By Justin Swanson, Special to the Independent
Jason Farthing is carrying a torch. He has become part of a more than 150 year-old tradition, albeit transplanted from America’s Deep South. An artist and a musician, Farthing creates and plays cigar box guitars.
His band, The Budrows, will be taking their 100% foot stompin’ cigar box rock ‘n’ roll to the stage today at the OC Fair and on Sunday, Aug. 12 at Fullerton’s Commonwealth Lounge.
For the uninitiated, cigar box guitars, which hail from an old folk tradition in the South, are homemade guitars assembled from a variety of local materials, the body being a discarded cigar box. “It’s a found object style,” Farthing says. In the composition of his instruments, the only parts that are intrinsically intended for a guitar are the tuning knobs and the pickup/jack. Screws and bolts, metal pieces recovered from sinks and found wood comprise the rest. “You don’t need that much to make music. You can have a string and a couple of bolts and you can make music,” marvels Farthing, 40, an Aliso Viejo resident. Working out of his garage, Farthing is autodidactic in his craft as a professional guitar builder, who does painting and graphic design on the side.
The simple instruments he devises resonate with their own unique tone. “Each instrument brings its own flavor and there are so many ways of making unique sounds. It’s rootsy-blues but it’s also got a swampy sound, right from the Delta.”
Farthing began making these guitars five years ago, intending to show them around the Santa Ana art scene as what he dubbed “Southern outsider art,” doing paintings on the body of the guitars inspired by La tierra cards, a Mexican card game. From the onset, Farthing was concerned that viewers of his art would take for granted the functionality of his work; the pieces are sound makers first and foremost, “otherwise they’re just paintings on the wall.”
Farthing decided his art would be best represented by performing music alongside a showing of his work. Thus, the germination of his band, The Budrows, took shape.
After performing shows as a one-man band (simultaneously playing bass drum, tambourine, and guitar), Farthing recruited his stepdaughter Macarena Rivera to sing lead. “We had a unique sound, so we tried to build on it,” says Farthing, whose slide guitar style echoes those of Delta blues players.
“I was really shy at first,” says Rivera, who relocated to Laguna Beach from Argentina nine years ago with her mother. She had experience in musical theatre, taking voice and dance classes, and singing in the Laguna Beach High School chorus. “I hated the chorus,” she explains on account of being told exactly what and how to sing. “The blues and rock, we do just fit a lot better. It clicked more than musical theatre; it was just a lot more natural.”
Rivera, a recent LBHS graduate, plans to attend Saddleback and Orange Coast College, making use of a three-part scholarship from the Festival of Arts for music, dancing, and writing. Though she intends to focus on music, she explains, dancing will polish her stage presence as a musical performer as well.
Farthing knew from the get-go that they were on to something. Initially calling themselves Rusty Wooden Pistol before settling on The Budrows (a friend of Farthing’s personal slang for buddy), Farthing and Rivera honed their craft, wrote songs together, and played shows around Orange County for two years, over which time they began to build a fan base. A particular fan, multi-instrumentalist Jesse Boden was instantly enamored with the group’s sound.
After breaking out the harmonica in a casual jam session with Farthing, Boden was recruited to join the band. “A light bulb went off,” Farthing recalls, explaining he had always heard accompanying harmonica in his head.
Boden, who also plays flute, was the missing ingredient that made The Budrows’ sound gel. Their signature sound draws on obvious blues elements thanks to the cigar box guitar, but also rock and punk intonations that add an edge. But the band’s power comes from its driving rhythm. “There’s just constant foot stomping so I call it 100% foot stompin’ cigar-box rock ‘n’ roll,’” says Farthing.
Since 2010, the three-member band has twice toured Northern California and in March played in Austin, Tex., at the renowned South By Southwest Festival, performing six shows in four days.
Farthing continues to make custom cigar box guitars as art pieces, as he is routinely contracted for guitars and the portraitures he paints on them.
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