At her Cabbagetown studio, the luthier Linda Manzer talks about the organic nature of her trade. Holding a guitar of her invention, she says you can’t make wood what it is not, that you have to co-operate with it, that you have to be honest with yourself. “You can’t fake it,” is how she puts it.
Of course, the honesty Manzer speaks of doesn’t refer solely to the craft of guitar making. A novelist or a ceramist would agree with her; even a cocktail mixologist – the booze doesn’t lie? – would find common ground here.
As would a painter. The guitar Manzer cradles is a salute to the Canadian landscape rock star and Group of Seven ringleader Lawren Harris. It’s a doozy, untraditional with its grooved ridges on the bottom, icy-blue splashes of colour on the top, big mechanical drawing on the back and a second neck thrusting outward from the body like a Harris-y mountain peak.
The acoustic instrument is part of The Group of Seven Guitar Project, an exhibit commissioned by the McMichael Canadian Art Collection and set to open on May 6, in time for the country’s sesquicentennial summer.
Seven masterwork guitars were made by seven of the country’s top luthiers – each instrument an homage to a particular Group of Seven member. An eighth instrument (a baritone guitar that honours the rough-cut woodland enthusiast Tom Thomson) was a creation by committee.
While the project will be seen as a unique commemoration of Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer, et al, what it really represents is a party thrown for the Canadian guitar makers themselves, a group that has carved out an impressive standing in the luthier world. Seven guitar-makers, then, as a loose-knit, supportive collective – a group, for lack of a better word.
Manzer, well known for the four-necked Pikasso Guitar she designed and built for the jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, refers to the project as an “amazing journey of discovery.”
That discovery began with her visit to the National Gallery of Canada, where she saw a collection of Group of Seven sketches in a back room. Thinking about the support the artists had for one another, she began to draw a comparison to her own experiences in the 1970s, when she was one of the first six apprentices to work with the master guitar-maker Jean Larrivée.
Doing the math wasn’t difficult: Group of Seven, seven luthiers, hmmm. And neither was it very hard to get the other luthiers – Sergei de Jonge, Tony Duggan-Smith, David Wren, George Gray, Grit Laskin and the guitar-making godfather Larrivée – on board.
Matching a luthier with a Group of Seven artist was an organic process – no drawing of straws involved. Duggan-Smith had lived in a house once lived in by Arthur Lismer, so that was an easy pairing. Laskin was attracted to the landscapes of F.H. Varley, and so on. Manzer was drawn in particular to the 1930 oil on canvas Mt. Lefroy, a snow-capped quintessential Harris depiction. “If Lawren Harris made a guitar, what would it look like?” she thought to herself. “And if one of his paintings morphed into a guitar, how would that look?”
The result, which won’t be unveiled until closer to the exhibit’s opening, is an exotic six-string acoustic model with an extra neck that holds an eight-string harp-like offshoot. “Technically, it was quite hard to do,” Manzer says. “But I think the result is a little controversial, and I had fun doing it.”
The next step was an audition. The folk-rock icon Bruce Cockburn, a friend and customer of Manzer’s, would give the guitar a playing. Reached in San Francisco, Cockburn described the guitar as a “pretty spectacular piece of sculpture, which manages to sound decent as well.”
Cockburn, who has sung about trees in forests but has never made paintings of them, wrote a song specifically for the guitar that will be featured in documentary film on the Group of Seven Guitar Project. The Mount Lefroy Waltz is a solo instrumental in F minor, played by Cockburn with the strings capoed at the third fret, with the strings tuned D-A-D-G-A-D.
“I tried to come up with something icy sounding,” Cockburn says. “The guitar favours the higher frequencies, and I tried to write that into the piece. It played very well. I was even able to use the ‘harp’ strings that are part of its architecture.”
The process of making the guitar was a lengthy one. Manzer spent more than two years just researching Harris. The turning point in her study was reading his letters to his confidante and fellow artist, Emily Carr. “He was a cheerleader for her, and the things he wrote to her about being brave became my inspiration from him,” Manzer says. “I took those words to heart.”
Each of the luthiers worked on their individual guitars on their own, but in talking to them all, Manzer believes their processes were similar to hers. “I was going to do what was best for my journey of discovery of Lawren Harris,” she says. “I think we all did that.”
As Manzer says, the wood doesn’t lie. And neither does the muse.
Special thanks to Brad Wheeler – Twitter: @BWheelerglobe
21 September 2016 – Bruce’s 1984 album Stealing Fire has been nominated for a 2016 Slaight Family Polaris Heritage Prize.
This Prize honours Canadian albums of the pre-Polaris era from four distinct time periods: the ’60s & ’70s, the ’80s, the ’90s, and the ’00s (2000-05). Like the Polaris Music Prize, winners and nominees for the Heritage Prize are albums of the highest artistic quality, without regards to sales or affiliations.
For 2016, two albums from each era will be selected, from a total of ten nominees in each category.
One winner in each category will be chosen by a special jury, and one by the public. Voting is now open here, and the winners will be unveiled on Oct. 24th.
Stealing Fire was a landmark album for Bruce and contained many great songs including “Lovers In A Dangerous Time” and “If I Had A Rocket Launcher” among others.
Jay Schlossberg wants to take us back in time to an “era of cultural, social and political upheaval.” During those years from 1961 to 1983, he and countless other mostly teens and twenty-somethings were steadfast fans of the free-form progressive radio station that rocked the metropolitan area’s airwaves from the Triangle Towers apartment building in downtown Bethesda.
“Feast Your Ears – The Story of WHFS 102.3 FM” is Schlossberg’s work-in-progress documentary about WHFS, where locally-legendary DJs—including Weasel, Cerphe, Damian, Josh, Adele and Thom—spun non-Top 40 tunes and chatted about the important issues of the day. “It was more than a local radio station,” Schlossberg said. “It was the voice of a generation.”
The substance was transmitted in more than one way. “Not only were we getting messages through the music of these national and local musicians,” said the Dufief resident who is the film’s director and executive producer, “but we also were getting local news (on topics like) when an anti-war protest would be held, where to buy records, health food, the nearest surf shop. The station served as a conduit for all the thriving retail businesses that sprung up around the culture.”
Most important, Schlossberg emphasized, was that WHFS promoted and supported local music. “We heard news about the live music venues—who was playing where and when.” After rattling off the names of some of the major places—The Psyche Delly, The Cellar Door, Redfox Inn, the Bayou, Lisner, the Warner, he observed, “’HFS was the center of it all.”’
Schlossberg’s allegiance to the station was cemented at age 17 when the Charles W. Woodward High School student was fortunate enough to have a summer job there. “I’d pay you to let me work here,” he remembers thinking in 1972. At Montgomery College the following year, Schlossberg was among 16 students who started the campus radio station. He served as WMCR’s program director and DJ, aspiring to be like Weasel and Cerphe, and honed his guitar skills by jamming in the student lounge when he was supposed to be in class.
The idea to tell the WHFS story came to Schlossberg some 30 years later after seeing a group photo on Facebook of the iconic station’s DJs, taken at the April 20, 2013 Record Day celebration at Joe’s Record Paradise in Silver Spring. “I said out loud, ‘Oh my God, they’re all not dead yet. Someone needs to tell this story,’” he recalled. “Of course, I knew them all already, but seeing the photograph just crystallized it. A flashbulb went off.”
Schlossberg is president and owner of Media Central, the global crewing, production and post-production services broker-agent company he founded on Aug. 1, 1993 (Jerry Garcia’s birthday, he noted). His clients have included HBO, Lucasfilm, Discovery Channel, Paramount Pictures, Showtime and BBC Worldwide. His company Media Central Films has produced a web series, “AutoExotika Presents: Cars ‘N Coffee,” with episodes in Bethesda, Las Vegas, Santa Barbara, Cincinnati, Palm Beach and Paris.
Despite his successful businesses and concomitant media industry contacts, Schlossberg had never done a documentary before. Thus, it was essential that he research and brainstorm the project by talking to people who had been there as well as industry professionals. About six months post-epiphany, he hosted what he called a “meeting-party” with the WHFS DJs in the building where they once broadcasted.
Maryanne Culpepper, former president of National Geographic Television, was enlisted as executive producer “to help with the front and back ends, to help me get the plane off the ground and into the air and with the landing,” he said. “She knows about film festivals.” Also on the team are consulting producer Jonathan Gilbert AKA Weasel; story consultant and former Washington Post writer Richard Harrington; and Bethesda native and writer of “Homicide” and “The Wire” David Simon, who helped with background and context.
Filming began in June 2014, and a Kickstarter fundraising effort in October and November 2015 raised $65,000 for the project. With two-thirds of the filming completed, Schlossberg expects the editing process to begin in September with a rough cut by the end of the year. Plans include local screenings—perhaps at AFI in Silver Spring and Landmark in Bethesda—and Netflix and Showtime and even director Morgan Spurlock have expressed interest and encouragement. Schlossberg is confident and optimistic about the film’s future. “We have gotten a lot of positive feedback from the trailer,” he said. “And I think the film will have wide-ranging international appeal, too.”
Having acquired a taste for music documentaries, Schlossberg is also acting as executive producer of “The Humbler,” a film about legendary guitar player Danny Gatton.
Musician and producer Steve Dawson has a new podcast called “Music Makers and Soul Shakers” that Bruce was interviewed for. You can stream the episode here, or subscribe to the podcast for free on iTunes.
Some of you might recall that Steve produced the wonderful tribute album to the Mississippi Sheiks called “Comin’ My Way” and that Bruce did a cut for that album “Honey Babe Let The Deal Go Down“.
It’s a great album and worth picking up. Further I have a history with Steve as well. I released a few albums on True North for the great group Zubot & Dawson and in 2003 one of those albums “Chicken Scratch” won a Juno Award.
The podcast is really worth listening to especially if you’re a guitar player.
Citizens of a picturesque town outside of Ottawa lament the expansion of a hydro dam they claim will ruin a pice of paradise
Picture a lovely, quiet town surrounded by old stone mills that have scarcely changed in a hundred years. The main street is full of charming shops selling local crafts and restaurants that attract interesting visitors — including recently Justin Trudeau and family.
Right through the heart of town runs a magical river with cascading waterfalls. It’s a special, loved place where people fish, kids swim and wildlife abounds. This is Almonte, a town of 5,000 people about 50 km southwest of Ottawa, recently voted one of the 10 most charming towns in Canada by Expedia travel site.
Alongside turtles and herons, this section of the Mississippi River (no connection to the famous U.S. river) is also home to the endangered Rapid’s clubtail dragonfly. You can sense the river running through Almonte is magical, but the dragonfly’s presence here highlights how truly rare this setting is.
Yet right in the centre of this enchanted river, a company called Enerdu Power Systems wants to add a massive new powerhouse to a small existing generating station, blasting the riverbed to increase water flow and installing a dam over top of the cascades.
Although the town of Almonte has fought this dam tooth and nail for years, its construction is due to start this week.
Along with several dozen other Almonte residents, I protested this dam last week by wading into the river. We stretched across it in a line, holding hands, desperately hoping for publicity to attract the attention of someone with power to stop the company at the final hour. We started a petition to Catherine McKenna, federal minister of the environment, which includes signatures from singers Bruce Cockburn and Paul Simon, as well as cartoonist Gary Larson.
This is truly a David versus Goliath story. The town of Almonte has never wanted this project and has been fighting for more than four years to stop it. Despite the strong local opposition, including from Mayor Shaun McLaughlin, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) has approved the project. Jeff Cavanagh, owner of Enerdu, is determined and has ample resources.
Yes, his dam will generate electricity. But, actually, no new energy will be added to the overall grid because the Appleton dam just upstream will lose whatever power it gains due to changing water levels, according to a report by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists.
Cavanagh also says his project will create jobs, which is true. But they’re just temporary jobs. Once the project is done, there will be, at most, a few employees.
Unlike another power plant downstream, which is owned and operated by the town, Cavanagh’s privately owned plant will add no new revenue to Almonte.
Something is wrong here.
There is an endangered dragonfly making its habitat at the exact location Cavanagh wants to dynamite to build his power plant.
The MNR is mandated to facilitate renewable energy but it is also tasked with implementing the Endangered Species Act. So where do the MNR’s priority lie? Given that there is another power plant upstream that can easily handle increased capacity, the answer should be clear.
The MNR insists the dragonfly does not make its habitat here, even though there have been documented sightings of the dragonfly in areas impacted by this project.
We believe the entire Environmental Assessment conducted by provincial authorities on this Enerdu project was based on insufficient and outdated facts.
The report by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalist documents how the highwater levels caused by Enerdu water control devices already in place are drowning 600 hectares of protected wetlands.
Now Cavanagh wants to expand further down the river and add a dam that will control even more of the river’s flow. Does the government of Ontario serve the people of Ontario or Jeff Cavanagh?
There is so much wrong with this project, which will forever mar the beauty of Almonte with unsightly fences, safety notices, warning systems and restricting buoys. The part of the river where children now swim will be offlimits.
A river that was once teeming with life and the jewel of our town will be harnessed like a wild animal in a cage.
I stood beside the river last week with a native elder and asked him if this would have been a sacred place. “Most definitely,” he said.
Sometimes you do know what you’ve got before it’s gone.
~from Bruce’s Facebook page, by Bernie Finkelstein:
Some sad news to report. Acclaimed bassist Rob Wasserman has passed away (June 29). Here’s what Jambase reported last night.
“Just hours after Bob Weir shared the news bassist Rob Wasserman was battling serious health issues, comes word Wasserman has died. RatDog guitarist Mark Karan first revealed Rob had passed on with Weir confirming the news shortly thereafter.
Rob Wasserman is best known for his long tenure alongside Weir as a founding member of RatDog as well as the pair’s Bob Weir & Rob Wasserman project. Wasserman was a member of RatDog from the group’s mid ’90s formation through 2002 and then again from 2010 to their most recent performances.”
Rob played on what many people consider to be one of Bruce’s finest albums “The Charity Of Night“, recorded in 1996. Before that Bruce and Rob had played together in the early 90’s at Sony studios in New York where they along with Lou Reed and Rosanne Cash performed together on one of Bruce’s “Christmas With Cockburn” radio shows.
Mar 24, 2016 – Long before he arrived in Golden, Colorado and began to have an impact on what is now a bustling arts and culture scene, Bill Usher was a radio documentary producer and musician, with one of his proudest works coming in the form of a two-hour documentary titled On Tour with Bruce Cockburn.
Usher had worked with the Canadian folk icon on his 1976 release In the Falling Dark and toured across Canada with him on the subsequent tour. The idea to document the cross country tour with Cockburn seemed like a winner, and Usher took his idea to CBC, having produced documentaries for them previously.
“As soon as I knew that I had the gig…I basically went into one of the producers (at CBC) and said ‘I’m going out on the road with Cockburn for 12 weeks. I have this idea that I could do an on the road back stage documentary, are you interested?’,” he remembered.
The producer was interested, and Usher proceeded to round up all of the five inch reels of tape that he could before hitting the road for the tour.
Film and radio was a different animal back then. The days of digital recording were but a pipe dream, making production a lengthy, time-intensive process compared to contemporary standards.
A two-hour program produced for the CBC in 1977. Bill Usher documents aspects of the Circles In The Stream tour of which he was a part. Included are intimate conversations with Bruce Cockburn about himself, his music and those who listen to it.