Tinnitus Day – Suffer in Silence

Way back in 1994, on the night of February 11, I had trouble going to sleep. I kept hearing something like water running. I looked everywhere around the house and stopped suddenly when I realized that the sound was coming from in my own head. I never heard silence again for 22 years now.

I don’t celebrate Feb 11 as Tinnitus Day. Far from it. I just happened to remember that night trying to sleep 22 years ago. Those early days were nothing compared to what the condition has progressed to now. Back then, I could at least find some peace listening to the rain or crickets chirping which did a fantastic job of masking the noise in my head. I used to think, I can handle this if it doesn’t get any worse. Then it got worse. Okay, I can handle that as long as it doesn’t get worse. Then it got worse again.

Oaudio-testver these past two years, I have had to deal with becoming essentially tone-deaf. My right ear cannot hear all of the overtones like it used to so everything I hear on that side is out of tune with my left ear. Yeah, a musician that can’t detect pitch. Freakin’ awesome. I can tune my guitar, but the moment I play it, to me it sounds horribly out of tune unless I play really really really quiet. This is why I stopped performing with Nadaband, stopped writing, recording, or really doing much of anything guitar related.

I can handle that as long as it doesn’t get any worse, right? It got worse.

Enter Meniere’s Syndrome – the amazing condition that combines tinnitus, vertigo, low frequency hearing loss, and this stopped up sensation in the ear. Now I can’t hear, have trouble walking a straight line, and hurl up my toenails when a full blown vertigo attack hits. How cool is that? An ear condition that makes me sea sick.

Sailing over to the bright side, there is treatment available. For the past couple of months, I’ve been getting steroid shots in the ear. No, I mean IN THE EAR, as in a big needle poked through the eardrum, holy crap that’s cold, now I’m really freakin’ deaf, in the ear.

It’s not that bad actually. It’s better than a sharp stick in the eye. Treatment is making all of my ear problems a little bit better and easier to deal with. Even though I don’t play like I used to, I can still write books about them. But that’s another story for another post.

Until then, stay tuned,

Bill

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And The Miller Told His Tale

I have several things to be happy and thankful about today.

Having spent the majority of my life here in Alabama, I’ve never stopped to realize how much talent comes from my home state (or those that have just passed through to call Alabama home temporarily). Within one or two degrees of separation there’s John Paul White of Civil Wars fame, Tommy Shaw of Styx, Hank Williams (Sr., Jr., and III), F. Scott Fitzgerald, Duane Allman, and even Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr (better known as John Denver). There’s a ton more.

my-faceshotCloser to home, I’m thankful for John Nickel and everyone he’s connected me to in the Cigar Box Guitar community. Maybe two years ago he put me in touch with Jon Miller who, at the time, was capturing footage about Cigar Box Guitars for an eventual documentary. We met a few times over the next couple of months, sometimes to record, sometimes just a coincidental meeting. Jon Miller has to be the most upbeat person I know. He always seems like he’s just heard the best news ever and that the day couldn’t get any better.

Well, today is my turn. Jon just told me the best news ever and my day couldn’t get any better.

Early this morning I heard that a copy of their completed documentary Strung Together (www.StrungTogetherMovie.com) is headed to my mail box. Much to my surprise, I show up first thing in the preview, so that already blows me away.

Go check it out!

A Brief History of the Cigar Box Guitar

This is a topic I’ve tried to avoid writing about. At times I feel like a walking encyclopedia and to briefly describe this history is challenging, to say the least. Still, I’ve seen many other inaccurate attempts, and I’ve read enough interviews where I’ve been misquoted, so I feel somewhat obligated to at least try.

1886 Harpers Young People Banjo

When I’m asked for a brief history, I respond with the question “what do you know or what have you heard?” Most people miss nature of their beginning. The history of any cigar box instrument merely starts with the invention and later reuse of the cigar box as a resonator. It’s that simple.

It’s complicated by all of the other mythical details we attach to these instruments colored from our experiences. While it’s common to immediately associate cigar box guitars with the Blues and the Mississippi Delta, or Carolina Mountain Folk and Old Time Music, or The Great Depression, or just America, it leaves out everything else. Cigar box guitars are not that exclusive. Fact is, there was an existing practice of fashioning makeshift instruments long before the cigar box came along. Clay pots, animal skins, sticks, barrel staves, hollowed out logs, gourds, biscuit tins, fruit crates, picket fences, shingles, virtually anything that could be reused and re-purposed was an option to create an instrument.

So now for the brief history of the cigar box guitar, I ask you… What do you know or what have you heard?

The other guy…

Muscle-Shoals-Sound-image-Online-Job-Tour

Just this past weekend I was visiting in Muscle Shoals, home of The Swampers who have played on countless hit records and created a unique style and genre. Not having a hit record to commit to disk, no songs to speak of, and no cigar box guitars on me, I continued down the street to an antique shop to look around. I expected the usual sort of things that antique store have in North Alabama – old furniture that I wouldn’t like, velvet Elvis paintings, overpriced knickknacks and anything that could be described as “cute” and “little.” Instead, this place was stacked high with old LPs, guitars, ancient tube radios, a stack of old forks (some dating back to the Civil War era). I was overwhelmed. This place was a goldmine. I stopped to look at a fiddle hanging on the wall with what looked like three signatures on it: George Jones, Waylon Jennings, and a third that I could not make out.

I squinted, but still couldn’t make it out.

So many times in life, I feel like that third autograph on that fiddle. Signed there with two household names, giants of country music, the original bad boys of country… and “that other guy,” whoever he was. It’s been eating away at me ever since I saw it.

I’m not suggesting that I’m going to sign my name more clearly from now on, but I would like to pay closer attention to what I’m doing and why. I think any claim to fame (if you can call it that) that I have has been mostly by accident. Every little success is followed by an opportunity to do something else, stretch in a direction that I never had considered before. There was a time several years ago that so many great opportunities were available to me that I choked. I pulled back because I wasn’t used to that much attention. Too much, too soon.

Perhaps that’s what that third autograph on that fiddle was all about. I can imagine that George and Waylon just signed it and now he was holding the pen thinking, “Who the heck am I to sign next to these guys?!”

Lesson learned. As we continue to do our own thing in the world of Cigar Box Guitars, don’t look at what you do as a competition with everyone else. Do your own thing. Make your own rules. And when you’re the third person to sign your name after two people that make you feel insignificant, take your time so that folks can read your name. There may come a day when those other two guys remember that they had the honor to be there with you.

Getting started…

When cigar box guitars found me, it changed the way I view the world. I became obsessed with them and bought several collections of them to create The Cigar Box Guitar Museum, and ultimately wrote the first and only history book devoted to them, “One Man’s Trash: A History of the Cigar Box Guitar.”

In many ways people know who I am by name (even though they can’t actually say Jehle), or as the author of One Man’s Trash, or as the curator of a museum that has no physical address. I am also largely anonymous because I don’t like to draw attention to myself, or at least not feel like I’m trying to sell a stack of DVDs or Books to people from the trunk of my car.

That’s where this blog comes in. I’ve long thought about setting one up, and setting it up for cheap or free (in the cigar box guitar spirit). So, here’s to sharing my experience living with a museum that needs a home, constantly struggling to write more books, film more DVDs, and come up with the next great thing that no one has tried yet.

Stay Tuned,
Bill