Celebratory History in a Cigar Box

cigar box guitars by V'ron
cigar box guitars, a photo by V'ron on Flickr.
Some years back, when I was out of work, Lori Jablonowki (then performing as Roni Allwaise with Guido's Racecar) gave me a buzz and hired me to shoot her band. It was a time when I really needed the extra money (duh, I was out of work!) not to mention the boost to my confidence. Plus, let's face it, Guido's Racecar, besides being a wonderful band musically was also a visually captivating group of people; the photos pretty much shot themselves.

After I'd done post-production I went over to see Lori and her then-boyfriend then-bassplayer (and now husband) Johnny Washday to deliver a DVD with the raw and processed photofiles and to, well, collect my pay. No problem, but they also threw in a bonus: one of Washday's Cigar Box guitars. I about cried. They're beautiful instruments in and of themselves and perhaps he remembered my lusting after them when he first displayed them at a show some four years ago. My kids tried them out (yes, Stella did too) and the next thing you know, a few months later, I had one in my hands. It's proudly displayed in my living room, and I still love telling the story to anybody who asks.

And this one has a lot of stories I can't even begin to know behind it. See, I'm sure you could say this about any guitarist-turned-luthier: they're crafted with love and passion, and meant to be played. There's plenty of stories and articles out there about about Washday's process -- how he came upon making them in the first place ("I read in guitar magazines how poor players had to make their first guitars," he told Onmilwaukee.com's Bobby Tanzilo) but one of the things I found most endearing was that he really does endeavor to use found objects and recycled items in them.

On the day he presented me with mine, he pointed out that this guitar's neck was made with wood from his family's dining room table. He'd said aloud what I was realizing at that very moment: "Think of all the family discussions and meals and celebrations that took place on this." There's history in every one of these guitars; I'm just privileged to know the very specific history behind just one of these materials. I can only guess what kind of celebrations happened as the box of cigars that made my guitar's box were punctuated with a nice, fine smoke. What kinds of discussions or arguments, or business deals, or declarations of "It's a girl!" were joyfully shouted as the box was opened? What rites of passage took place around the Jablonowski family table? (How many times was young Johnny's orange juice spilled on it?) What stories are behind every one of these guitars? And what stories are those of us lucky enough to own one going to create with them?

I won't be able to make the Friday opening of his show (at Gallery 911, at 9th and National), but I'll pop in Saturday just to look around and take in the history. I'm going to have to miss a lot of other things Friday night due to other plans -- most notably Aluminum Knot Eye, The Hullmen and Floor Model at Kochanski's. I love Kochanski's anyway. Even when hardcore punks are playing there, it's this wonderful atmosphere that comes with the history of being a polka/concertina bar -- and every band that plays there inherits this celebratory vibe. It's probably the same level of karmic history that's inside Washday's guitars: how many polkas have been danced there? How much wonderful music has been absorbed by that tin ceiling (and truth be told, echoed back with a treble-y harshness!).

Speaking of celebrating, my birthday's Saturday night, so I'm taking recommendations as to which band to spend it with.


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