Kansas City is brimming with blues culture. From it’s many authentic blues joints and the nightly live blues, to the National Jazz Museum on the historic 18th and Vine, Kansas City is a destination for the Blues. While KC’s star has rapidly risen for it’s music makers in recent years, one creative family is leading the charge in creating the down home tools that have helped define the blues since it’s birth over 100 years ago.
Stogie Box Blues is a family of four skilled cigar box guitar and amplifier makers. “Papa T” Monty and “Stogie Box” Steve are a father-son duo who work independently and with one another to create three and four string guitars and amps. Cousin Dennis, aka Whiskers, also crafts roots instruments, and Uncle Lyle builds the one and two stringed versions of the folk guitars.
As a way to enjoy each other’s company as a family while selling their “functional art”, the boys hit the road together on the blues circuit, selling their unique instruments out of an RV at blues festivals across the midwest. Don’t worry if you’re not in the area though; their website is fully stocked, many with free shipping.
It is a fitting homage that the family chose to focus on blues festivals: the idea was hatched at the famous King Biscuit Festival two years ago, a reunion the boys will be re-visiting as vendors when the festival again rolls through the delta on October 4th- 6th, this year part of the inaugural Bridging the Blues event. “I became fascinated with a cigar box guitar that I saw a fellow playing on the street [at King Biscuit],” says Dennis. Stogie Box Steve elaborates. “About a month after we returned home from the festival, we received a call from Whiskers (Dennis) and he had already finished making a CBG. Once we all saw the finished product, the ‘fever’ set in, and I guess you could say the rest is history.”
The guitars, lined up beside one another at festivals, each with it’s own unique look, feel, design and colors, are an impressive lot. Uncle Lyle “makes one and two string Diddley Bows primarily from repurposed barn wood,” says Steve. Most bluesmen, from Buddy Guy to B.B. King and Lonnie Pitchford have often fondly recalled their “diddley bows”. Stogie Box’s finished product is as close to a representation of the original instruments as any — “found materials” make up the bulk of the folk-friendly guitars.
“The best part of making one of these CBG’s,” says Dennis, a touch of love for his craft obviously in his voice, “is hearing that first note after it is strung up for the first time!” The family’s hobby/profession is perhaps more fate than accident, being musically inclined and all sharing a love of the blues made the building of their prized instruments a natural fit. “The Diddley Bow is fun and easy to play,” Steve proclaims, “and also pays homage to the original lovers of the blues. We all share a love of music and the blues scene was a natural fit for us.”
The crew manages to spend time together at several festivals throughout the year, though Christmas reunions at the Stogie Box household must be a sight (and sound) to experience.