever they feed us. So's the band.

And since we don't play what the other bands are playin', we don't sound like anyone, we don't look like anyone, it just makes it easier to get along, play a lot of music and be friends. And, we feel the songs we sing and we let it show. If we're feeling a song, you're gonna know it, and were not gonna hide it. I cry sometimes when singin' a sad song, 'cause I feel it in my heart. Marilyn does too. Sometimes if I'm singin' and cryin', she starts cryin' 'cause she feels sorry for me up there cryin'! She's a good girl, Tondy.

But whatever we play and however we do it, it ain't never a threat to other bands and singers. so we all get along. We like everybody, Tondy. you know that.

Poverty, Creativity and Repairing Things Rather than Trashing Them

Thursday, October 23, 2014 9:01 AM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: One thing that I  have learnt by hanging around with poor people is that they tend to fix things when they break, rather than throwing them out as rubbish like some of us tend to do. 

An example is an old guitar that Doc got from a bloke who was going to get rid of it (cheaply, not free) because it needed so much repair. I saw it and would not have wasted the time with it - which is what the previous owner thought.

But to Doc, it was beautiful and needed saving. He looked past the cracked finish, the bowed up top, the split in the back and bought this guitar that needed a total rebuild. Here is his story: 
Doc: Yeah, Tondy, I heard about that guitar and drove over to look at it. It wasn't much, but it wasn't wore out. It was sort of like me. Not much, cracked and broke but not wore out.

The guy I got it from said it had belonged to a friend of his dad's back when his dad was about 20. This guy was about forty, I guess. His dad's friend left it there and was never heard from again. The old man put it in the attic in like 1965 and it was there til I got hold of it a couple years ago. The guy who had it said it had been there all of his life, and his dad was going in a nursing home and the guitar had to go!

It's a '63 Gibson LG0, which means it is smaller in size than a big guitar. Like a nylon string guitar size. But it has steel strings. It had only been used a couple years, and not very much, and then throwed in that attic.

You might think that's a good thing, but it isn't. Fifty years of being real hot and dry in the Summer and then cold and freezing in the Winter did a number on the wood and the glue. It did "Number Two" on them, if you know what I mean.

The wood was dried out and the glue was dried out. You could hold it up to the light and see right through where the back was joined in the middle. The braces inside were dried and coming lose. But the guy let me have it pretty cheap, and that was better than him tossing it in the trash.

Tondeleo: So, did you bring it home and fix it, Doc?

Doc: No, that one was beyond me. I knew better than that. I took it over to my friend, Paul Cunningham. He makes acoustic guitars from scratch. I mean, he takes a tree, cuts it down, cuts the wood real thin, and makes guitars out of them! Then he just puts them upstairs in his house and starts making more of them. He just loves making guitars! He's a genius at making guitars. He has made them out of oak. I have played an oak guitar that he made, and it sounds as good as a high end guitar you could buy in a store. He said he made it because he had never seen one made out of oak, and he wanted to know what that would sound like.

He had a cedar tree in his front yard and had a guy cut it down so he could make a cedar guitar. He can keep it in his closet to keep the moths away.

I took that little Gibson straight to Paul's house and showed him what I had. He said he could fix it. He first of all took the back off without breaking it, and re-glued the middle joint.He had to put a TINY little sliver of wood in the crack. He reglued the original braces on the back.

Paul had to flatten the top of it, because it had arched a bit from having strings on it up in the attic for fifty years. Then, he had to make three new braces for the top, and put them in. He handmade a new bridge for it out of rosewood and braced it from the back. Gibson looked like they had used a scrap of wood under the original bridge.

You can tell now why it was beyond me! I ain't got that kind of surgery skills.He got it all back together and set it up. That little guitar got a new life. I brought it home and made the finish look right without sanding it or taking it off. I have a way that I do that, and I don't tell people what it is. A man's got to have a FEW secrets, Tondy.

One my friends bought me a brand new case to put it in, so it's got a good home and is protected. I don't take it out of the house much, but it's good to keep around for playin' in the livin' room with friends. 

I traded Paul some tools and other stuff I had, so I didn't have to spend anymore money on it. Now he has some tools he needed and I have that little guitar.  Here's what it looks like now. The finish has a depth to it, as far as looks, but it still lets the grain show through. And, it could have ended up in a dumpster somewhere, if it wasn't for Paul Cunningham. He's a good man, Tondy. You got to make good friends. 

Poverty, Creativity, Jam Sessions and Getting Along with Other Musicians

Tuesday, October 21, 2014 6:00 AM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: For serious musicians, everything else is just something they have to get out of the way, so they can play music. 

If they have jobs, the job is to pay the bills so they can play music. As soon as they have spare time, they're out playing music and trying to find people to play with. It doesn't matter if they are poor or are doing well financially, it seems that serious musicians all feel this way. At least the ones I have met through Doc and his friends. 

Doc: Yeah, that's pretty much right, Tondy. Hey, here's an old musician joke for you. What's the difference between a guitar player and a pizza?

Tondeleo: I don't know, what IS the difference between a guitar player and a pizza?

Doc: A pizza can feed a family of four... guitar player can't. Well, most of 'em can't. Not without a regular job.

But yeah, like you said, we want to play all the time. If we go out and are playin' a lot of times there's other players out there listenin' and they might ask if they can come up an' play with us.

Like me an' Rick was out playin' the other night. The rest of the Holy Ghost Band wasn't available, so just the two of us took the bookin'.  We knew that there'd be people there who would join in and make a band and we'd sound ok.

We got home made and cheap equipment. That means we've had to learn to work around that. The other guys have nice stuff. I have to make my guitars sound as good as theirs or it won't work. They do't care how my stuff looks, just how it sounds.

Tondeleo: And what happened... did it work out that way?

Doc: Yeah, as we  got set up, a drummer and bass player was listenin' to us tune up and hit a few notes. They joined us from the git-go. Then a lead player and a trumpet player of all things. That's the first time we had a blues trumpet player with us. He was good, and I didn't even get to meet him! He just come up and played real well, and then disappeared into the night after about an hour of playin.' Later Jim McWilliams said the guy on trumpet was Mike Robey. I never did get to meet him.

The drummer was Glen Strobel. He played a while and does a good job. Then Bobby Jones played drums lot of songs. He was the drummer for Roy Buchanan for like 30 years and was on a lot of albums with Roy and toured the world. He was there.

We had a couple lead players, too that night. Couple of bass players, too. A gal named JoAnn and a guy whose name I didn't get, and Troy Peterson swapped around from lead to bass. Bill Hull played lead for a while. People swapped in and out a lot.

One reason we get a lot of people and other bands what like us is we sound different than most. We ain't had no music lessons, so a lot of what we do is homebrew.

Tondeleo: Homebrew???

Doc: Yeah, homebrew. It means we just sit down by the radio   and try to figure out what they was playin'. We end up not playin' it exactly like the guy on the radio, but we discover a lot of other things while tryin' to play it.

You wouldn't get that if you took lessons. You'd just be taught how that guy played it and that would be all you learned. People ask me all the time how I learnt to play a song a certain way. It's not because I'm doin' it better, cause I'm not. It's because it's different, but still sounds pretty good.

Another part of it is because we don't play bar band music, and that is different.

Tondeleo: Can you explain what bar band music is?

Doc: Bar band music is what bands got to play in bars. Like Hits of the 70's, 80 's and 90's and 00's. They got to do that to get bookin's. Plus the people in the bars ain't really listenin', but they expect that band to sound JUST like the original recording. Look, the original band never played it like the original recording, if you heard them play it live, later. Why should I try to sound like someone else sounded ONE time in their life. But if you're a bar band, that's what the audience wants. They can all be drunk, but if you play a couple of notes different than the record, they notice it and don't like it. To them, you got it "wrong." You gotta play it like the jukebox.

We play songs that's in our hearts and play and sing it like it is in our hearts. If it ain't in my heart, I ain't playin' it or singin' it. Old country music, like our daddies listened to, Hank Williams, Sr, and Webb Pierce, Patsy Cline, and then we play some old school Gospel from Grandma's day, and we play old school blues, like Muddy, BB, Buddy Guy and all them, and we play some rockabilly. But we don't sound like the record on any of them. We just sound like us, which is hard enough.

Anyway, we let anybody who's good enough to be playin' somewhere play with us. If they sound real good, we step back and let them take front and center. You can't be a show off and hope to get along with other people. You can't be a mic hog or a spotlight hog and expect people to want to play with you again. Everybody got to be in the spotlight for a bit. Especially if they been helpin' you to sound good! You got to appreciate other peoples' talent and feelings.

Enough Poverty can Birth Creativity; and that's a good thing.

Monday, October 20, 2014 10:55 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: I find myself ever so fascinated by the creativity of rural Americans. I think it is part of their DNA. If they want something badly enough, they are not going to let something like a lack of money keep them from trying to have it anyway. For those who won't steal what they want, and who can't get what they want any other way, there is inner creativity that they draw on. 

I have seen and heard many home made musical instruments in the rural areas of the States. Most of them sound as good or at least as interesting as their commercially made massed produced counterparts. One example is Doc Stevens' fishing tackle box guitar. Doc says that several years ago, when he was traveling on foot and by hitchhiking, he wanted a strong guitar that would take abuse, was small enough that he could travel with it, and that sounded good. One more thing, he wanted to be able to carry a sandwich or two in it. The result is the tackle box guitar that he made about a decade ago.

Doc: Yeah, I made that one about ten years or so ago. I wsa on the move a lot, and needed somethin' I could carry around and wouldn't get torn up. Needed it to be smaller than a regular guitar. I had a old tackle box. I measured it out an' found out you could make one that would work.

Tondeleo: What do you mean by measure it out. Do you need specific sizes?

Doc: Well, yeah. What I learnt was you have to have the same length from the nut, the part at the far end of the guitar to the twelfth fret, as you have from the twelfth fret to the bridge. If you don't have that, it will never sound right. I don't know if that is really a true fact, but it is what I learnt. The tackle box worked out to be long enough.

Then, I did what I always do in a guitar which is put a two inch board on the inside, and seal it to the edges. That is what the neck bolts to, and the pickups are mounted into. It gives the guitar more sustain, and also balances the weight. What I don't like about cigarbox guitars is the neck is usually heavier than the box part, and they don't feel right, well don't feel right to me. Some boys what have 'em love 'em like a bear loves a picnic. I like a guitar to have some weight to it, like 6 pounds or a little more. 

 Tondeleo: What else is involved, Doc?

Doc: You gotta get a neck. Make it or take an old one and trim it to the size and thickness you like. Mount it to the wood inside the box. Put pick ups in it. I picked out three that I had in a box of old parts, and got it so the neck one sounds like a jazz guitar, the bridge one sounds twangy like a Tele - that's a Telecaster - and the middle one just is in between the other two. With that, you can play any music you like - and still look like a broke man while doing it.   

Tondeleo: What do other people think of your guitars when they see them?

Doc: I don't know what people think. I hardly know what I think. But I get a lot of pictures tooken. 

Some people want to pose with me holding the guitars. Like last week, Jimmy McWilliams, the lead singer from The Hometown Band got his picture tooken with me. Not because of me, but because of the tacklebox guitar. He liked how it looked and wanted to be seen with it. He liked that you can put things in side of it. I can get two sandwiches, a bag of Doritos and a Capri Sun in it... and still play it. 

People think these guitars will sound like garbage because of how they look. They are amazed when they sound as good as a decent store bought guitar. Heck, I ain't surprised. I make 'em to play 'em, not to look at 'em.  But I have found out that people like to look at them, and when I play it, people always come up to take pictures of it. They don't do that when I play a regular guitar. I have a couple store bought guitars, what people have traded me for my home made ones. That always surprises me.

Tondeleo: Why is that, Doc? 

Doc: It surprises me 'cause if I could afford a store bought guitar, do you think I'd be makin' these guitars out of garbage and whatever parts I can scrounge from other peoples' old guitars? I make these pieces of garbage, and get them to sound as good as I can, livin' out here in the country. Then, someone who can afford a real guitar comes and trades it to me for one of my home made ones. It just seems weird to me, Tondy. I can't explain it.

Other guitar players see them, and then ask to play 'em and are always surprised at the sound and tone and how well they play. Then, a lot of times they want that guitar, right then and right there, and trade me whatever they had been playin' that night. That makes a poor man feel better. But it don't help pay the rent.

Here is something cool, Tondy. Last Saturday night, after me and Rick did a set, with some other guys from other bands playin' with us, Troy Peterson was commenting on how good it sounded. That made me feel pretty good. 

Troy's a real good guitar player. I let him play it a while and he played it on stage for a long time. He was shakin' his head at how ugly it is, but that it plays well and is well balanced and all that. He was likin' the tone and weight and size - plus it's built like a tank.

Troy Peterson plays in a couple bands  - I know he plays with Sara Gray and he does a solo act too, I think. That was pretty cool, him playin' it and likin' it.Well, to me it was, anyway.

Tondeleo: Do you ever sell your home made guitars?

Doc: Yeah, I sell 'em. I trade 'em more. More people got extra guitars than extra money. That's why I'm still poor! Sometimes I trade 'em, and then later one of the boys down here wants to buy a store bought guitar, so I do end up makin' a couple dollars here and there.

I had a guy who lives in Orlando, Florida. He had a 50's lap steel in the case, with the three legs and all that. He played my tackle box and decided he had to have one. I like lap steels pretty good. I already had one from the 40's that I'm not that good on. So I figured maybe I needed one from the 50's that I'm not so good on. 

I made him up a tackle box guitar almost just like mine and we swapped even. I think he takes it out on his boat with his fishin' buddies, I'm not sure. I brought his lap steel home and set it up on the porch and that got me to play it more than havin' it tucked away in a case out in the shop. So it was a pretty good deal.  I'm just as poor now as I was before - but I got more stuff now!

Old Friends, Old Music and Changing Roles

Monday, October 13, 2014 9:27 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Most of the time, when I go out with Doc Stevens and Marilyn (and now with the Holy Ghost Band) Doc is the front man, playing rhythm guitar and singing. Marilyn sings about half of the songs, and plays harp on the other half. If Marilyn is singing, then Rick plays the harp. If she is playing harp, then Rick plays the bones. Jay "I didn't do it" Jordan plays bass, Buttermilk Wade plays lead and Brian Garner plays drums.

One of Doc's oldest and best friends is Big Dave. Big Dave lives somewhere in the hills of Virginia and visits Doc and Marilyn a few times a year. When they go out to play music, interestingly the roles change.
Doc is no longer the front man, and he no longer plays rhythm guitar, but plays bass. Big Dave does most of the singing, and Doc sits behind him, providing strong rhythm and clean runs on the bass. 

It interests me how the roles change so completely. I ask Doc about it.

Tondeleo: Doc, why is it that you are SO out front when it is you and Marilyn, you and Rick, or you and the band, and suddenly with Big Dave, you retire to the background, and are content to sit there quietly and play the bass?

Doc: Well... I ain't really thought about it that much. Me an' Big Dave go back to maybe when we were 15 or 16, so we've played together for years. I moved around the country a lot since I was about 20 and he took off for somewhere when he was about 19 or so. I lived all over the place and he lived all over the place. We mighta seen each other maybe once a year, IF that, for a long time. But we'd always have our guitars, and when we got together, it'd be based around that.

He's good on guitar, and he sings pretty good,  and I like to listen. He knows a bunch of songs what I don't even know the words to, so I ain't gonna sing 'em and mess him up. So he sings, and I back him up.

Tondeleo: But why the bass, always the bass when you and Big Dave get together? 

Doc: I play regular guitar 90 percent of the time when I'm playin' music. When I'm travelin, I take a acoustic guitar or a 'lectric an' small amp. You can't sit out on the sidewalks busking and do very much with a bass. With a bass, you always need electric, and if you ain't got it, you're dead in the water. So I take an acoustic most of the time.

Plus, Tondy, I'm better on bass than on regular and I like it better. But I don't get to play it much. We got a real good bass player in the Holy Ghost Band. Jay plays a 6 string bass. Other'n that, I have a couple of home made guitars what has two bass strings and four regular strings, and I play those if we're out and our bass player can't make it.  

Tondeleo: Tell me a bit about playing those guitars with the two bass strings. How is that done? Where do you get guitars like that?

Doc:  Well, the first one I made was because I needed to play somewhere and they wanted electric, not acoustic, and I wanted to have a fuller sound, you know, with more bottom end. I was wonderin' how I was gonna compete with the other people playin' who had a whole band.

I was asleep and the idea came to me to drill out the holes on the tuners and the bridge on a regular guitar and put bass strings on it.It didn't cost me one dime. A broke man has to be a creative man. So I got up and went out to the shop and did it. Later, I did that to a couple of box guitars that I made.

Tondeleo: And how is a guitar like that played?

Doc: Well, it sounds stupid playin' it with a flat pick. Sounds muddy. But I play with a thumb pick and my fingers, or just with my thumb and fingers, playin' a bass line with my thumb and  the rhythm part with my fingers. It ain't that hard, really. I mean, if I can do it, it can't be that hard. And it adds some good bottom end to the sound.

Tondeleo: But you prefer to play just a regular bass?

Doc: Yeah, really I do. But nobody wants to hear a man sing while companyin' himself on a bass guitar! So when Big Dave is in the area, It's a good break for me. I like hangin' out with him and hearin' his stories, and I like hearin' his songs, an' I like just kickin' back an' not being out front, just backin' him up an' playin' bass. It's like goin' on a vacation. Well, to me it is.  I ain't got the money for a real vacation. Never have.

Poverty, Creativity, Individuality and Inspired Ideas: Big Dave's Truck

Monday, September 29, 2014 10:01 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
 Tondeleo: I've been writing from my notes and recordings about the immense creativity and the drive for self expression in even the poorest and the most uneducated people. In the rural areas of America, at least the ones that I have been to, there seems to be no limit to these traits.

If I was poverty stricken, I would try to not attract attention to myself. But for these rural Americans, it seems that the poorer they are, the more need there is for self expression. They seem to have a need to say, "HEY! Look at ME! I may be poor, but I am SOMEBODY!"

One  example of this is the Ford pickup truck that belongs to Doc's friend, Big Dave. Dave hasn't had it registered or insured for about two years now. Something happened somewhere that caused him to park it in his garden for a while. Neither he nor Doc feel that it is important enough to talk about, and when I pulled Marilyn aside to ask about it, she says it is something that we don't talk about. It just "is" for now.

I asked Big Dave what year it is, and he says that it's a couple of different years.  "It doesn't matter."
I ask about the modifications he's made on it and whatever else he can tell me about it. Here is what he said:

Big Dave: I'm not drivin' it right now and it makes me feel bad, you know? It's sittin' there wastin' under a tree when it ought to be drived. 

Well, it's a 4X4. Got 4 wheel drive. That means it's good for drivin' in the woods and in mud and snow without gettin' stuck. I got 31" tires on it. I lifted it up like 3 inches, to make it a little taller. When I go deer huntin' I can take the truck out there, so I'm not walkin' and draggin' the deer around through the woods. Especially if I get two or three of deer.

Tondeleo: I notice that it doesn't have a grille. And, you've painted what was behind the grille silver. Does that mean you're not going to get a new grille for it, Big Dave?

Big Dave: Yeah, my truck lost his front teeth in a fight with a white oak tree! 

I couldn't find a grille that was any good, so I took some of that mesh that you use in front of a fireplace and put it in there to protect the radiator - that's all a grille does anyway, and then painted it all silver... (laughs) it looks like I at least know he ain't got no teeth anymore! 

I painted the shiny metal around the headlights black, and I painted the bumper black because I had some black spray cans and didn't have anything better to do. So I painted stuff. 

Tondeleo: What else can you tell me about your truck, Big Dave?  Remember, I don't know much about these things, and people who read my blog may not know very much about them...

Big Dave:  What else? Uhhh, I got a cap on the back. I tried paintin' it cammo by sprayin' around leaves here an' there. It didn't come out too good. 

I can sleep in there if I'm out deer huntin' or duck huntin'  over the weekend or anytime, really. If I got my tools in the back, the cap keeps the rain off of them. Keeps people from just reachin' in my truck and stealing my stuff. Havin' a cap on the back's a good thing... 

I could clean it out back there and have a date back there.

Marilyn: YUCK! You're so GROSS, Big Dave. NO self respectin' woman would get in the  back of your old truck!

Big Dave: Well, I don't always go for the self respectin' type...

Tondeleo: I notice that you have painted the back half of your truck black. Was that because you were bored, also?

Big Dave: I painted the back part of it black because I'd had a wreck into another tree. 

Tondeleo: Your license plate says Dog Man. Does that have a meaning?

Big Dave: Yeah. I'm a dog man.

Doc: Yeah, he's a dog man, all right.

Marilyn: Big Dave really IS a dog man, Tondy.

Tondeleo: OK, I think I get it... you're a dog man, and it says it on your license plate... 

Marilyn: Well, he loves his dog Bulkley more than anyone on the whole earth, Tondy. Bulkley is head of the pack, fifteen years runnin.

Big Dave: Yeah, ain't nobody better n' Bulkley. Well Christine is, but she's Asian.  

Tondeleo: ... uh, ok... I think I get it...  so, what is the meaning of the four horseshoes on the front of your truck, on the front of the bonnet?

Big Dave: My truck ain't got a bonnet, first off. It ain't a woman. A car ain't got a bonnet either. It's a hood. The meaning of the horseshoes on the front? It means good luck. You oughta know that, boy. But it means somethin' else, too. Somethin' people gotta figure out. But I'll tell you; I don't want you sittin' here all night. It means what might be good luck for me ain't good luck for someone else.

Tondeleo: Like what?

Doc: Like for the HORSE! That's a lesson right there, good luck for one is bad luck for another. People can  look at the front Big Dave's truck and get a life lesson, if they're thinking while they're looking.

Tondeleo: How about the donkey that is also on the front? Does that mean anything, Big Dave?

Big Dave: Uh, well, yeah it's got a meaning... 

Doc gave me that a long time ago. That's the third or fourth truck it's been on. It's outlasted every truck I've had and two women. That donkey, well, he's got a big grin on his face. He's happy. He's sittin' down on the job. He ain't workin' and he ain't doing anything and he ain't goin' nowhere. He'll get up when and if he's a good and ready. That donkey is me, Tondy.  

Doc: It SURE is.That donkey is definitely Big Dave!

Poverty, Creativity and Having Fun

Sunday, September 14, 2014 2:14 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: OK, I admit it. I'm not much for working on cars, getting dirty or racing or any of that. I don't like loud noise unless it is loud music. But I DO like learning, and I like helping people and I like having fun.

Doc took me over to his friend's house early on Saturday morning, to work on a race car of sorts. His friend is like Doc, in that he doesn't have any real money, but he likes to create and make things, and make the best of a bad situation. Pat's house has a metal garage out front that's almost as big as his house, and there are a lot of cars and pick up trucks, in various stages of being dismantled, repaired or stripped out to be sold for scrap metal.

Out in front of the garage was a rather torn up Mitsubishi. The  windscreen was broken, the headlights were clouded over and useless, and it was dented up. I couldn't see any potential in it whatsoever. Doc informed me that I was looking at a future race car. I could not believe it.

Doc: Tondy, racin' ain't always about big money. The kind YOU are thinkin' of is big money. But we aint got that. So what are we gonna do... not race?

No, we're gonna do the best we can. Like with this car, someone gave it to Pat because it had problems. Dented up, busted windshield, bad lights and some other issues. The AC don't blow cold. I don't know all the issues, Tondy, but it was bad. But it DOES run ok. Trans and rear aren't bad.  Now, it's worth about $10 per hundred pounds as scrap metal. Pat's gonna turn that  car into scrap metal, and get a couple hundred bucks for it.

But first, he's gonna have some fun with it, racin' it on the dirt track at Potomac Speedway. He's gonna finish bustin the glass out, strip out the interior, pu;; the door handles off and a bunch of other stuff. The trunk [boot] lid and doors will have to be chained shut for safety. He'll have to put hood [bonnet] pins on it to make sure it doesn't fly open. He'll take off the exhaust - the cadillac inverter's  [catalytic convertor] worth a few bucks. He'll save that for cashing in on later.

Pat's got a bunch of old roll bars and pipe from other junk cars what he raced, so he's gonna weld in whatever roll cages they say he's gotta have. I don't know about that, but he does, and when he's done with the car, he'll pull it all back out again for the next one. They been in and out of more cars than I don't know what, Tondy! They's all rusty, but looks don't make it go any faster.

Him and his boy James is gonna take it to the dirt track an' drive it til it won't drive no more! They'll have just as much fun as them boys what spend thousands of dollars to drive on the same track! It ain't NASCAR, but it ain't bad. He'll still be mashin' down hard on the gas an' turnin' left, over and over again!

His wife and daughter will be out there cheering him on, his friends and cousins will be there. He'll have a couple of them working the pit crew. Everybody's gonna have a good time, and it really aint costin' them nothing much.It's a lot of fun and it's good for a family to do stuff together like that.

And guess what? When him or his boy have raced the mess out of it, he'll yank out the battery and the radiator, and sell that car for scrap, and get just as much out of it as he would if he hadn't raced it and torn it up. That $200 bucks or whatever he gets will help him pay some bills and will leave a little money for the next junk car him and his boy want to race. Plus it's good father-son stuff to do."

Doc and I spent the whole morning and into the late afternoon and evening working on the car with Pat and James. I don't do much, but I handed them tools when they asked for it and brought them sandwiches that his wife made. I sprayed the rims silver. Doc put the lettering on and used a brush to write some other names on it, and some details that were added at the last minute.

I confess that I was proud to have my picture taken standing with the car. I had been breaking the windscreen out of it when Pat's wife wanted to take my picture. You can see that the windscreen is half in and half gone. That's my handiwork! I would have never gotten this opportunity in England,  and it makes for a good memory and a good story to tell my mates when I get home.

Poverty, Creativity and Inspiration

Saturday, September 13, 2014 1:30 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
 These last few posts have been about the creativity that comes to the surface when a person has the same desires as other people, but not the resources to fulfill them. 

For example, it's natural for a person to want to stand out, to be noticed, to appear to be successful and confident. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the car or truck that one is driving. 

You may be broke, living on SSI, social security, disability, welfare and any other government entitlements that you qualify for - but that won't get you the kind of money you need to express yourself adequately. After buying groceries, cigarettes, paying the rent, the light bill and phone bill, there just isn't enough to set yourself apart from the crowd. that is, not if you don't draw upon your  inner genius for some inspired ideas.

Here's a car that you would see at Scott's Store in McConchie, MD, just east of Nanjemoy. It was cheap to buy, and all it needed was some love and inspiration to make it into a real head turner. 

Doc pointed out all the refinements to me, so I could appreciate it and you could learn from it. This is like a poor man's Pimp My Ride episode. Here goes:

Doc: Ok, Tondy, this car's all about customizing on a working man's budget. Look at that gold grille. $1.50 can of spray paint from Dollar General and a $2.50 roll of masking tape. 

That hood scoop came off a 70's Corvette that was wrecked on the front end. But the scoop was still good. Bein' fiberglas all you need is a saber saw to cut it off the Corvette hood so you can put it on the Caddy hood. You're lookin' at about an hour total, with cuttin' it out, sprayin' it flat black, and screwin' it on with drywall screws.He prob'ly got it gave to him,

 so all he had was a buck and a half of black paint and a handful of drywall screws. But he's changed the whole look of the front of that car! I don't know where he got them rainguards on the windows. He probally had to buy those brand new. I aon't know what they cost, but they add to it. 

Look at the rims, Tondy! Well, wheel covers, really. They ain't match but they set that car off! You can pick those up off the side of the road for free. People pay about $30 for a set at the Wal Mart, and then they fall off when you hit a bump! The trick with them is to use screws to hold 'em on. That's one trick. Or you can use zip ties, around two spokes and through the holes in the rim. 

What I do is get a set of trim rings, and pop rivet the wheel covers to them. You ain't never see trim rings on the side of the road, cause they got grippers all the way around. You can get those at a junk yard for $20 a set. I go head and buy wheel covers new at the Wal Mart or the Pep Boys when I need 'em. I did that for Marilyn's car.

Now, look at that back end job! Five antennas! He aint got no CB in it, but they just dress it up and set it apart. You get them antennas for a couple bucks at yard sales. Aint too many people got CB's in they cars anymore, so they aint want the antennas. Out of five antennas he got three different kinds! You gotta work with what you got, Tondy!

Then, you set it all off with the two American flags!  That'll make people sit up and take notice. He'll probally catch a good lookin' woman with that rig!

Them old Caddies always had a problem with the plastic around the tail lights breakin' up as they got older. You can't find them in good shape anymore, so you got to do what you got to do. He used that shiny silver tape what's made for fixin' mufflers. It looks better than the broken plastic, and really catches the light good. 

Last is some bumper stickers and magnetics to show what you believe in and how you feel about things. That way if a woman sees that car and thinks she might be interested in you, she can read the back of it and see if you're her kind of fella or not. If she likes what you're about, then she'll find some excuse to hang around your car til you come out, and she'll start talkin' to you. It's a good start, anyway.

Look at that thing, Tondy! Look at all that glory! Flags wavin' in the breeze, the wheels reflectin' the sun, the silver tape on the back end... If that don't catch your eye going down the road, you just ain't lookin! 

I couldn't help but agree. Seriously.

Poverty, Creativity and Latent Genius

Friday, September 12, 2014 6:14 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
One thing that has continually fascinated me, and that I write about regularly is the creativity that latent in the hearts and minds of people with scant financial resources. These people want the same things that others want, but don't have the means of just going out and buying them; so they make or adapt what the want from what they have access to.

Also, like the rest of us, they draw inspiration by what they see on TV or things that other people have. I'll be writing about this for a couple of days or so.
For example, you may have a boat that you use for bass fishing, and it's big enough that you can't haul it on the roof of your minivan, so you have to pull it up out of the water and keep it on the bank. You might have to pull it up on a trailer from time to time, if you want to take it to a friend's house.

But, you don't have a pick up truck or four wheel drive. You need to get the boat up on bank, or on the trailer. What to do?

You can have an "inspired idea" that comes to you in the wee hours of the morning. An idea that compels you to get up out of bed and go out to the shop and start inventing!

Here you can see what can be done with a front wheel drive minivan, some scrap steel and a cheap winch.

Make a rectangle base from the steel, then weld the two upright pieces to the base. Using a U bolt, fasten the winch to the uprights.

Then, get some bolts with 2" washers, and drill holes in the hood of your minivan (or car) and tun the bolts through the steel, then the hood, and put the washers on the underside, and then tighten the bolts. Voila! Who needs a pick up or a 4X4? You're all set to pull the boat up onto the bank when you're done fishing, and you're ready to help a friend who has run off the road after a night of visiting the local watering holes! Not only that, but you've increased the usefulness and possible resale value of your minivan by at least $75.

There's no limits for a person who will draw on their inner resources to get their dreams fulfilled! Everybody's got an inner genius living inside of them, that is just waiting to be called on for solutions and inventions! That's what Doc and his friends say. And, it MAY be true!

Poverty Can Be The Mother of Invention

Friday, September 5, 2014 6:53 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
One thing that amazes me is the creativity of poor rural people. They nave the same needs and wants as everybody else, but don't have the means of buying it. So, they either do without, or find some kind of way to make do with found objects.

I was out in Doc's homemade shop behind their bungalow, and he was showing me some of his new inventions since the last time I had visited. 

I was particularly fascinated by his shop cart. Not because it was professional looking, but because it illustrates one of the traits that I admire most about these rural Americans and their abilities to think outside the box.

Doc's shop cart was a hodgepodge of different parts and scraps of metal that he had obviously found somewhere or had been given. I asked him to explain it to me.

Doc: "Well, it's really just a bunch of junk. I had the two trays that were part of an old something or another that someone threw away. I was out pickin' up scrap metal and this lady had a bunch of old broken pans, trays and what not. She gave me that, and I figured I could make something out of it that was worth more than scrappin' it. I threw it out there behind the shop until I could find the rest of what I needed. 

"About  three weeks later, this boy up there at Gray's store had one of them three wheeled baby carriages what you use for pushin' your youngin's along dirt roads and paths. The seat was busted out and he was tryin' to stuff it into Gray's dumpster. I asked if I could have it and he said, 'yeah.'

"I brought that baby trike home an' pulled that tray thing out from behind the shop and looked at them both and it came to me like a revelation. I could just see it in my spirit, all finished and bein' used around the shop. 

"I cut off the front wheel and used hose clamps and a couple bolts to fasten it to the tray cart. I had to use some shelving angle that I hammered out flat, to make it stable. I had some of that in the back of the truck, along with some other scrap. 

"Then I cut off the back wheels and did the same thing. I bolted 'em on, and then used some more scraps of shelving angle to stable it up. I stick welded them to the axle. For the handles, I cut up a pair of them high rise monkey grabber handlebars and bolted them on.

"It really wasn't anything to it, and it didn't cost me a dime. It just took about an hour of thinkin', cuttin', and puttin' together.

"Now I got a shop cart what I can put my tools in when workin' aroun' the shop, or whatever else I need it for.

"With them big wheels, when we have a bushel of crabs or a picnic, Marilyn just lines the trays with paper an' put's the food on the cart an' wheels it out to the backyard. She loves it as good as I do. Fact, she wants me to make her one for her own, as soon as I can find the parts. I'm gonna do it for her, Tondy, 'cause she's a real help around here." 

The Travel Bug that Just Drives a Man To Wander and Roam

Thursday, September 4, 2014 2:00 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: Doc has always enjoyed traveling - or rambling and roving. Sometimes he refers to it as being a hobo.  He says when the travel bug bites, he has to take off. When Marilyn was dropped off for him to raise, he had to cut back on his traveling to just a bit here and there, and for shirt little trips and time off.

Doc: "Yeah, I had to cut way back on my hobo ways when my brother's wife dropped her off here on her way to Tennessee with that piece of trash what she met at the carnival. Marilyn was about 10 or 11 and couldn't be left on her own, so it was up to me to be there for her and look out for her. Plus them socialist services was on my case all the time tryin' to catch me messin' up. I had to watch my p's and q's, which included not takin' off so much."

That seems to be a pretty common phenomenon among him and his friends. They can talk for hours about the various times they just "took off," to wander around the country for a spell. Some of them have spent years at a time hopping trains, and just going wherever the trains took them. To support themselves, they'd steal food or anything they thought they could get by with taking and then sell very cheaply. Doc won't talk much about what he calls the days of his darkness. Especially not with Marilyn around.

But he does talk about the urge to wander and roam. He talks about some of the good times, anyway. From what I could tell, the travel bug would bite whenever there was financial pressure, work pressure, family pressure or any other kind of pressure. When the pressure builds up too much for alcohol to wash it away, they would take off. They might just start walking. Just walk out the door with nothing but the clothes on their back, and keep on going.

Doc: You gotta go when you gotta go. It gets too much to be stayin' in one place and then that open road starts callin' and you gotta answer. I've hopped trains, hitch hiked, walked, took buses when I could do some work for a few dollars, and then one day you wake up an' you're ready to go back home an' see your friends an' family. Dependin' on where you are, it might take a couple weeks to make it back. Home seems better when you're far away and been gone awhile.

Once you been gone a while, you can remember all that's good about it and how the folks back home ain't that bad, and they mean well and how deep down in your heart you really do love them. Well, most of 'em.

I always take a guitar along. Usually my oldest Tele. That guitar's been a friend of mine for years an' years an' been on many 'ventures with me. I can count on being able to make a few dollars singing on the streets with that Tele and my battery powered amp, or play indoors with other people and pick up a few bucks.

Once people here you singin' and playin' and find out you're not a crazy person, you can get invited to their place to play at a party or barbecue or whatever. Mostly it's about playin' and  singin' the kind of stuff they want to hear, an' also about bein' friendly and not scary. A lot of homeless people scare people away as a way of protectin' themselves. I can take care of myself, and for me, bein' funny works most of the time.

I like going to churches and missions to play for 'em and share my testimony. Sometimes they give you a love offerin' and put you up for the night.The preacher might meet you for breakfast in the mornin' if you told your testimony well an' if the folks got touched or someone got saved. Oh yeah, I also take a Bible with me when I go ramblin'.

So I ask, "Doc, what is it that makes a man want to ramble, as you put it? How do you know when it's time to take off? What about the people in your life, like your family or boss or your friends?"

Doc: "Well, Tondy, it ain't somethin' you choose. A restless feelin' comes on you and won't leave. You start dreamin' about places far away an' wantin' to be there. Even if you don't leave, you're no good where you are. You're heart's not in it and your mind's not in it. You're better off just takin' off an' gettin' it outta your system."

Me: "But what about the people you leave behind? What about your boss?"

Doc: Well, when that bug hits you hard enough that you gotta roam, they all know it, and they are pretty ready for you to go. If you're poor, your job ain't much anyway. You get a little hard to deal with, and usually the boss man is about ready to let you go from the job. You ain't really hurtin' no one. I know, they cry a bit an' fuss, but they know that a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, and that you'll be back when you can. And then everybody's happy when you get back. Plus, you got new stories for them from faraway places."

You know what else, Tondy? If a man's gonna be poor, he ought to at least see some sights Y'all forget that poor folks can't go on vacations an' cruises an' all that. We work, we find some way to chill out, like drinkin' or smokin' weed for some, or playin' music - for some, it's drinkin', smokin' weed an' playin' music all at the same time - or goin' to church and gettin' on fire for the Lord.

That's one reason why a lot of our churches are more excitin' than the churches where richer people goes.

Church is all the excitement we got, if we ain't drinkin', druggin' or ramblin'. When I cut back on my ramblin', Marilyn and the people at her church got me goin' to church an' castin' my cares on the Lord. That's kept me calm and gave me a peace that passes understandin'.

People like you got money enough for vacations, travel and what not and you got money for them therapists and all that. We ain't got none of that. But like I said, I ain't done much ramblin' and wild cattin' since Marilyn came here. I had to stick around no matter how bad the itch got to take off. But nowadays, I can come and go as I please an' it keeps the pressure from buildin' up makin' me want to leave. Bein' with the Lord and His people has made all the difference in the world for me.