Sometimes, Dr. Freud, a cigar is just a guitar. And sometimes a cigar box is just a box to put cigars in.
A cigar box, on the other hand, can also be a musical instrument.
In 2011, Ships of the Sea Museum executive director Tony Pizzo put on a workshop, at which each attendee crafted a scratch guitar from an empty cigar box, a hunk of wood, three cat–gut strings and a primitive electric pickup.
Homemade guitars were common in early American music. Many bluesmen couldn’t afford the real deal, so they rigged up their own.
“If people know anything about cigar box guitars, or if they’ve heard of them, they probably think it’s a Mickey Mouse instrument, with rubber bands and Venetian blind slats,” Pizzo told us last year. “And they’re very much different from that.”
Savannah got to witness that different–ness first–hand last Aug. 6, when Pizzo invited three of the city’s finest blues players — Eric Culberson, “Georgia” Kyle Shiver and Roy Swindelle — to perform in concert on the museum grounds. Each musician had been given a Pizzo–made cigar box guitar.
To the astonishment of all concerned, the event was a tremendous success — more than 400 people packed the Ships of the Sea courtyard to see and hear the trio of accomplished stringbenders play the hell out of their cheapo instruments.
It was a great, great show, a highlight of that hot dog–day August season.
Pizzo and his pals, understandably, are doing it again, this time in the “assembly room” of the museum’s recently–completed North Garden. It’s Aug. 11.
We asked the three musicians about the inaugural show, and about this new one, too.
Roy Swindelle: “I really didn’t know what to expect, especially from the crowd. I think all three of us were a little stunned by that. It was a lot of people, and they were paying attention. And I work in a world where not necessarily everybody’s paying attention! That was a pleasant surprise. I don’t know I’ve ever walked up onstage and people applauded like a concert. Like a real concert. I’ve done big stage stuff and all, but when we got introduced it was ... all of us were surprised by that. And that’s a neat feeling. I’m 60 years old, I’ve been playing since I was 12, and I still got a rush.”
“Georgia” Kyle Shiver: “I’ve played my cigar box guitar every gig since then. I really took to the instrument. So I’ve been playing it for a year, and I do a lot more songs on it. Last year, the only songs I played were songs I was already doing, because Tony had just given me the guitar a month earlier. I didn’t know that many. But this year, I’m gonna have to figure out what to play.”
Eric Culberson: “I remember it turning out better than I thought. I was surprised to see the attendance. And then I remember being inspired by that, and having a really good time. Today I keep the guitar leaned up against the wall in my living room. I pick it up and play it all the time. I love it. And I’m so glad that they asked me to be a part of it, I’m very honored by that. The guitar has just opened up a new chapter for me. I’ve written several songs on it, and I’m actually going to play some brand–new stuff this time around. I’m looking forward to this.”
Son of Rockin’ Rockin’ Cigar Box Guitars
Where: Ships of the Sea Museum, 41 MLK
When: At 6:45 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11
Admission: $5 (age 7 and under admitted free) Doors open at 6:15 p.m.