Bourbon & Blues

In 2020, I got my biggest opportunity as a guitar builder to show my work to a much broader audience. During the COVID19 pandemic, I was at Whiskey Cake, picking up one of their quarantine kits and asked them if they had any of the boxes that some of the higher end whiskeys are sold in. By sheer luck, the manager comes out with 2 Garrison Brothers Cowboy Bourbon boxes. This began a fantastic partnership with Garrison Brothers, but that’s another story. The partnership with GB also lead me down the rabbit hole, and into the wonderous world of whiskey; bourbon in particular. My knowledge of bourbon to that point was limited. I knew the 3 basic rules of bourbon, it had to made of 51% corn, aged in a new charred oak barrel, and made in America; other than that, I didn’t know much. As I tried several of the Garrison Brothers’ selections, I was amazed at how different each one was. When I tasted the GB side by side with other brands, it blew my mind that these were all bourbon, but had immense differences in color, complexity, alcohol content….all of it was so different. As I tried new bourbons and developed my palette, I started to realize that bourbon shares many of the same qualities and characteristics as the blues; drawing on influences from the region, the weather, the raw materials, and the distiller’s experiences. All of this produces a final product that paints a picture of who the distiller is and what is their story (just like the blues).

I love a good story, which is what the blues is all about, and it was the origin story of cigar box guitars that really drew me in. Since cigar box guitars are most commonly played by blues musicians (but can be played for any genre), I started listening to a lot more blues, classic rock, and more bluesy artists than I had previously. When I first started really listening to the blues, I thought it was all very similar, same note patterns, note progressions, timing ,etc. The more I listened though, the more I realized I was wrong…..REALLY wrong. The blues sound simple, but each artist puts their own spin on it. While the most common form is the 12 bar blues, there is an 8 bar blues, 9 bar, 16 bar blues. Then you have regional styles, Delta Blues, Chicago Blues, St. Louis Blues, and the list goes on. As my repertoire of classic and modern blues musicians grew, I had the light bulb moment and realized that bourbon and blues, in some ways, are the same. Each musician draws on their own experiences, the successes, their tragedies, their loves, their losses, and everything that makes them unique. Their music tells their story …. And it’s different from any other.

Bourbon and blues have paired together since their creation. Both are used to celebrate the good times, get through the tough times, remember the past, and everything in between. Both are unapologetically American and have influenced global culture in ways unfathomable by the pioneers of each. The blues became the foundation of most of the music we hear today. Without the blues we wouldn’t have The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Bob Segar, The Eagles, The Beach Boys, Van Halen, Aerosmith, ZZ Top, Steve Vai, Queen, Billy Joel, and the list goes on. The connection between musicians and whiskey is undeniable. Today, numerous celebrities and musicians have moved into the distilled spirits realm. The list includes Willie Nelson (Old Whiskey River), Metallica (Blackened), Bob Dylan (Heaven’s Door), Florida Georgia Line (Old Camp Peach Pecan Whiskey), Darius Rucker (Backstage Southern Whiskey), Matthew McConaughey (Longbranch Bourbon), and Jamie Foxx (Brown Sugar Bourbon)…….just to name a few.

The story goes that Robert Johnson met the devil at the crossroads and sold his soul to become the best blues guitarist the world has ever seen. If it’s true, I bet they sealed the deal with a pour of great bourbon.


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