One String Willie

Concert will feature Cooper-Moore and One String Willie

Posted in Arts and Entertainment (Bucks County Courier Times) on Monday, November 17th, 2008 at 11:12 am by Web content assistant editor David Rauch

Master musician. Storyteller. Instrument builder/designer. Composer. Teacher. Mentor. Performer.


But that’s Cooper-Moore and he’ll be performing at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 22 at Christ Covenant Church in Harleysville in what is the final concert in his solo tour of America.

He has been a major catalyst in the world of creative music for more than 30 years with a desire is to bring his distinctly American music and perspective directly to the people.

Cooper-Moore will perform “Music: Old and New Paths” on his handcrafted instruments. It’s a mix, a gumbo, a stew of gospel, bop, avant-garde and blues-based music which is used to accompany stories about people he’s known, and to accompany stories he heard as a child living in the Piedmont area of Virginia.

Local artist One String Willie will open the show.

He makes his music on the diddley-bow, beating out a rhythm on the single wire string, while changing its pitch with a glass bottle slide. It is slide guitar at its most elemental level, and he continues working to explore the limits of this primal instrument by moving beyond traditional playing styles. His music is a roots-based mix of traditional and original songs.

One String Willie has performed in festivals in Huntsville, Ala., Canandaigua, N.Y., and Caseville, Mich., as well as in the Philadelphia area, and is featured in the documentary “Songs Inside the Box” on the growing interest in making and playing cigar box guitars and other homemade instruments.

A $10 donation is requested, with net proceeds of the concert going toward Christ Covenant’s Good Samaritan Fund, used to provide assistance for the increasing number of people in the community with immediate financial need.

The church is at 2200 Sumneytown Pike.

Information: 215-256-8101;;;

One string keeps Willie strummin'

Bob Keeler
Souderton Independent

05 March 2008

Sometimes when he's making music with one of his Salford neighbors, David Williams still gets out the same type of guitar he's been playing for more than 40 years.

Many other times, though, as he proclaims musically, "A Store-Bought Guitar Just Won't Do."

That's when he goes with some of the homemade musical instruments that have their roots in times and places far away from his 21st century Montgomery County home.

Like the diddley bow.

"Its origins are from the Ghana coast of West Africa," Williams said.   Originally, the one-stringed instrument appears to have been made with the stem of a plant. That was before it was brought to this country and eventually became a starter instrument for top guitarists, including B.B. King and Jimi Hendrix.
"The basic instrument is a board, two nails and then a wire," Williams said.
In some cases, the instrument may have doubled as a porch column of the instrumentalist's home. In other cases, it was more portable. In a photo of Willie Joe Duncan with his unitar, the instrument looks as though it was made from a bed board. One String Willie, Williams' fictional one string player who sings stories of his life along with gospel music and the blues, was inspired by Eddie "One String" Jones, who was discovered on Skid Row in Los Angeles, then brought to parties in more upscale parts of town where his music was taped in the early 1960s.

Williams, a senior scientist at [a major pharmaceutical company], calls One String Willie "sort of the musical Mr. Hyde to David Williams' Dr. Jekyll."

Many slide guitarists started with the diddley bow, Williams said. Although each has their own technique, the basic playing style was with a stick to beat out the rhythm and a whiskey bottle to slide and change the pitch. Williams adopted a style somewhat similar to the two-handed guitar playing of Eddie Van Halen, using two bottles that could be used as either a slide or stick.  "You've got dual functionality in either hand," he said.

Starting with traditional music for the diddley bow, Williams is attempting to stretch the bounds of what can be played on the one string. He's even working on figuring out a way to play music by Johann Sebastian Bach, although he says the Bach music covers five octaves to the one-and-a-half octaves on his diddley bow.

Making his own musical instruments also led to Williams making his own music by writing songs including those about Willie or "New Amazing Grace," which has gotten a lot of play on a cigar box guitar Internet radio station.

Williams' interest in the diddley bow followed his introduction to cigar box guitars in 2004.

There are photos of U.S. Civil War soldiers playing cigar box violins, Williams said.
That may have been the first generation to be able to do so.  "Cigars were not shipped in boxes until about the 1850s," said Williams, who is not a cigar smoker, "but I do appreciate those that put their lives at risk to allow me to pursue my music."

One String Willie made his first appearance with the one string guitar in June 2007.

Williams and cigar box guitarist Gerry Thompson will perform 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 14, in the Second Fridays series at Indian Valley Public Library, 100 E. Church Avenue, Telford. Admission is free.

Williams and his whole family are frequent library users, library Director Linda Beck said. Knowing he was a guitarist, talks about that led to discussion of cigar box and one-string guitars, she said.

"It's a fascinating sound," Beck said.

"The reason I like this is because, one, nobody sounds like this, and two, there's definitely a weirdness factor," Williams said.

Despite the uniqueness, though, Williams said, he doesn't consider his music to be a novelty act. 

"This is a traditional instrument," he said.

Although he learned on a full guitar, the one string was the starting point for a lot of other guitarists, he said.

"I assume it is easier to learn because you have less to deal with," Williams said. "It doesn't get any more basic than a diddley bow as far as a slide guitar goes."

The simple homemade guitars also cost a lot less than store bought models, he said.
Samples of Williams' music are available at and on his CDs.

An online forum at has more than 2,400 members.

Williams and Thompson also played at the 2007 Third Annual Cigar Box Extravaganza in Huntsville, Ala., from which a video documentary is being produced for National Public Television and Radio.

Link to the original article:

Beautiful Noise


By DAN SOKIL, Staff Writer

The Reporter
(Lansdale PA)
25 February 2008

Have you ever heard a cigar box guitar or a diddley-bow?

Or even heard of them?

If your answer to either question is “No,” make sure you go to the Indian Valley Public Library in Telford on March 14.

There, cigar box guitarist David Williams of Telford, and his alter ego “One String Willie,” will play “An Evening of Cigar Box Guitar and Diddley Bow Music” at 7:30 p.m.

And yes, a cigar box guitar is exactly what it sounds like: a guitar made of a board, with a cigar box attached, strung with wire.

“Basically, these are instruments that were made by people trying to make do with what they had,” said Williams. “Oftentimes they were the instruments that children started out with before graduating onto a store-bought guitar.”

Williams added that several famous guitarists such as Carl Perkins, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Blind Willie Johnson and even Jimi Hendrix started out playing cigar box guitars.

“For about $20, the price of a CD or maybe a double CD,” said Williams, “you can make your own electric or acoustic cigar box guitar.”

Williams’ interest in building his own cigar box guitars started in June 2004, after reading an article in The Reporter about cigar box guitar maker Shane Speal of York.

Williams then found instructions to build his own guitar on Speal’s online Yahoo user group, which now numbers more than 2,400 members.

“I’ve probably made about six guitars, but I prefer playing to building them,” said Williams. “And of course once you start building these things, you start to figure maybe you can write your own songs, too.”

After seeing a cigar box guitar show in Red Lion in 2005, and then headlining the same show the next year, Williams grew interested in playing the diddley bow.

“It’s an even more primal instrument,” said Williams, “in that you stretch a wire between two nails on a board, and use a half pint whisky bottle or a syrup bottle to tension up the string.”

His first gig playing the diddley bow came in June 2007, at that year’s national Cigar Box Guitar Extravaganza, held annually in Huntsville, Ala.

“I actually started the festival off, and played about half a set on cigar box guitar and the other half on diddley bow,” said Williams, “and people really liked it!”

Williams will be playing at the upcoming June Extravaganza with songwriter Gerry Thompson of New Jersey, who will also be appearing at the Indian Valley Public Library on March 14.

“I’m just trying to push the envelope of a traditional instrument,” Williams said, “to see exactly how far I can take it. I figure there aren’t really any rules for playing this thing!”

To hear samples of Williams playing both instruments, visit
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