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Catfish Journal
Issue #2, March 15, 2005


David Rawlings and Catfish at MerlefestAlright! As the days get longer and brighter, more and more is cooking here at the ranch.

I'm now offering private guitar lessons and workshops based here, both out of our home and in or near Iowa City, and occasionally as part of a concert tour. For many years I wanted to just perform concerts, but as time marches on there seems to be more and more demand for blues and roots guitar knowledge, and I've really enjoyed passing on the "secrets of the ancients," or, how to play my style of solo slide and fingerpicking country blues guitar.

When I started learning this music back in the mid 1970's there was very little to go on; I would listen to what scratchy old records I could dig up from the 1920's through the 1960's until the sounds were hard-wired into my head and fingers, and attempt to make my own sounds out of that. At that time in Davenport, Iowa, (and as a little kid in East Chicago) where I grew up, I had no one to study with or take lessons in the style I wanted to learn, so I taught myself mostly by ear. The result was that I developed my own style, and that is what I try to encourage when I teach guitar.

Getting the right instruments in those days was a challenge, too. I started out at first on one of those Stella Harmony plywood guitars (sunburst with painted-on white binding), which Santa brought me at Christmas when I was 12 years old (why he was wearing my Dad's wading boots I'll never know). It was OK to start out, but the excruciating pain of the F chord, and the fact that you could fit a baloney sandwich between the strings and the neck made me yearn for something better.

Garrett with 50 pound catfish! Ugh...Eventually, as I got more heavily into the delta blues of Son House, Bukka White and Fred MacDowell, I craved a National steel-bodied guitar. When I was eighteen years old I finally found one, from 1930, which I purchased mail order, sight-unseen based on the guitar being played over the phone! When it arrived, I was stunned by it's shining, exotic beauty and fantastic holy-grail tone. It was a great guitar that I toured and recorded with for many years, and it survived quite a bit of abuse, including a drop in the ocean.

Around the same time, in the early 1980's, I was hanging out a good bit of the time in Iowa City, where there was a group of great folk and blues-based musicians that were into 20's and 30's vintage guitars. Dave Moore, Greg Brown, Ron Hillis and Chris Frank all had beautiful old Gibsons, Chuck Henderson played a tiny 30's Martin parlor guitar, Bill Cagley, Al Murphy, Guy Drollinger, Cam Waters and Nathan Bell all had big old Martin Dreadnoughts. Joe Price played a National Tricone and Bo Ramsey had a bunch of Silvertones and other weird oddball old electric guitars.

I hankered for that real, focused, snappy, deep sound, especially with heroes like Blind Blake, John Hurt and Mance Lipscomb. Greg Brown's Nick Lucas Special really barked and twanged so sweetly, and Chris Frank had one too and wanted to sell it. I had to have it, and with some fancy borrowing and dickering bought his Nick Lucas. Greg thought it was a "dog" of a guitar, until he played it about a year later...the guitar that at first was dull and unresponsive really opened up with my daily regimen of string-torturing.

These two great vintage guitars really were what I developed my style on. I toured, gigged and recorded with them constantly, until the 1930 National was almost rusted completely through (shouldn't have dropped it in the briny drink), and the finish on the top of the 1920's Nick Lucas was down to the bare wood. I eventually replaced both of these guitars with new, vintage-style guitars.

My favorite guitars for the last several years are the new Nationals from National Reso-Phonic Guitars in California (I have several different models) and a hand-built small-bodied parlor-sized beaut from British luthier Tony Revell that he christened the Catfish Keith Model.  The advantages of new vintage-style guitars are many, and in a lot of cases you'll end up with a better guitar with a lifetime of fun ahead of it instead of a crotchety old relic. I wish these were available when I first started out!

If you are interested in private guitar lessons or workshops and/or in purchasing a new National or Tony Revell guitar please email or call us at 319-338-3614, I'd be tickled to help.

"She's only zero years old!"Coming soon will be gigs in the midwest as well as a handful of East Coast gigs. I'll be making my debut at Makor on Monday, May 2nd in New York City, and will be doing an intensive three-hour guitar workshop at Woody Mann & Trevor Lawrence's Acoustic Sessions in NYC on Sunday, May 1st. Woody Mann is a truly gifted guitar hero of mine from the early days and a fantastic fellow. Trevor (a fine fingerstyle guitarist in his own right) and Woody as well as National guitar icon Bob Brozman are the founding fathers of IGS, or International Guitar Seminars held each year both in New York and California. This is the world's top blues and roots-based instructional guitar week, and well worth checking out. They also have an online forum. Also I'll be returning to Godfrey Daniels on Friday, April 29th in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

The gigs are coming in fast and furious for the big UK tour in October and November, 2005 and will be posted soon. This tour is one of the big highlights of the year for me and Penny and we can't wait to come back, and hope to add some self-produced guitar workshops to the two months of concert dates.

I kind of miss that thrill of centrifugal force whilst going through roundabouts...I know, I have a roundabout fixation, I can't help myself. Doggone things...Watch this space for more tour details in the coming months. If you have a venue or are a concert promotor in England, Scotland or Wales, or anywhere in Europe, please do email or call for available dates.


yours truly,     Catfish & Penny

Catfish Journal Archive:
This is Catfish Keith's personal newsletter first published in February 2005.
Fish Tail Newsletter Archive:
This is a magazine-style newsletter started when this website was first lauched in 1998.
                                                                                  

 Home Page

New! Catfish Journal

Bio & Press

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Pickin' with Catfish

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catfishkeith.com - String-Twanging Home of Catfish Keith