a home-made instrument is a little like wearing a Halloween mask:
no one knows what to expect, and it gives you license
to do something really off the wall."
--Microwave Dave Gallaher
"My gal calls me crazy,
My kids call me silly,
Everybody else calls me
One String Willie."
One String Boogie
know me as David Williams, mild-mannered reporter for the Daily Planet (okay, mild-mannered research scientist),
living in the rural northernmost suburbs of Philadelphia with my wife and two daughters.
I have been playing guitar since 1964, and bottleneck slide since 1976. My early musical interests
were rock (and roll), jug bands, string bands, ragtime, hokum and blues, bottleneck slide guitar and harmonica blues. Recognizing
that an intemperate interest in these musical styles could potentially lead to eternal perdition, my musical interests
have expanded to include American religious music from the 19th and early 20th centuries as well as
gypsy jazz, classical music, and opera. Most of the people I enjoy listening to are either now dead
or not feeling very well.
When I was in High School, we (my father, brother and I) made a wash-tub bass
for our jug band, but I didn't really became interested in home-made instruments until late spring 2004,
when I read a newspaper article featuring Shane Speal and his Cigar Box Guitar Museum. I cobbled together my
first cigar box guitar shortly after that, thinking that such an instrument fit in perfectly with my musical
background. I play my cigar box guitars fingerstyle with a bottleneck slide. My
playing tends to be pretty percussive and not particularly fancy.
Shane (founder of the current cigar box guitar and primative rock movement) face-to-face in the summer of 2005, and in the
spring of 2006, he suggested that I hunt down the CD One String Blues, which featured 9 cuts
by Eddie "One String" Jones, a master diddley bow player. The music was recorded in 1960 on Skid
Row in Los Angeles and at two parties in Hollywood. The performances were stunning—raw, percussive
and deeply compelling. After just one listen, I knew that he had to build and learn to play this instrument.
The first cut on the CD was of Eddie Jones describing how he had built his diddley bow, and a drawing of the instrument
and two photos were included in the CD insert. With this information, I built a replica of his instrument:
a board with a piece of broom-wire stretched between two nails and tensioned with a little piece of wood and a small jelly
jar and a paint can resonator, played with a stick and a whiskey bottle.
I showed Shane the replica instrument in August of 2006, and he was thrilled--he challenged me
to incorporate the diddley bow into my act. After encouragement from Shane and the late Donald "Boz"
Bostwick, I took up the challenge, and told Shane and Boz that I would be "One String Willie."
Thus, "One String Willie" is both a musical project as well as the
musical persona arising from the project.
The initial challenge was
to master this primitive instrument, but the project soon became much deeper--to forge new playing techniques
and repertoire for a single string.
As a musical alter ego, One String Willie is the musical Mr. Hyde to
my Dr. Jekyll. The persona was originally inspired by the recording of Eddie "One String" Jones describing
how he made and played his diddley bow, and his mother's response to his all-consuming interest in playing his
one-string guitar. The character of a street musician grew from this initial seed, and has provided inspiration
for many of One String Willie's songs including "Pawn Shop Pistol," "Just Stick Around," and "One
String Willie Goes to Europe." I first appeared as One String Willie on 9 June 2007 at the 3rd Annual Cigar Box
Guitar Extravaganza in Huntsville Alabama, and have performed at numerous concerts since that time.
I continue to explore and integrate new playing techniques for this instrument. I
have built other diddley bows, including a replica of Willie Joe Duncan's legendary Unitar, and have also written two diddley
bow construction articles for Uncle Enos, an underground 'zine dedicated to the primitive rock/DIY music movement.
For better or worse, the fun-loving, outspoken One String Willie is now the dominant alter ego on-stage, and mild-mannered
David Williams has faded into the background.