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.