The truth is, I've owned this guitar for almost two years. Late last week, I was looking for a subject to write about in my Guitar World column, so I penned an article about the few details I knew about this guitar. (Read it here.)
I knew the guitar was built in a Pennsylvania state prison. I knew the guy's name and, being a guitar builder, I deduced a few facts about its construction.
The article was posted online
and was read by Mike Argento, a local newspaper writer in York. Mike's an old friend and a fellow blues guitarist, so it was no surprise when I got a call from him asking if he could write a local perspective on the guitar. He said he tracked the builder down.
On Tuesday morning, Mike and I drove to the nearby small town of New Oxford, PA and met "Junior Ben," the former inmate who built the guitar back in 1995. As a music historian, it was one of the first times I came face to face with the builder of a mystery instrument. It was humbling.
Living in a single room inside battered double-wide trailer (he says it's "prison syndrome"), Junior Ben was still apprehensive about divulging the secrets of this guitar even 15 years after he left prison.
He was still afraid of being labeled a snitch by the inmates still housed in the prison. Do yourself a favor and read Mike's article.
The longer I search for old sounds, the more I'm discovering that what I'm really doing is preserving people stories. Each instrument had a passionate person behind them. Each song had teardrop.
I think more people should be collecting the stories of the unsung. I dare ya...