The first musician I'd ever seen wielding a cigar-box guitar was local blues great John-Alex Mason, who had his custom-made by a luthier in Memphis.
But while John-Alex is sadly no longer with us, the Springs now has its own home-grown source for the quirky, attention-getting instruments. And he'll be showing them off — along with his paintings of legendary blues and folk musicians — this Friday at Cottonwood Studios.
Jim Marsh, banjo player in Grass It Up, has recently stepped up production of his handmade instruments that use vintage cigar boxes in place of the standard guitar body. And if you think this is nothing more than novelty, you'll be in for a surprise when Marsh and his bandmates plug in at Cottonwood's Studio B.
"I've recruited the Grass It Up guys to become Box It Up and play a whole electrified set on cigar boxes," says the Alabama emigrant. "We'll be featuring songs by each of the subjects of my paintings." (Note: Grass It Up mandolinist David Jeffrey is an Indy staffer.)
Taken together, the paintings and songs represent a who's who of musicians who've influenced both Marsh and his bandmates. They'll include Bill Monroe ("Big Mon"), Leadbelly ("Good Night Irene"), Django Reinhardt ("Minor Swing"), Earl Scruggs ("Foggy Mountain Special"), Doc Watson ("Blackberry Blossom") and Roscoe Holcomb ("Shady Grove"), a relatively obscure Appalachian singer/coal miner whose intense banjo playing and high-lonesome falsetto is worth checking out on the Internet right this moment.
And while you're there, you can also do a YouTube search for Stoney Bertz. The local hip-hop heroine posted a preview of her forthcoming music video for "How It Feel" that'll whet your appetite for a full album.
The emcee also opened with the song at Independent Records on Saturday, where I also caught Record Store Day live sets by Big Ro, Reflecshaun and Calico, as well as impromptu numbers by Chuck City and Mad Trees' Earsiq Radke. Combine that with scoring a limited-edition copy of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson's "The Bottle" on green vinyl and it was, as Ice Cube would say, a good day.
Back in the realm of guitar music, Austin Young & No Difference will be celebrating their new CD with a performance at Stargazers this Friday. The local blues prodigy — now far enough into his teens to flip his name from Young Austin to Austin Young — will take the stage with his band for a night of blues-rock originals, include songs from the new Blue as Can Be, which is the group's first release on former Muddy Waters guitarist Bob Margolin's VizzTone label.
Further adding to the group's dark-end-of-the-street cred are five 2012 Member's Choice Awards from the Colorado Blues Society, including Best Blues Band, Best Guitarist, Best Slide Guitarist, Best Young Performer, and Best Live Moment.
The band has also performed along the banks of the Mississippi River at the prestigious King Biscuit Blues Festival and last year racked up close to 100 gigs, with young Austin all the while keeping his grades so high that his mom says he'll be graduating high school with a 4.9 average. (We just included that to embarrass him, because we're getting kind of jealous here.)
Meanwhile, faithful Indy readers will remember how local engineer/DJ John Stewart's unauthorized remaster of Danger Mouse's Grey Album got him interviewed by Forbes and written up in Slate, NME and the Source.
So anyway, the X Music Group — a Springs-based label for which Stewart is urban music director and chief audio engineer — announced Friday that it has signed two new acts. One of them is Audible, the local acoustic hip-hop duo consisting of guitarist Jeb Burgess and emcee HoTT. The other is Tony Williams, who goes by the stage name The World Famous Tony Williams, which is something you get to do if you have vocal and co-writing credits on five of your first cousin's albums, and your first cousin happens to be Kanye West. Williams also sang at the first Obama inauguration and has worked on songs with Elton John, Rick Ross and Macklemore.
You can extend your congratulations when XMG hosts its first official Colorado Springs event on Saturday at the Black Sheep. Urban Circus will feature sets by Stewart and Audible, as well as labelmates D-Stylz and Cnoteshce.
Also on Saturday, the Triple Nickel will be presenting the debut of the Cheap Dates, featuring Brian Parton, Dave Cantrell and Jerry Minson, who were written up in this column last month after the one-off gig that inspired them to become a proper band. They'll be sharing a bill with Tater Twat and Chris Mandile, aka Good Morning Accordion Terrorist.