Firsthand accounts of secondhand finds

Sept. 12, 2009

There’s still one source of musical instruments on this planet that is often overlooked. Take it from me, I know. You just have to adjust your frame of mind. I mean, there’s not going to be a big building with a neon sign that says, “Buy This Guitar Here” or “Musical Instrument Clearance Blowout Sale.” It’s going to be a lot less obvious.

In all likelihood, it’s going to say something like . . . “Garage Sale.”

Case in Point. Meet guitarist Jim Pryts. A recent transplant to the Gorge, Jim has a long history of playing and acquiring instruments. And, like me, he found a gem among the random treasure one has to sort through in the vast amount of second-hand stuff that comes up for sale. Jim found a really old guitar, from a really famous maker, for less than the cost of a new CD. And when I read that on his website, I immediately re-lived my “Flea Market Find” moment. I was living on the East coast, and was absolutely thrilled to find a 1950s famous maker arch-top guitar for a price that I couldn’t pass up. That guitar has been with me ever since. There were a few years when I was moving around and such, and somehow, the guitar got lost. Happily, it re-surfaced and was sent out to me here in Oregon.

Jim sent me a few music samples of his playing that brought back a memory of another second-hand find. I guess about 20 years ago, I was stumbling through a flea market, in Dunellun, NJ. Digging through some old box, I came up with “The Art of Ragtime Guitar,” by Green Note Music Publications, and luckily it still had the flimsy 45 rpm-size record attached to it. With songs like “Ragtime Ramble,” “Dadalada,” “Boogaloo Down La Rue,” and “Coney Island Cakewalk,” I figured I couldn’t go wrong for a buck.

I didn’t know much about how to play ragtime style, but it sure looked interesting.

I was kind of a beginner on the instrument, back then, (and come to think of it, I still am!) but it was kind of eye opening and addictive to try and play some of these tunes. You see, the music was all written in guitar Tab, and eventually I learned how to play most of one or two songs, from memory. The rest I just listened to and sighed, -- I knew I’d never be able to master them.

There was one more thing that grabbed me looking at Jim’s web page. There’s a photo of Jim in front of the Martin Guitar factory in Pennsylvania. And that probably means that Jim has the same souvenir that I have. You see, when you tour the factory, you get to take a scrap of wood home with you. That scrap of wood happens to be a soundhole cutout from a Really Nice Guitar.

And although I can’t be sure, I just can’t help but wonder if that scrap of wood came out of the same guitar that’s on the front of my book. But, sheesh, that would take a lot of work to find out.

I think it would be less work to re-learn some of those ragtime tunes . . .

Read Jim’s interview with Jim Pyrts here.

Interview with Jim Pyrts

Mornin Jim. Here are my ramblings. Thanks for the opportunity to express myself.

JP

1. You're obviously well versed in ragtime-fingerstyle guitar. How did you learn to play this complex style?

I started out with a flat pick in 1961, when the folk revival was in full swing. I remember trying to finger pick a little, and how baffling it seemed to me then. A man named Chet Atkins was at the height of his career, and I loved his style, as well as that of Merle Travis. In high school I got involved in rock n roll. I was in a band that did Rolling Stones covers. We were quite good, and opened for some big name bands in San Francisco. In the mid 60’s, Paul Simon was the guitarist who inspired my gradual preference for finger picking styles. As each new song hit the charts, I loved it, and learned to play it. Also, John Sebastian ( in The Lovin Spoonful ) was adapting old blues styles to his music as well. He called it “good time music”, but he was showing his folk/blues roots, and it was easy to un-adapt them right back to country blues. I actually took the final turn to finger picking on a Fender Telecaster. It just happened to be the guitar I had when I made the decision, but soon acoustic guitar would occupy most of my time, and Arlo Guthrie did that wonderful tune, Alice’s restaurant, which I loved, and soon learned to play. By that time, in the late 60’s - early 70’s, I had the Holy Modal Rounders, Guy Van Duser, Roy Bookbinder, Doc Watson, and the ilk all finding a comfortable place in my musical appreciation catalogue. During that period I also became a banjo player, prefering claw hammer style. In the 90’s I, and my own band of brothers had the distinct privilege of producing the Napa Valley Music Festival, which brought me in contact with many of my musical icons. I worked with among others, the Kingston Trio, Lou Gotlieb and The Limeliters, Glenn Yarbrough, Odetta, John Sebastian, Sylvia Tyson, David Rey, and Peter Yarrow. That experience has deeply impressed me. Almost out of context, I would like to add that most recently, I have been attempting to steal the tunes of Tom Ball, and Kenny Sultan, who I admire greatly. To Tom I sheepishly apologize, again, for transmitting that computer virus which brought down his laptop for a short time.

2. You mentioned that you recently moved to the area. What connection brought you here?

The desire to put food on the table brought me here through a circuitous route. For many years I was a photographer in the Napa Valley, but in 2006 when the digital revolution started to demand more and more time to make less and less money, I quit, and my wife and I started moving north, first to Mt. Shasta where I did a stint as a Weed, California police dispatcher ( the irony was not lost on me ), then to The Dalles, where we took positions as live in managers of Cherry Heights Retirement in August of 2007, and where we remain today.

3. One way to meet a lot of musicians in the area - all at once - is to check out The Pines Tasting Room on Thursday evenings. It's a huge jam led by Kerry Williams. Have you been there yet?

I have not been yet, but I am pointed in that direction. I have tried to find open mics, and even inaugurated one at Cherry Heights, which never attracted much attention from good musicians.

4. Do you have any CDs available? Do you teach/give lessons?

My CD, “The Flame” is a work that is more than 20 years in the making, and runs rampant over the idea that an album should concentrate on one theme, and stick to it. It is mostly a compilation of songs that I rescued from tapes from my Tascam Porta-1 multi track machine. Half of the CD is my own original work, and the other half are covers of some of my favorite songs, in several different styles, from echoes of Santo and Johnnie, right on through to Jorma Kaukonen. It’s available I guess.

I don’t teach guitar. I have, and it’s a frustrating experience for me. ;O)

5. When you play music, do you like to perform solo or with a band?

I am torn. My happiest moments are spent playing with good musicians. I play more often by myself because, for good or bad, I am a musical perfectionist, and I cannot tolerate bad timing. There’s a lot of bad timing out there. I don't seek it out. Sometimes I am the culprit, and I give myself hell for it.

6. Who do you listen to nowadays?

I love music of all kinds. I guess I listen to whoever grabs my attention. I like clean simplicity that shows a special talent. I appreciate genius, whether it be orchestral, or rap.

7. Finally, what is it that makes a person want to collect, repair, talk about, play, seek out and document the Guitar?

You have to love guitars to do that. I wish I still had all the guitars that I have owned, but I don’t. I’ve done a little repair work, and through that experience I learned what a guitar is; a marvelous balance of sturdiness, and fragility . . . not the kind of object one should entrust to the typical guitar player. ;O)

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