Inspiration » Archive

A little over one year ago, Carrie and I went to Joshua Tree to stay at the Joshua Tree Inn and see the place that Gram Parsons found so inspirational. While visiting Pioneertown, we met Eric Bevel, who, as it turns out, does some amazing woodworking. Somehow we started talking about musical instruments, and he showed me a really nice bass he had made. I casually talked to him about having him make me an instrument and got a business card, but it took me awhile to email him about making me something.

I’d been wanting to start playing octave mandolin; I’ve always enjoyed the sound, and I often found myself wishing my mandolin had a lower range. Having a fairly uncommon instrument I’d never played custom-made seemed like a great fit, so I contacted Eric about the project. He was excited and willing to take it on, even never having built an octave mandolin before. Since I’d been impressed by his work, I wanted to give him as much freedom with the design as possible. I gave him my feedback on body style, color, some of those things, and even those elements came out strikingly original.

We were in communication throughout the whole project (I got to see a lot of neat in-progress pictures, and since then have seen a bunch more), and we met at Kelso Depot in California for the exchange, in the middle of the desert, old time Vegas style. It was so exciting to play this instrument for the first time. Even being outside it sounded amazing (better than the fancy acoustic rooms in certain bigtime music retailers), and even after seeing all of the pictures I wasn’t prepared for the beauty of the instrument, and I’m still marvelling over all of the unique handmade touches. I just can’t believe people can do such amazing things with their hands. Most of my other instruments are factory made, and they still sound nice, but meeting the person who made this instrument, seeing all of this hand-crafted detail, hearing the difference in the sound of the wood, and knowing where pretty much every piece of it came from is something entirely different.

I plan on incorporating a good amount of octave mandolin into my new songs, so stay tuned! (Pun definitely intended.) For now, here is a little song I wrote on the octave mandolin. At different points, this song includes guitar and regular mandolin; I wanted to play around and see how it sounded with these instruments. Expect some more elaborate arrangements in the future. It’s going to be like a hootenanny up in here.

Also, if you think Eric Bevel’s work is absolutely amazing, unique, and beautifully crafted (which you should) and you want to talk to him about making you something, I bet he’d love it if you email him.

Two happy campers.

Ever since Carrie and I first talked about moving to Las Vegas, I’ve been excited about being so close to the Joshua Tree National Monument. I know it’s a unique area full of natural wonder, but the real reason I always wanted to go is that is was the site of Gram Parsons’s cremation.

At some point, Carrie discovered the Joshua Tree Inn; Gram Parsons not only had a dedicated room, but it was also the room in which he died. For my birthday, she reserved us that room and planned a weekend trip out there. It’s an amazing place; still the desert, but different than the desert we’re used to: Joshua Trees with crazy arms growing in wild directions, rocks that look like skulls, and the most threatening cacti I’ve seen.

After telling a visitors center employee our reason for the trip, he drew us a map to Gram’s cremation site. I hadn’t planned on being able to visit it, so this was incredibly exciting to me. We stopped throughout the park for short walks and pictures; after passing it a couple times we found Cap Rock, the site of Gram’s cremation. It was quite an experience being there; the messages in the rock had been recently sand-blasted into oblivion and the altar was moved to the Joshua Tree Inn, but just being there was amazing. As the nice visitors center guy said, it was the perfect spot to set a body on fire and keep it out of the wind.

(Let’s take a moment, recognize this may be considered slightly morbid, and move on.)

The innkeeper, Marsu, was incredibly nice and had all kinds of information about the area and the things we should see; we went to Pioneertown, which looked exactly like you’d imagine, and met some nice people who did amazing woodwork and small crafts. We saw a fantastic San Diego-based alt-country band called Sara Petite and the Sugar Daddies at Pappy and Harriet’s, the last of the great pioneertown bars, with great food and iced tea in mason jars.

Gram’s room was kept as I’d picture it in the 1970s, while decorated with Gram Parsons posters, relevant newspaper articles, a string of white Christmas lights, and an amazingly enormous guestbook. The door to the back patio was “gold-plated,” just like the door in The Flying Burrito Brothers’ “Sin City.” The altar from Cap Rock had been relocated a few steps outside our room, and it was nice to see it every time we opened the door.

I wish I had a cool ghost story to go along with this.

Zach at Cap Rock

Gram's Altar

Gram’s Altar at the Joshua Tree Inn

Gold-Plated Door

“A gold-plated door won’t keep out the lord’s burning rain.”


Carrie and I saw Jenny and Johnny perform at The Cosmopolitan, the newest of the Strip casinos. They seem to be doing a good job of getting great indie performers there, so I hope they can keep it up. Although I know Jenny is the object of many a boy crush (disclaimer: when I saw her in El Paso, TX, close to ten years ago, she was very nice and gave me a big hug), she is one of my biggest influences and inspirations as a writer.

The show was pretty casual, and not many people were talking to to the band before they played, so Carrie and I decided to say hello. Carrie told Jenny that I was her biggest fan, then took a picture of us together. I never know if this is a good thing to tell someone; I told her that she probably gets this all the time, but she is one of my biggest influences. She said she never gets that, and seemed very moved that I had told her. So I was glad I shared.

Their performance was absolutely fantastic. Jenny and Johnny are both passionate and obviously committed (no reference intended, unless you caught it; good job!) to delivering a stellar show, even to an open casino area of non-ticketed fans and passers-by.

Oh, a few minutes after we talked to her, after some indecision and discussion, I rushed over and gave her one of my newly printed business cards and said something like “If you ever need an opening act in Vegas, let me know.” What’s the harm, right? At worst she won’t look me up or will misplace the card (although she did put it in her jacket pocket), and at best she’ll listen to songs like “some cliches,” “like a pirate’s hat,” and “if i left the stove on,” realize how profoundly she’s influenced me, and want to cover my songs and/or produce an album, possibly taking Carrie, the dogs, and me on tour with her and Johnny. No pressure, Jenny.
Jenny and Johnny

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