A. J. Gaither

Musical styles: Blues, Hillbilly, Honky-tonk, Originals
Handmade instruments played: Cigar Box Guitar, Washtub Bass, Foot Percussion

A. J. Gaither spent the bulk of his young adulthood getting his hands dirty, making a living working on cars. But the southern Arkansas native found a way to keep his hands busy, building and playing handmade musical instruments, while avoiding arrest and living further north in Kansas City.

After a spell in a two piece band playing washtub bass, A. J. took his low-tech, hillbilly blues on the road as a one man band. He builds all of his own cigar box guitars and foot percussion. He also writes his own songs, books his own gigs, drives the van, sets up, tears down each night. A. J. fully embraces what is to be an entirely do it yourself musical performer, often living out of his tour van while on the road.

A. J. has turned his DIY spirit into playing whiskey-soaked tales of heartache, performing on the road, and longing for home. Not one to wallow in melancholy, he is also known to tear up a barroom with his foot-stomping, red-lined hillbilly jams.

Having released three full length albums (his recent Live album is newly available from C. B. Gitty), A. J. continues to tour the southern and mid-western U.S. playing countless honky-tonks, barrooms, and dives; anywhere that he finds an audience who appreciates his Do-It-Yourself, one-man band style.


AJ Gaither can be found on Facebook.

April Mae & the June Bugs

Musical styles: Jump blues, Swing, Boogie, Americana, Rockabilly, Originals

Handmade instruments played: Cigar Box Guitar

Southern New Jersey natives April Mae and Dave “Catfish” Fecca form two-thirds of the blues/Americana trio, April Mae & the June Bugs. Prior to the inception of their current band, April and Catfish toured from Memphis to Mexico in a blues-fusion group. Their time spent in the south strengthened their ties to the blues which led to them being awarded the honor of 2009 Emerging Artist finalists at the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas.

All that time traveling the south allowed them to dig deeper into the complexities of Americana adding rockabilly, boogie, swing, gospel, and bluegrass to their list of musical influences. After a performance in their old stomping grounds at a cigar box guitar festival in New Jersey, April and Catfish found the distinctive sound they were looking for. Adding an upright bass player to the mix, April Mae & the June Bugs were formed in 2010, delighting crowds with their eclectic, spunky, roots music performances. April’s amazing vocal talents combined with Dave’s killer guitar chops and on-stage antics make for one heck of a show.

Traveling in an unmistakable red and cream colored, biodiesel-powered vintage school bus, April and the crew continue to tour, rocking clubs and being featured at festivals and events throughout the south. They have made regular appearances at several prominent Cigar Box Guitar festivals, including the two largest in Huntsville, Alabama and York, Pennsylvania.

Website: http://www.aprilmaeandthejunebugs.com/

Belinda Gent (bemuzic)

Musical styles: Blues, Folk
Handmade instruments played: Cigar box guitar, diddley bow, cigar box bass, canjo…

She doesn’t have a distinct recollection of how she was introduced to music, just that is was always around her growing up. Belinda Gent can’t even cite a particular musical influence in her family, but the spark to create was deep inside her.

As a youth, Gent played the recorder in school and later taught herself a little piano. But her true desire was to play guitar. She wished hard for a guitar one Christmas. As a wanting youth will, Gent skillfully angled her parents towards a six string in a shop. Much to her dismay, the guitar as a gift was not meant to be.

Years later, shortly after hearing this story, Gent’s husband surprised her with the instrument she had wanted, and a guitar player was born. She learned to love the guitar but Gent always felt something was missing from the experience.

After the trials of life forced her to take a 20-year hiatus from playing a six string, in 2009 Gent discovered cigar box guitars. “…something about them totally clicked with me. I loved the sound straight away. Shane Speal’s lessons got me started, then I was off!” Gent loved the raw, simple nature of CBGs, and the music she could make with them.

Gent began writing songs of her own and, despite a healthy fear of singing in front of people, began busking. “I still can’t believe that I go out and sing on the streets, but I love it!” She credits the community on Cigar Box Nation for support in pursuing her desire to perform.

Playing one in front of strangers on the street isn’t the only passion she has for cigar box guitars. Again with help from the Cigar Box Nation community, Gent learned to build her own CBGs. And as soon as she’s done building a CBG, she’s quick to begin playing it. “Each new instrument I make has a different sound, and often that will spark off a song.

Across YouTube, Cigar Box Nation and a few other stops on the internet, one can find Gent performing in her eclectic style. She has a lovely voice, well suited to soft acoustic folk music but she plays much more than that. As Gent says, she’ll play “blues, folk, singer songwriter…sad songs, silly songs, whatever comes out! ”

Gent has not only built her own CBGs, and regularly performed in public; she’s also released several albums. Most recently she released a 20 track live album in the summer of 2015, recorded while doing what she loves: performing for people.

Gent “finds great satisfaction in playing her own songs, on instruments she made herself, getting feedback from people and selling a few CD’s.” You can find her on Cigar Box Nation and YouTube, and buy her original music at https://bemuzic.bandcamp.com/.

Ben Prestage

Musical styles: Florida Swamp Blues, Mississippi Blues, Old-Time Americana, Originals

Handmade instruments played: cigar box guitar, cigar box fiddle, Lowebow

Ben was raised near the Everglades in Florida with nothing but the blues playing in the house. His grandfather’s influence made certain that Mississippi blues specifically helped to shape the boy’s musical interests.

Being in a rural area, seven miles in either direction to a paved road, the silence afforded Ben the chance to hear his neighbor pick bluegrass tunes on his banjo, half a mile away. This same neighbor would pay visits to the Prestage home from time to time, and it is then that Ben was taught to play a little finger-style banjo.

Later in life Ben could be found busking on historic Beale Street in Memphis, TN. With endless music and performing artists to distract a passerby, he found attracting an audience to be a challenge.

Taking cues from some of the other street performers, Ben learned how to play drums with his feet to accompany his guitar and vocals. Not only did people stop to listen and buy his CDs but they began to dance, hoot ‘n’ holler. People loved his new found style. Ben became a one man blues band.

From the bio on his website (see link below): “Ben returned to Memphis over the next few years for the International Blues Challenge (the world’s largest gathering of Blues musicians) and within three consecutive years took 4th, 3rd, and 2nd place. He is also the only two-time recipient of the Lyon/Pitchford Award for “Best Diddley-Bow Player.” Ben’s interesting approach to instrumentation, (finger-style guitar, harmonica, banjo, lap-steel, fiddle, resonator guitar, foot-drums, vocals), and his award-winning original songwriting (recipient of “The Most Unique Performer” at “The Song-writers’ Showcase of America”) has earned him invitations to perform across North America, Europe, and as far as North Africa.” 

Ben has headlined the Huntsville Cigar Box Guitar Festival in Huntsville, AL and many other prominent venues.

You can find Ben at www.benprestagemusic.com.

Chickenbone John (John Wormald)

Musical stlyes: Blues, Folk, Jazz, Originals

Handmade instrument played: cigar box guitar

Englishman John Wormald began playing guitar in his teenage years. While in school he built his first solid body electric guitar. From there, although it would take some time to grow, John’s luthiery and performances would take on a storied life.

John played in bands in college, played with musicians who went on to find a bit of fame, and built guitars for other artists. And like many of us, life found John and directed his attention away from playing music and to work, marriage, and children.

After many moons, John sought out clubs and open-mics to get back out performing, rekindling his interest in slide guitar. Along with his interest in playing slide he wanted to get his hands on his own resonator guitar. This desire was sated after he found an old acoustic set out as trash.

John thought the guitar, which had chicken bones stuffed through the soundhole, an excellent candidate for refurbishing and converting into a resonator. John had also found his blues-name.

The following years were spent submerging himself  in the music scene, finding himself at home in blues and jazz clubs. In addition, he took to buying, fixing, and re-selling guitars from and on the internet. John became enamoured with fixer-upper and workaday guitars, the kind that kept in spirit with what old blues men used to play.

His luthiery, musical background, and passion for the authenticity of blues led John to embracing cigar box guitars. John began building and playing CBGs, and selling them as well. After stumbling across CigarBoxNation.com he found there is a worldwide community of people with their own approaches to building and playing CBGs. It was there that someone suggested a UK cigar box guitar event and John took the steps to make that happen.

Since then John has been playing live with his cigar box guitars, selling them online and direct at music festivals, and hosting workshops on how to build CBGs throughout Europe. Over the years, through direct contact and the internet, John has taught many people how to build and play cigar box guitars, continuing to be an ambassador for the movement.

Chickenbone John’s site: http://www.chickenbonejohn.com/

Gary Copeland (Spence’s Rye)

Musical styles: Americana, folk, Appalachian stomp
Handmade instruments played: cigar box guitar, banjo, fiddle

As far back as he can remember, music has been part of Gary Copeland’s life. Gary sings and plays music steeped in rich tradition, bellowing the heavy sounds of Appalachia. And the roots of his musical history run deep as the coal mines in his home state of West Virginia.

Gary may have waited until his adolescent years to begin playing guitar, but he’s always been surrounded by music. He grew up listening to his grandfather, an excellent flatpicker. He heard his mother’s voice every Sunday gracing the church with hymns. His father used to whittle whistles out of tree branches for him and his brother. And the roots run so far as hearing his great-grandmother play piano in her old coal-camp home.

Those roots took hold and gave Gary the life he needed in music. He came up through childhood singing and eventually playing six-string guitar. Throughout high school and college, Gary was involved in countless musical projects, each helping to shape the path that as led him to today – a folk music artist.

Gary built his first folk art instrument using plans from the Foxfire books that lived on his grandparents’ shelves. His affinity for banjo, and the varied folk music that used it, led to all sorts of musical influences like Roscoe Holcomb, Miles Krassen, and Homer Walker to name a few. Gary, a student of music and tradition, studies the different techniques used by the various artists and genres.

This led Gary to his Folk Art apprenticeship with the Augusta Heritage Center. His instructor there encouraged Gary to get out and play what he was learning. After honing his chops and meeting other artists while playing markets and busking, Gary began to land paying gigs. Gary also has a background in audio engineering which has helped him to understand something that serves him well in music: “less is more”.

Spence’s Rye, Gary’s solo musical endeavor, is based not only in his Appalachian history but more importantly in the world that best defines him: community and family. Gary continues to record and perform his rustic and raucous Appalachian folk, playing festivals and pleasing crowds as a one-man-band. You can find much of his work at spencesrye.bandcamp.com.

Gary Copeland can be found at SpencesRye.com.

Gerry Thompson

Musical Styles: Blues, Folk, Americana, Originals

Handmade Instrument Played: Cigar Box Guitar

Even with music in the family, Gerry Thompson didn’t start playing music until well into adulthood. When he inherited an old banjo-lin from his father the wheels began to turn. However, the little strummer was sorely in need of work.

With a stroke of good fortune, Gerry had a neighbor who not only played guitar but could do a little work on them as well. That neighbor was the guitarist, Dave “Catfish” Mecca, of April Mae & the June Bugs. Dave lent Gerry a hand and Gerry had a banjo-lin to start playing music.

Gerry’s interest in playing stringed instruments soon turned to cigar box guitars. He stumbled upon CBGs while on the internet and found Shane Speal. Gerry reached out to Shane and a couple of other gents who gladly offered advice, direction, and encouragement.

He got to building and shortly after that, Gerry got to playing. For a long time Gerry had written poetry. Playing cigar box guitars gave him an outlet to shape his written word and with them songs were created.

While at a cigar box guitar festival in Kentucky, and with another stroke of good fortune on his side, Gerry was asked to perform on stage. The festival needed a performer and Gerry had his guitar. He had never performed for anyone before but got on stage anyway and found that he took to it rather naturally.

That performance launched Gerry into string of songwriting and festival performances. He’s got dozens of original tunes and continues to play out as often as he can. Gerry’s played at festivals in West Virginia, Alabama, and Pennsylvania. The travel from his home state of New Jersey doesn’t seem to slow him down. He looks forward to sharing his art with the crowds.

“Playing music is probably my favorite thing in life. It’s the only time I’m completely relaxed. […] It’s a great outlet. It takes everything away.” – Gerry Thompson from David Sutton’s book, Cigar Box Guitars: The Ultimate DIY Guide for Makers and Players of the Handmade Music Revolution

Gerry Thompson on CigarBoxNation.com: http://www.cigarboxnation.com/profile/GerryThompsonColorofSkies

Glenn Kaiser

Musical Styles: Blues, Rock, R&B, Christian Rock, Originals

Handmade Instruments Played: diddley-bow, cigar box guitar

At the young age of 12, this Wisconsin youth became active in the Milwaukee music scene. So active, in fact, that before having reached 19 years of age, Glenn had played in more than 12 bands and had already led two.

While active in the scene Glenn escaped some of the more dangerous trappings of boyhood and of a performing musician to find his life purpose in living his faith. From there, a storied musical career and a life lived in service was launched.

Not only is Glenn’s life defined by his art and faith but by the roles he plays as husband, father, and grandfather. Glenn met and married his wife while playing in Resurrection Band, a Christian rock group. Through the various inceptions and regions played before settling in Chicago, IL, The Resurrection Band stayed together for nearly thirty years.

After the many years with his long-time band, Glenn has led a successful career as a solo artist, performing with his cigar box guitars and diddly-bows while maintaining his roots in Chicago.

Being someone who enjoys found object instruments, Glenn is drawn to making and playing his own cigar box guitars. Moreover, he can be found running workshops and demonstrations helping others to learn how to build their own instruments.

Find Glenn Kaiser on his blog: https://gkaiser.wordpress.com/

Hollowbelly (John Farr)

Musical Styles: Blues, Punk, Lo-fi, Originals

Handmade Instrument Played: Cigar Box Guitar

“I struggle to understand these blues artists who endlessly retread the old blues standards – have they nothing to say? Are they so vacant they have to sing other people’s words?” – John Farr aka Hollowbelly.

Hollowbelly is nothing if not proudly punk, lo-fi, and DIY. Born in a working class area of England, Hollowbelly grew to despise what he calls social injustice and loathe conformity.

His musical career began playing in a cabaret band from the ages of eight to 15. Special licenses were procured to allow such a young individual play in the working-men’s club circuit. Even at that tender age, Hollowbelly was known to gig relentlessly.

It was during this time that Hollowbelly developed a strong disdain for how the northern English working class were downtrodden and thusly his passion for DIY and artistic freedom flourished.

Hollowbelly was introduced to the cigar box guitar after stumbling across them on the internet. It was the influence of two men in particular, Shane Speal from the U.S., and Chickenbone John from the U.K. that Hollowbelly calls to attention as being central to this introduction.

Falling in line with his passion for all people to be on level playing fields, Hollowbelly was smitten by the ease of making a cigar box guitar. In particular, the open tuning often used on CBGs spoke to his desire for people of all classes and education to have music available to them.

After having taken several years off since performing in his punk days, Hollowbelly has made his own CBGs and one-man-band setup to record and gig anew. He has performed throughout Europe spreading the message that people can and should stand up, think and create for themselves.

Hollowbelly’s website: http://www.hollowbelly.co.uk/

Hymn for Her

Musical styles: Blues, Country, Psychedelic, Punk, Originals

Handmade instrument played: Cigar Box Guitars, Lowebow

Lucy Tight and Wayne Waxing, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, are the married couple that make up the two-piece that is Hymn for Her, a one-of-a-kind musical act, and family for that matter.

Wayne is the driving rhythmic force behind the band, playing kick drum, and high-hat, while managing a guitar (or banjo, or cigar box guitar), harmonica and vocals. Lucy tears up a cigar box guitar or Lowebow, sometimes a banjo or acoustic guitar, and lends a softer note to their gnarly blues-infused, uptempo psychedelic country with her vocals. Together they travel, coast to American coast, in an Airstream trailer with their daughter, nanny, and dog.

Not only does their family live together in the trailer while on tour, but Lucy and Wayne also use it as a studio, recording in the Airstream while on the road.

Hymn for Her is a back to basics band, relying on a multitude of simple instruments played simultaneously, giving them the sound of something much larger, and frenetic.

Says Lucy in trying to describe the experience for a listener, “I would say if they’re working on the roof, hammering some nails and listening to us, they would fall off the roof,” she said. “It’s fall off the roof music.” -quoted by Sarah Cure of al.com.

Find Hymn for Her here: http://hymnforher.com/wp/

Jason Farthing (The Budrows)

Musical styles: Blues, Hillbilly stomp, Rock, Americana, Originals

Handmade instruments played: cigar box guitars

He didn’t start build cigar box guitars until 2007 but he was bit by the artistic bug much earlier in life. Jason Farthing was drawing his favorite super heroes as a wee lad which is something that ultimately led to his love for the visual arts. That love turned into some of the finest custom painted cigar box guitars one can find.

Jason went through university focusing on drawing and graphic design. He would eventually host art shows featuring his varied works, including his cigar box guitars. Jason was drawn to the simplicity and rawness of the instrument and he brought his flair for the aesthetic to the CBG.

Understanding that viewers of his work didn’t realize that each cigar box guitar was also a fully playable instrument, Jason began performing with them. In 2008 he enlisted the vocal stylings of his step-daughter and The Budrows had been born.

Jason plays his custom four string cigar box guitars along with a foot drum and foot tambourine. Macarena plays the washboard and both share the lead with vocals. A couple of years later they added a harmonica player [who, at the time of this writing, has retired].

This southern California trio began playing deep south, juke joint stomping music steeped with a heavy dose of Americana and has been playing ever since. Living the life of an artist, visual or otherwise, is a challenge. In order to make a living Jason sells his own cigar box guitar kits online as well as an array of amazing custom painted cigar boxes.

The Budrows have released two albums and continue to play, from southern California to the northeastern U.S., in bars, juke joints, festivals, and anywhere else that enjoys having a foot-stomping good time.

The Budrows website: http://thebudrows.com/

John Nickel

“In elementary school, we had a picture of Bo Diddly in our cafeteria. He was holding a rectangular guitar and the poster said something to the affect of ‘Eat your vegetables’. […] I didn’t see anything like that again until 2000 or so when Microwave Dave played the local W.C. Handy fest with his cbg. […] I had no idea at the time it would totally change my life in the years to come.”

The years leading to this transformation of a performer, to artist, to father, to craftsman, to community member started with music roiling in his blood. John’s father was, and still is, a guitar teacher and performer, his mother was a radio DJ, his grandfather a musically educated choir director, and his grandmother is still singing to this day.

John began playing music at the age of two with a violin in his wee hands. He shifted to piano and then to guitar by the age of 8. Drums, too, caught John’s ear and he joined the school drum line by middle school sticking with it through college. He started playing in a punk band in high school earning his first paycheck as a performer. Throughout college, John earned his income playing in various bands, and would come to tour the southeastern U.S. for several years.

Then in 2005 John’s family grew by one little one and he retired from performing. However, working outside of music proved to be painful for John but his days without it wouldn’t last. In 2009 he cobbled together his first CBG. And like the lot of us, he immediately set out to improve upon the first. Dozens of hours spent researching on the internet led John to a simple neck-through design; a design upon which, with a few modifications, he still builds to this day.

“I honestly feel like CBGs gave me a second chance at music.”

In 2010 John started his own CBG company, NiCBG and in 2014 he rediscovered the happiness of performing, this time as a one man band. While John no longer tours like he used to, he still performs and records his unique blend of musical influences: from rock to rap to blues to pop. More importantly, being rooted to his family has also allowed him to create deeper connections with his local community. He has donated his work to fire fighters, animal shelters, and schools. He takes his business and art to some of the largest audiences, including Bonaroo, TedX, Steamfest, and NAMM.

“To me, music is important as [a] language and has the power to bring people together for a greater good.”

Keeping in line with his ties to community, John also supports artists who perform using handmade instruments and who are unable to afford studio time. He and a friend created Cigar Box Sound Studio where they record, mix, master, and publish to the web the sounds of local musicians.

You can find John at NickelCBG.com and on Facebook.

Johnny Lowebow (John Lowe)

Musical styles: One-man-band Blues Blast, Psycho-Hill Country, Punk, Originals

Handmade instruments played: Lowebow, cigar box guitar, stick guitar

As a young boy, John was introduced to boogie-woogie piano. Years later, and after a short stint with the trumpet, he was given a guitar. John was not one who took well to lessons on either piano or trumpet, and had a only a few on guitar. His growth as a musician really took off by jamming with friends. He grew to play in several bands in various clubs and immersed himself into the Fayetteville, AR punk scene, ultimately opening a music store with his wife in that city.

John and his wife later wound up in Memphis, TN where they opened another storefront with music as part of the business. Inspired by a customer who came to his shop, John learned to wind his own magnetic pickups and to build a stick guitar with a wood dowel.

With creative input from a local bluesman John’s stick guitar evolved into the Lowebow which has become an iconic instrument in the handmade musical instrument movement. These double dowel-necked cigar box guitars have been played by touring musicians like Ben Prestage, Lyle Lovett, and The North Mississippi Allstars. Richard Johnston, who helped to steer John towards this creation, won the 17th Annual International Blues Challenge in Memphis with a Lowebow in his hands.

With his unique use of hand and foot percussion blended with his playing on handmade stringed instruments, Beale Street in Memphis has been home to many of John’s busking sessions. He has entertained passersby with his one-man-band musical stylings that range from rough and tumble country to blues, rock, and punk. John is also regularly part of the lineup at some of the best Deep Blues and Cigar Box Guitar festivals, including the Huntsville and Chicago CBG fests.

The community of cigar box guitar builders initially grew around John as he harnessed his “surreal expression”. With his innovation and influence the community continues to grow. You can find two of his vinyl albums for sale here.

Johnny Lowebow "I'm a One-Man Band" Album

Justin Johnson

Musical Styles: Blues, Folk, Roots

Handmade Instruments Played: Cigar Box Guitar, Gas Can Guitar, Diddley Bow, many others

Over the last several years, Justin Johnson has become one of the most recognizable performing musicians of the cigar box guitar and homemade/handmade music movement. A highly accomplished musician, Justin plays a wide variety of handmade instruments created by builders and craftspeople all over the world, frequently switching between different instruments on stage all while weaving a masterful tapestry of sound and spoken word.

A regular headliner at cigar box guitar festivals around the country and also overseas, Justin has a deep commitment to preserving and rediscovering what is often referred to as “Roots” music. He has also focused his activities on holding instructional workshops and creating educational materials to help others learn to play music on these amazing instruments.

Currently Justin is busy continuing his 2015 “The Rolling Cigar Box Guitar & Roots Revue” tour, which according to his website, will “roll across several continents, including North America, Europe, and Australia, with the air of vintage carnival.  Each show will feature Johnson’s own constantly evolving menagerie of musical instruments built by artisans from around the globe, while regional guitar builders are encouraged to bring out their latest creations for the chance to have them played on-stage, so that each event showcases it’s own regional talent and brings together the people who build and sell handmade instruments with the people who want to take one home.. and everyone in between.  In addition to musical concerts, most performances will feature pre-show workshops that invite the audience to dive into the history, performance techniques, and culture that have evolved from Handmade American Roots Instruments. ” (Source: http://www.justinjohnsonlive.com/JUSTIN_JOHNSON_PRESS_KIT.php)


To learn more about Justin Johnson, his music, educational materials and tour, visit his website: http://www.justinjohnsonlive.com/

Keni Lee Burgess

Musical styles: Mississippi delta blues, Roots, Folk, Americana

Handmade instrument played: cigar box guitar

He dabbled in guitar as a teenager, playing in a band and partying with friends. In his youth, artists like Led Zepplin, The Rolling Stones, and Jimi Hendrix opened his eyes to the blues. It was then that Keni Lee Burgess got hooked on the bottleneck slide.

Like so many beginner guitarists, Burgess cut his teeth with the likes of Happy Traum songbooks. Later he learned from listening to newfound heroes, such as Robert Johnson, Sonny House, and Fred McDowell.

As with anyone seeking to master a given craft, Burgess took to the art of diligent practice. He studied with internationally renowned guitarists like Bob Brozman and Woody Mann. And as he puts it, “I have studied with some fine players, but it is really the time you spend alone working on skills and songs that brings the lessons into performance.”

Burgess’s deep dive into his studies led him to cigar box guitars. The Foxfire series of books introduced him to cake tin banjos. From there Burgess had a cigar box guitar built for him by a luthier friend. As Burgess recollects, “It is more of a miniature guitar than a simple stick through a box.”

His love for playing the blues led Burgess to busking. Videos of his performances, ripe with soul and skill, can be found on YouTube. After posting some of his videos there, viewers began asking for lessons.

Burgess then created a series of videos on how to play bottleneck slide guitar. The response was so good that he continued producing lessons, ultimately creating a DVD series that includes how to play 3 and 4 string cigar box guitars.

A love for the Mississippi Delta blues and the likes of Blind Willie Johnson, Charlie Patton, and Muddy Waters continues to fuel Burgess’s love for performing music. He has released 3 CDs in addition to his instructional DVD series, and continues to play live, delighting the public with his bottleneck blues.

Find Keni Lee Burgess on Facebook and Cigar Box Nation.

Microwave Dave (Dave Gallaher)

Musical style: Blues, Blues-rock, R&B, Originals

Handmade instrument played: cigar box guitar

Microwave Dave is a Chicago-born and southern raised man. His life growing up was steeped in music, beginning with singing in a children’s choir and rambling through a host of instruments including trumpet, French horn, ukulele, guitar, and a bit of accordion. Dave’s early musical experiences include playing drums in a dixieland band featured by the old Houston Oilers of the American Football League.

In college, Dave played in an R&B band that toured colleges, was hired for some session work, and appeared with a young Aretha Franklin. Unfortunately for him and his mates, members of the band, including Dave, were called to serve in the Vietnam War. Even in wartime Dave found a way to play in a soul band.

After serving his tour in the war Dave committed to working as a full-time musician. He played with a band named Cameron for twelve years, recording three albums with them, and playing over 300 dates a year. Post Cameron, Dave set off into a three year stint playing in a gospel group before moving to Huntsville, Alabama where he more deeply celebrated his Blues and R&B roots.

It’s in Huntsville that Microwave Dave formed the Nukes, a deep south Blues band, in the late ‘80’s. His musical career didn’t stop at performing as Dave also produced and hosted (and still hosts) a Blues program on the radio, earning him a nomination for a W.C. Handy award in ‘95.

Dave continues to play his soulful Blues with the Nukes and for solo performances. In addition to that Dave can be found giving his time to local organizations to promote Blues music. The mayor of Huntsville even signed a proclamation honoring Dave with his own day, Microwave Dave Day, in 2015.

Find Microwave Dave at: http://www.microwavedave.com/

One Hand Dan (Dan Russell)

Musical styles: Delta, Deep South, Swamp Blues
Handmade instruments played: Banjukimer, cigar box guitar, license plate guitar, ukulele, Lowebow…

Texas-born, Alabama-raised Dan Russell was presented a particular challenge at an early age. This one challenge, that ultimately helped to give him his stage name, is also what helps to set his music apart from the rest of the blues performers that can be seen busking southern city sidewalks. One Hand Dan has used the namesake of his challenge to enthusiastically roll through life, performing with grit and gusto.

Despite his mono manual operations, as a youth Dan learned how to succeed in sports like football and studied several martial arts. Taking his flair for the competitive a bit further, Dan worked as a professional wrestler for thirteen years, incorporating some ukulele and banjo performances into his act. Being bitten by the bug to perform in a different capacity, Dan found his love for playing music stoked by trying his hand at bottleneck slide guitar.

Dan began busking the streets of Florence, Alabama and across the Tennessee River in Muscle Shoals. He brought his love for the Delta Blues to the sidewalks and his unique personality to his music. Knowing how to play multiple stringed instruments and incorporating them into his performances proved to be problematic in the event that a speedy exit sometimes needed to be made from his spot on the sidewalk. Dan solved some of his gear issues by getting himself a three-necked cigar box guitar. In doing so he carved out a spot for himself in not only the blues but also the handmade musical instrument community. This iconic instrument which came to be known as a Banjukimer (built by John Nickel and Jason Maaz of Nickel Cigar Box Guitars).

His collection of instruments has grown to include ukuleles handmade with various tins, license plate and cigar box guitars all played with Dan’s unique style and aplomb. He continues his street performances, playing in various venues across the country, and has released an album on C. B. Gitty Records.

Visit Dan’s website: http://artistecard.com/onehanddan

One String Willie (David Williams)

Musical style: Blues
Handmade instrument played: Diddley bow

The diddley bow, some would have you believe, is an entry level instrument; one that a bluesman may start out on but would later grow out of in favor of a full size guitar. One String Willie turned that notion on its head. He has pursued his passion project of exploring the limits of the primitive one string instrument and rekindled a style of play relegated to history.

David began playing guitar in 1964 and picked up bottleneck slide guitar in ‘76. His early musical interests included ragtime, blues, rock, and jug bands. In high school while playing in a jug band, David built a washtub bass. With this a seed had been planted.

In 2004 the seed sprouted when David, a Pennsylvania native, read an article about a fellow Pennsylvanian, Shane Speal, who was curating a cigar box guitar museum. From the article David found the impetus to make his own cigar box guitar.

A year later David met Shane who recommended that David check out Eddie “One String” Jones. David was deeply moved by the raw, powerful music that Eddie Jones made on his diddley bow. The sprout of passion for DIY music, and diddley bows in particular, had blossomed.

From Eddie “One String” Jones CD liner notes, which included a drawing and photographs of Eddie’s diddley bow, David made his own. With some broom wire, wood, a jar, and a can, a diddley bow was built and One String Willie was born.

One String Willie first performed at the Huntsville, AL, 3rd Annual Cigar Box Guitar Festival in 2007 and has been performing ever since. A unique twist to One String Willie’s performances is that he will walk the audience through the history and construction of a diddley bow, from start to finish. Then he’ll break into his percussive, soulful performance.

One String Willie continues to test the boundaries of what a diddley bow can do using these questions (quoted from his website):
What kinds of sounds can be made on one string, and what techniques can be used to make them?
How can those sounds be integrated into a piece of music?
How can the apparent limitations of the instrument be overcome with ingenuity and novel technique?

One String Willie’s website: OneStringWillie.com

Purgatory Hill (Pat MacDonald)

Musical style: Goth blues, stomp-rock
Handmade instruments played: cigar box guitar, Lowebow

Pat MacDonald originally took the name Purgatory Hill as a solo artist, before using it for the hypnotic, hard-edged duo he formed with singer/songwriter melaniejane.

A long time performing artist, who as one half of the band Timbuk3 was nominated in 1987 for a Grammy as Best New Artist, Pat has deep roots in the recording industry. He is an acclaimed songwriter who has collaborated on songs with artists like Cher, Keith Urban, and Peter Frampton. Pat also has credits on songs performed by artists Aerosmith, Night Ranger, and Billy Ray Cyrus to name a few.

One night after Pat’s performance, a fan handed a cigar box guitar to him and told Pat to keep it. The cigar box guitar was a Lowebow, the brainchild of artists John Lowe and Richard Johnston. That guitar helped to shape the direction Pat moved in the music he created.

The Lowebow, which in its early inceptions was given the name Purgatory Hill Harp, has one bass string and three guitar strings which enable Pat to get the deep, growling sound he is fond of. His knack for playing dark, thumping grooves made possible by this CBG, were fitting music for his poetry.

Much like the deep drones of Mississippi Hill country music that seem to influence Pat’s style, the cigar box guitar gave Pat a medium through which to express his dark art. From the name of his newfound instrument, and with John Lowe’s blessing, Pat took the name Purgatory Hill.

Pat then teamed up with melaniejane who plays electric cello, accordion, percussion, and sings to complement Pat’s own talents. Along with melaniejane the Wisconsin musical duo tours and records, receiving national press coverage for their craft.

Check out pat and melaniejane at PurgatoryHill.com

Richard Johnston

Musical style: Hill country blues
Handmade instruments played: Cigar box guitar, Lowebow

As a ten year old boy Richard Johnston was given his first six string guitar. The gift, being strung with only four strings, presented Richard with his first taste of playing droning notes, something that later in life re-emerged in his style of hill country blues.

Richard was introduced to the open G tuning and playing style of Robert Johnson while in university in southern California. He was smitten and incorporated what he heard into his own guitar playing. Richard continued his education in Japan for a spell, playing his Robert Johnson influenced blues guitar at a local watering hole.

His passion for playing slide guitar stuck with him and he stayed in Japan, eventually finding a regular paying gig. That gig got him noticed by a writer from Memphis, TN who encouraged Richard to come back to the States to play his first blues festival in Memphis.

There Richard found and fell in love with Beale Street. With that Richard moved to the Music City where he found a living busking. Busking in Memphis put Richard in close proximity to the north Mississippi hill country blues with its driving drones that would ultimately shape his playing style.

Memphis also put him close to John Lowe. John was making unique handmade instruments and selling them in his Memphis store. After playing a couple of his instruments, Richard asked John make a custom cigar box guitar. This eventually turned into a creative collaboration that produced the storied Lowebow.

By this time, Richard had become accustomed to playing percussion with his feet while busking. He took the double stick-necked cigar box guitar that Lowe had made and won first place in the 2001 International Blues Challenge along with the Albert King Guitar Award.

Richard has gone on to play his foot-stomping brand of hill country blues in 13 different countries at some of the biggest music festivals in the world. Along with establishing himself as a soulful singing one man band Richard has also been the impetus for an instrument that helped to change the way music on the cigar box guitar is played.

You can find Richard at RichardJohnston.com