Mark Weakley is an impressive artist; sculptor, painter, musician. He plays guitar, banjo and harmonica, and has recently recorded a CD of his original compositions. In this exclusive article he talks about himself, about his passions, about his father, about traditional american music, about vintage guitars and banjoes, and much more.
American Music and Vintage Guitars
My father was a gunsmith and fastidious in his craft. As a boy I once watched him raise a dent in an antique rifle stock. He had dampened a soft white cloth, folded it over a few times and placed on that blemish in the wood while applying the low heat of an iron. He did this patiently for hours, for days it seemed. Why didn’t he just fill it and do some sanding? I know the answer now. That random few moments when I was the youthful observer may have been the most precious thing he left me. It was really the seed of true craftsmanship and it grew within me despite my natural inclinations. It was not an overnight revelation. Not only did I see a glimpse of patience when the word had no meaning to me I also saw that it was the only way to do it right. Anything less is just that.
Around this time, 1960 or so, I was captured forever by the sound of Traditional American Music and struggling to learn the guitar when guitar players were scarce indeed for an Army brat in Munich, Germany. I thought the Kingston Trio were great until an older mentor loaned me his copy of the Harry Smith Anthology Vol. One. He suggested that I might find it interesting.
Interesting? My life simply changed forever and for the better. A door to another most wonderful world slammed open and has not closed for the last forty- eight years. Yes, interesting. It was a strange and mysterious world that opened like the fabled parallel universe. I truly felt, and still feel, that I found of part of me that had been missing. I loved the wonderful names, Blind Willie Johnson, Buell Kazee, The Masked Marvel, Furry Lewis and all the others. I had to know what they were saying and how they said and played. Griel Marcus calls it the “Old, Weird America”. I know it certainly called me to a lost world. These people were making music because they had no choice. It was in them as deep as breathing and money was not the object. At least, not then.
My passion has grown and my playing has improved but I am still drawn to the archaic in all arts. I have learned tunes note for note from these and countless other old recordings. In my later years I have seen that these same tunes are no longer played rote but that I have brought something of my own expression to them. I fear imitation for its’ own sake. Still, I must admit that guitar buddies of mine and I have spent untold hours dissecting each quavering semi-tone of “Dark Was the Night and Cold Was the Ground” by the magnificent Blind Willie Johnson. We do it with love and full knowledge that we will never succeed and rejoice that someone recorded it. To me it’s the most important recording ever made.
My love of vintage guitars and banjoes grew accordingly. ‘Neath beds and in closets they lurk. I am a lover of Martin guitars particularly and was thrilled and honored to illustrate a portrait of Perry Bechtal to used in advertising and as a label inside the guitar itself. Oddly enough it is executed in scratchboard – a technique I learned as a Medical Illustrator.
There came a point when I was hearing my own songs and found the courage to record and release them on my own CD entitled “Farewell to Pony Bob”. We did it in a back room of my house without fear.
I was truly surprised to hear that it is available on PodSafeAudio.com. With thanks to Steve James and Michael Martin bless their souls. Look ‘em up. The visitor to my website, will see that my recent paintings of dogs have included a musical influence. Great care was taken to render the banjo and guitar with accuracy. Those pups deserve the best.
There are times I have been painting or drawing, rendering detail that will read as I want it to, when I happen to notice the time. And it is hours past where I thought it might be. I confess those are moments of pure joy. Time and space went somewhere else for a while. Or maybe I am finally learning to see in the fullest sense of the word. Looking at something becomes not quite enough.
My father knew and I thank him for the lesson.