Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Diddley Bow, Don't Ya Know?

You know that thing where you see a, to you, unknown actor/actress on TV or in a movie then you start seeing him/her everywhere? Like Jane Lynch on Glee and 2 1/2 Men -- she's been around quite a while, but before her perfect turn as a wisecracking therapist on Men I'd never noticed. There are webs running through time which escape our notice; James Burke in his wonderful book Connections made many of us aware of this phenomenon.
In the documentary It Might Get Loud, about Jack White, Jimmy Page and The Edge, the irrepressible Mr. White runs a steel string over two Coke bottles at either end of a board, tightens the string and mounts a pickup which he plugs in.
He then plays a fast, screaming swamp blues on the thing.
Recently I heard about the diddley bow, a similar nonelectrified folk instrument. I assume Bo Diddley took his stage name from this part of his heritage, being old enough to have seen them used in the backcountry South. One last piece of this web: was the cigar-box shape of ol' Bo's guitar also from this tradition and not just a gimmick?
Once you're on a web, you can just keep going: I met one Wes Carl who gave me a card announcing the Pennsylvania Cigar Box Guitar Festival, to be held in York at the end of the month, featuring local proponents and guest musicians from several other states. Wouldn't you know there are many practicioners of this home-made art, and you can either make or get such a guitar (three strings or more) or even a diddley bow. Who knew, that in 2010, that such things from long ago and far away would surface in your own neighborhood?
Folk artist Willard J. of Coca, FL ( sings and plays a mean bow that he made, on his website. It's well worth a listen.
Willard J. has been around the block a few times, even to the extent of being on a chain gang, so his song rings authentic. He also advises, "Don't fall down; the hogs will eat you."
In this long, hot summer, some watermelon and swamp blues, and keeping a wary eye on the hogs, seem like just the thing.


  1. Remembrance of the dulcimer, three string plucking and sliding have been used since the early gourds echoed the sound.
    To find another strange instrument, look up the theramin. A unique sound not heard much, but very big in the 50's scary movies.
    Jack come quick, one of the pigs just got out of the pen!

  2. I've been eyeing Theremin kits for a dozen years now! I know that Nancy would think that's terminally wierd, though. She doesn't want to live in Ripley's Believe It Or Not.