Guest Post by Zac Childs — The making of the Mud on the Tires album was a bit of a grueling process. Brad was under the gun to turn in a record to Arista, and we were in the middle of heavy touring. So we recorded during the week and toured on the weekends. In the midst of this, we performed at the CMA Awards, where Brad used the Crook charcoal paisley to perform his summer hit, “I’m Gonna Miss Her.” While recording the “Mud” album, my only breaks were mainly when Brad recorded vocals or did media interviews. One such break will always stay with me.
Mud On the Guitar
One morning when I had the guitars strung up and the amps idling in the studio, Brad said to bring the Crook maroon paisley to a photo shoot for the cover of the new album. I slipped the guitar in a gig bag, drove to an industrial area of West Nashville and saw a bulldozer pushing mud around.
As I got out of my car, a prop master asked me for the guitar and then proceeded to sit down with a bucket of mud and began splattering mud on the guitar! I started to freak out, and Brad started laughing. He knew the plan all along but also knew I would not have approved of the procedure if he told me in advance. Brad then put on an all-white outfit, got a similar mud splattering, sat down with the guitar in the mud, and the photographer started clicking away.
After Brad changed clothes a couple of times and they used some different backgrounds, the prop master nonchalantly handed the mud-caked guitar back to me. I tried to get some of it off gently, but the mud was not budging, so I did the only sensible thing. I grabbed a hose and sprayed the guitar down. After finally getting all the mud off, I had to disassemble the guitar, dry it out, lightly oil the metal parts, and spray DeOxit in the controls. Thankfully, the guitar was fine, and due to Bill’s meticulous application of his durable catalyzed finish, the paint didn’t crack or blister. The guitar went on to be part of many other adventures until it was placed in an exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame.
We toured with Brooks and Dunn in the summer of 2003, and it was 40 dates of hurry up and wait. As the summer ended, we began doing our own shows and made a trip to Japan to be a part of a country music festival there. I flew with the maroon paisley, and guitarist Garry Hooker took his Crook orange paisley T-style. Gary simply took the neck off of his guitar and packed it in his suitcase. Due to the metal neck inserts Bill uses, it made it quite easy to take the guitar apart and know it would go back together accurately for the performance. The gig was a fun one, and I admit I was tempted to follow suit with Gary, but I ended up carrying Brad’s paisley on the plane for the long flight back to Nashville.
As summer moved to fall, it was time for the next CMA awards show. Brad and Bill and I had been talking about a new Crook paisley to introduce for the yearly event. This one would pay tribute to one of Brad’s biggest influences and friends, Buck Owens. If you have read Brad’s autobiography, you know that he used to dance around the room as a youngster while listening to “Tiger by the Tail.” Additionally, Brad and I, along with his drummer Ben and/or his bassist Kenny Lewis used to fly to Bakersfield every New Year’s Eve to play with Buck.
With that association, we decided a mix of paisley and Buck was in order. After much back-and-forth between Bill and Brad, they decided on a paisley print as a nod to Brad and a silver sparkle background with black binding to give tribute to the classic 60’s era guitars used by Buck and the Buckaroos. The Buckocaster was born.
Brad kept the same neck profile he had become comfortable with but was looking to step out on his sound a bit to a classic 60’s twang as opposed to his thick midrange sound. Bill decided to use Peter Florance’s Voodoo TE-60 pickup, and Peter tweaked it a bit to get closer to the sound Brad wanted. That was the first of Brad’s guitars to have this pickup, and he continued using them for several more years.
Another Brad first was Bill’s use of mismatched saddle material to get more snap out of the guitar’s bass notes. Bill had been experimenting with aircraft aluminum tonality on bass strings but couldn’t find anyone who was making saddles out of the material. He worked with his bender maker, Charlie McVay, to handcraft an aircraft aluminum saddle for the low E and A strings. The set was completed with an aircraft aluminum McVey bender and a brass saddle for the high E and B. These days you can buy aircraft aluminum saddles from many places, but Bill was a pioneer in developing them and using them in guitars.
Bill hurried to finish the guitar, and two days before the CMAs, we met halfway between his shop and Nashville in the parking lot of a hibachi grill restaurant. The next day was the soundcheck rehearsal and I tuned it up, handed it to Brad and out on stage it went. Since the lead single off the new album was “Celebrity,” Brad and band performed the song the night of the awards show, and the Buckocaster made its debut.
What I didn’t know was that Brad had asked Bill to build a second one that was to be given to Buck at our next New Year’s Eve gig. As 2003 came to a close, we flew out to Bakersfield with two Buckocasters in hand. I was very fortunate to be there when Brad presented the guitar to Buck. He was very overwhelmed by the tribute and immediately handed the guitar to one of his assistants to have it strung with his very heavy gauge strings that he preferred. I got to be part of the mayhem, and it was a great thrill to get to play with Buck and his new shiny guitar as I played my Crook Dakota Red T-style. It was the perfect way to end a very good year.
Zac Childs is a columnist and regular contributor to Vintage Guitar Magazine, and is currently the Director of Distributor Sales for Visual Sound. He is a 1996 graduate of Belmont University, and also studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, France. As a guitar tech, Zac worked with Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, and as a performer with Vince Gill, Buck Owens, Hank Thompson, Alison Krauss, and Chris Hillman. He is also a 2013 inductee into the Country Music Association of Texas Hall Of Fame.