American Music and Vintage Guitars 8

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 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.

Leave a Comment:
  • Lucy Maloney 29 July, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    Mark is obviously also a wonderful writer. This is so interesting and touching. His website is very much worth a visit. I am proud to call him my friend.

  • Yanna 25 August, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    Hi Mark,
    I know you are suprized to hear from a painter from Greece so far away, but I was touched by your words, and I thought I may say a word or two.
    Greece is a country with a long and interesting past, so for the Grecian Greeks what was may be more important to what is, and what they do today with everything of value.
    A guitar is so sweet, I listem to guitar music when I paint.

    Be well,

  • mark weakley 25 August, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    Hello Yanna,
    Yes, I am surprised to hear from the far away and splendid Greece. I welcome your kind words. The power of the internet still surprises me.
    What a heritage you have. I have been slowly ( very slowly ) reading The Histories by your ancestor Herodotus and long to see your homeland with my own eyes. I would love to be at Delphi when the flowers bloom as the sun rises. I’ve read that there can be mist of perfume that comes with dawn.
    It is difficult to have a deep sense of the past when the oldest evidence is a mere three hundred years.
    Anyway, as a friend of mine said, ” there are never enough guitars”. I’d love to see your work and thank you again for your thoughtfulness.
    You be well too,

  • kosmetyki ekologiczne 24 July, 2013 at 4:53 am

    I am Polish, and I am so glad that I was able to read your text. I’ve never been to Greece but has long been dreaming of a trip to Europe. Who knows, maybe soon I succeed :). I also love the guitar sounds like you, it was nice to read your story.
    Good luck Peter

  • Mike
    27 July, 2013 at 9:50 pm

    Hi Mark,

    Interesting write up and excellent artwork you have on your website. You’re very talented and artistic.

    Martin guitars are great! They’re a little pricy sometimes, but that problems seems to show up with most high-quality instruments…
    Mike recently posted..Guitar Gear – Brad Whitford – AerosmithMy Profile

  • Manuel Marino
    28 July, 2013 at 12:33 am

    thanks for the comment, Mike! yes, Mark’s post is great and I’ll publish it often in the featured section of the weblog. I’ve seen your guitarturf website and there’s a lot of content there, congrats! what guitars do you usually play?
    Manuel Marino recently posted..Life Defines Wit, Fun and Psychedelics in Cuba Holiday PackagesMy Profile

  • Manuel Marino
    28 July, 2013 at 12:51 am

    Hello Peter, I’ve seen your comment only now, great to have you here as guest. Are you also guitarist or just an enthusiast?
    Manuel Marino recently posted..Life Defines Wit, Fun and Psychedelics in Cuba Holiday PackagesMy Profile

  • Mike
    28 July, 2013 at 11:52 am

    Manuel Marino
    thanks for the comment, Mike! yes, Mark’s post is great and I’ll publish it often in the featured section of the weblog. I’ve seen your guitarturf website and there’s a lot of content there, congrats! what guitars do you usually play?

    Hi Manuel,

    Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate it.

    I have a 2000 Gibson Les Paul Classic, which is what I’m playing most of the time nowadays. Occasionally, I’ll play my Ibanez RG. On the acoustic side I have an old Ovation guitar. I’ve been thinking recently that I really need to buy a new acoustic. I’d love to have a Martin, but I think I may have to opt for something a bit less expensive…

    This a very interesting site you have here. I like it a lot.
    Mike recently posted..Boss CS-3 Compression Sustainer PedalMy Profile

  • CommentLuv badge

    This blog uses CommentLuv technology. It allows you to put your keywords with your name. To complete this, you need approved at least one comment. Use your real name and then @ your keywords (maximum of 3)