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.