What: Glenn Kaiser, Tuck Foster and the Mossrites
When: 7 p.m. March 23
Where: Leavenworth Festhalle
Information: 548-6280, leavenworthyounglife.eventbrite.com
Glenn Kaiser went searching for the root of Delta blues and what he found was some baling wire and a couple of tenpenny nails. It was the earliest of blues guitars, called a diddley bow, first built on the sides of barns.
“When people had nothing else, they stick a couple of tenpenny nails, one six inches off the ground and the other as high as they could, and took a hunk of baling wire and tied it,” Kaiser said. “You could move a rock or piece of glass up and down the wire, or pluck it with your fingers or a turkey feather or whatever.”
Kaiser started building his own out of a tin box and piece of wood. After 40-plus years of playing the blues in inner-city Chicago, his newly discovered craft would eventually change the way Kaiser thought about music. He made instruments from cigar boxes, old coffee cans and weed-whacker wire. He began writing songs for two- or three-stringed guitars instead of six.
“People think you have to have a whole lot of money to play music,” Kaiser said. “The sound and the soul is really in you — your heart, your head and in your hands. I’ve heard guitarists sound brilliant on the worst possible gear.”
Kaiser will bring a few of his homemade guitars, and a few traditional guitars as well, to the Leavenworth Festhalle March 23 at a benefit show for Leavenworth Young Life, a Christian youth group. He plans to play some blues covers and his solo hits, like “Crossroads” and “Laid My Burdens Down.” The 60-year-old will then plug in for an electric blues jam with Yakima’s Tuck Foster and the Mossrites.
Kaiser is known as a Christian bluesman who fuses a raw Delta sound with lyrics that speak of social justice and the Gospel. He was the founding member of the Resurrection Band, one of the first Christian hard rock bands, that played together from the ’70s to 2000. Between Kaiser’s solo work and releases with the Rez, as they’re called, he’s released nearly 40 albums in as many years.
In his latest studio album, “Cardboard Box,” he played a mix of cigar-box guitar songs and traditional blues to show the everyday lives of poor and homeless people through songs like “Unemployment Blues” and “Urban Hobo.” He dedicated 70 percent of the profits to the Cornerstone Community Outreach, a 480-bed shelter in Chicago.
“It was a huge success, but of course it’s a difficult album to listen to,” Kaiser said. “I’m talking about people that others don’t want to sit next to on Sunday morning. People who are rarely offered a job by anybody.”
Kaiser wrote most of the songs in first person, inspired in part by his own history and partly from observations in his neighborhood and outreach work.
“I don’t want pity
Just a place to lay my head
Cold can be a killer
Sometimes heat is just as bad”
Kaiser lives in Uptown Chicago, a neighborhood known for high poverty and crime rates. He lives on the second floor of an apartment building he shares with low-income seniors. Down the road, scores of people sleep under viaducts while shelters and aid groups face growing demands and shrinking budgets.
“A lot of people have this romantic idea of loving the poor, until they move in next door and their property value goes down,” Kaiser said. “Part of (‘Cardboard Box’) is a wake-up call to stop making these self-centered petty judgments. These are humans with names and faces and lots of reasons they end up in the street.”
He draws inspiration from his childhood in central Wisconsin, where his family scraped by for years through welfare, bartering and hunting. His father was the manager of the largest trucking company in the nation, then quit to spend more time with his family, Kaiser said. He started a new business, but was left empty handed when his business partner disappeared with the money a year later. His father’s health soon declined and his parents divorced, sending his family into a tailspin.
“He did the right things and for the right reasons, and lost everything,” Kaiser said. “I know firsthand that it’s not always a matter of choice or fault or lazy living. Often, there’s just a lot of issues that pile up.”
Kaiser learned to play guitar in his early teens and fronted more than a dozen bands before discovering his faith at age 18. At the time, Christianity helped him clean up after years of drug and alcohol abuse, he said.
Since then, he’s toured the world with the Resurrection band and as a solo performer. He’s working on three more albums, one of which is dedicated to cigar-box guitars. He also teaches workshops on how to build and play instruments from recycled materials.
“I’m always tossing little grenades here and there — love bombs,” Kaiser said. “It’s like I tell the people at church, it’s called the Book of Acts, not Book of Ideas.”
Rachel Hansen: 664-7139