Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Instrument stories - the Bambu electric

Michael was many things in his life - teacher, art director, writer, pilot, biker, and more - but ever since he first picked up a guitar at the age of sixteen or seventeen, he was a musician.

The first guitar he ever loved was an electric. This probably surprises some of you, who know him as a folk musician with a fondness for acoustic instruments. We grew up listening to The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem at Dad's house, along with Dad playing guitar and singing (Finnegan's Wake in particular is the song I most strongly associate with memories of Dad playing the guitar). At Mom's house, we listened to the Beatles and the occasional Fleetwood Mac album. In the late 1970s, we discovered punk and new wave music, and especially Devo.

I think that's what inspired Michael, and he decided he wanted to play guitar as well, and bought an electric guitar from the Podium in Dinkytown. It was a Bambu, an odd but well-made and beautiful instrument with a bamboo neck.

I found a link to a similar guitar: I found that link on this page - - where the poster talks about playing such an instrument at the Podium in about 1979/80/. Chances are fairly good that the guitar in question is the one Michael bought.

Since he couldn't read music, but wanted to learn a song, after first couple of lessons, he left a tape with the instructor so that the instructor could figure out the song and teach it to him. The tape was Devo's Are We Not Men, and the song he wanted to learn was Mongoloid. The instructor put the tape in on the wrong side, though, and learned Come Back Jonee instead.

He never used the Bambu much, but he kept it over the years, and he never bought another electric guitar. He went on to become known for his acoustic prowess, and the instrument most people think of as the iconic Michael Matheny instrument is probably his Hoffman guitar, or his mandola. But for me, it's the Bambu, the guitar he used to play Devo.

His wish was that it go to his bandmate Matt Ogden. A few things worth knowing about Matt. Michael more than once described Matt as "so good he doesn't know how good he is," and told me that he lived in fear of the day that Matt figured out how talented he was and moved on to something better than The Long Straight Forever. One of Michael's favorite things to do in a TLSF concert was to just point at Matt and let him riff. When Michael and Matt first talked about playing together, Matt said that he knew nothing about Irish music or folk, and Michael said "that's perfect." He wanted a bandmate with no preconceived notions about what playing Irish music or folk-rock meant, and in Matt he found a soulmate and a brother-of-the-heart.

I want to hear Matt play the Devo that Michael loved so well on the guitar he carried for those many years, the first guitar he ever loved.

- Kevin


Deborah in MN said...

Thanks for sharing your stories, Kevin. They mean so much to me.

Modhran said...

Did you happen to find the bad Korean translation of how the tuners work in the case?

Michael loved the misuse of english in the directions: "... It is new manufacturer tha connect cam directly on to shaft..."

I don't remember the exact phrase but it sure was funny when Myk read it aloud.

Aimee said...

Love this story. Thanks so much for sharing it.

Kevin said...

I have not seen the original paper, but I remember Michael's reading of it quite vividly.

"It is new manufacturer whose screw is not loose and whose knob is fixed with the shaft!"

Post a Comment