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Kat Eggleston: Blog

The Docherty Guitars

Posted on February 21, 2012

 So… this is the way I was raised; the house I grew up in was, and still is, full of antique clocks, furniture, and assorted doodads in disparate levels of usefulness.  Some are objects of everyday use, such as the round oak kitchen table and the William Morris chair, the one with the carved lion heads.  That table has been the center of our conversational circus for as long as I remember, and the chair has been re-upholstered with leather that is now full of tiny puncture holes.  The cats discovered it long ago and we refuse them nothing.

The house itself was built in 1910 by a Norwegian man named Conrad Anderson, a man that I never met but feel as though I know personally.  His touch is on every part of the house, and the place has a soul of its own.  It’s a part of the family now, and it’s very persuasive in its own, weird way.  We can’t keep up with it.  The house, its inhabitants, and its content all add up to a beautiful disaster.  I’m very comfortable there.

The point is this: the most beloved things in my life are bits and pieces of treasure that were constructed with love and skill, and have a real life to live.  They’re beautiful, but they’re not on display – they were made to be used, and to last a long time.  These things actively participate in a conversation that goes on for years.  Yes I do personify my surroundings, of course I do, I’ve given names to all the vehicles I’ve ever owned, and I talk to my instruments.  They talk back, and they sing to me.  Which brings me to the most lovely guitars I’ve ever had the pleasure to play.

I’ve played a lot of guitars in my life.  I’ve avoided playing many beautiful ones, for fear of falling in love.  One has to be careful with one’s soul around things like that and anyway - my traveling workhorse instrument is a Larrivee OM outfitted with a Fishman matrix that sounds terrific and suits me.  It's a very good guitar, and the matrix blender setup helps it to sound warm and authentic even in the most challenging rooms. I’m very happy with my Larrivee and expect to keep using it for years, so I can usually resist the temptation to pick up any creations of other established guitar companies or the many fine independent luthiers. I try to step back and safely admire them all from a distance. 

The guitars made in England by Terry Docherty found me though, in a manner of speaking. My friend Wally Bell plays Docherty instruments exclusively, and I play music with Wally, so after spending some time surrounded by citterns, octave mandolins, and guitars all made by the same man, I caved in and accepted the opportunity to play the Docherty “Mistral” model guitar.  There had been whisky.  My defenses were down.  I’m not particularly proud of the fact that I burst into tears when I started playing the Mistral, but there it is; it was so lovely in every possible way that I couldn’t help myself. 

By now, I’ve played a few more of Terry Docherty’s guitars, and become friends with Terry.  It seems that he has a lovely way of living.  Apparently he’s focused and committed to everything he does, whether he’s playing and singing, carrying on a conversation, shopping for dinner, or making instruments.  I’m sure this is the deepest reason why the Mistral I finally ordered from him is the most beautiful guitar I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing.  It belongs in this life of mine; it was made with great care and simple elegance, and fits into the surroundings of my home and professional touring life.  All treasures there (and clutter too, let's be realistic here) have something to say for themselves. I expect this guitar to be a part of a lifetime musical conversation. I've already recorded with it, written new stuff with it, and played concerts with it.  Now I can't WAIT to play it in broader concert settings so that all of you can hear it.

Of course, I'll put some samples online so you can hear it that way, as soon as I make some.  But in a live show, I've found that guitar players always come up to me during the break and say, "who made that guitar??"

The Docherty instruments are masterpieces; they have souls and original voices, and there’s lots of Terry in all of them.  I don’t know how he does these things, but what he has to say on the subject can be found on his website:  http://www.terrydochertyguitars.com/index.htm

My own guitar, the Kat Eggleston Mistral, is constructed this way:  Back and sides of Indian rosewood, soundboard is European spruce, Fingerboard, bridge and head veneer are made of ebony. The neck is of “big leaf” mahogany. New Zealand Paua shell rosette. There are some gorgeous photos of it on Terry’s site.  Please do have a look, and listen also to the samples of Terry’s playing.  I promise your life will be richer for it, as mine is.

Over and Out... 'til next time.

 

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Lyrics as Poetry

Posted on June 23, 2011

  If you happen to be on a mission to find a source of real contention in the music world, try putting five or six songwriters in the same room and throw out questions like these:  "Do you think of lyrics as poetry?  Do you think the listening public ever hears them that way? Do you approach your work as if you were a poet?"  You might throw a creative writing instructor and a few music biz movers and shakers into the mix for added heat, depending on whether you like your arguments mild or extra spicy.  Be sure to imply that the writer's answers will place them firmly on a sliding scale ranging from "Sellout" to "Pretentious Navel-Gazer."
  There are many artists who have spent time working in the Nashville publishing houses, some that have had a string of hits.  You'll get many of these who feel that the common listening public has such a diminished attention span that they have to be approached with soundbites in the form of "hooks," or the content of the song will be over their heads.  There will be a dollar figure attached to this judgement.  There are others with the same background, the same amount of hits, who will consider themselves serious poets at heart, and happily engage in a fistfight to prove their sensitivity.
  The truth is that nothing is entirely pure, and while a song is by definition carried by the human voice, some of them can be translated to the page without diminishing their literary impact.  Even in an academic setting, you could go as far back as Robert Burns to successfully illustrate this.  But the academic line of thinking has also published books of traditional Scottish ballads without including existing melodic lines, classifying them erroneously as "narrative poetry." This partial truth also aggressively misses the point.
  There is no universal answer.  Some hits have earned a truckload of money with a string of cliches.  As such, they are monetary giants, but they would be laughable if they were transferred to the page of a book or a magazine.  Finding examples of that are too easy. I rest my case with "Feelings."
But some writers (more recent than Burns) who do consider lyrics as poetry have produced popular songs that could fill a gorgeous book. Richard Thompson, Bob Dylan, no argument there. And Joni Mitchell, as in "the Urge for Going":

Now the warriors of winter
They gave a cold triumphant shout
And all that stays is dying
And all that lives is gettin' out
See the geese in chevron flight
Flapping and racing on before the snow
They got the urge for going
And they got the wings so they can go

So, while you're enjoying the inevitable knockdown-dragout happening in the room full of musical experts, keep some perspective and remember that there are no easy answers.  Songwriting is still writing, with as wide a spectrum of form and character as a novel, a play, or in this case, a true poem.

 

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A few days ago my father said, "history is written by the winners." 

I said, "dad, you should listen to more traditional music."

Well.  The understood context of this remark - whoever said it originally - is that the larger and more lasting voice belongs to those who hold money and power.  It opens up Pandora's box with the use of the word "winner," implying that the poor and powerless won't be heard and remembered.  Traditional music is my favorite example of why this idea is a clever sounding lie.

Many years ago I was lucky enough to find myself sitting across a kitchen table from the great Scottish singer Sheila Douglas, trading old songs and forgetting that we'd come to the kitchen an hour before with the intention of making tea.  The electric kettle kept boiling and shutting itself off, and we kept on singing the saddest songs we knew for each other.  There are lots of big, sad songs.  I think the tea was eventually accomplished, but I don’t remember that.  In my memory, I don’t even hear the beauty and strength of her voice, although I know it was there.   What sticks with me is really bigger than all of that, because her singing was full of the voices of working people from centuries past.  Those people were alive again for the duration of the song.  I knew a little more about their lives than I had before.  Tea be damned. 

This is the substance of my love for traditional music, the reason I love the big ballads and such.  Singers like Sheila Douglas have brought history to the kitchen table. 

History is written by everybody, really.  But it's also sung, and by voices that aren't asking the question of who wins or loses, but are only doing their level best to tell the story. 

 



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