Michael Kollwitz

Tom Waits had my Stick® for 5️⃣ years!

TRUE STORY: In 1989, Emmett Chapman made me a 10 string custom Stick® from a single piece of exotic orange tarara wood from South America. It’s a special one with frets all the way to the top (!!!) and lavender colored finger dots. A one-of-a-kind and a real beauty, for sure. I played the heck out of it for many years and it was the main instrument for my very first recordings. Fast forward to 1998: I was in Reno, Nevada and needed to move back to California but my car couldn’t meet the ridiculously stringent smog rules without costly modifications that pretty much matched the car’s value. Hmm. What to do?

A old friend in CA had an extra car that already passed smog and was registered in CA. He offered to sell it to me but I was short of cash so he accepted my custom Stick as collateral with the understanding that I’d buy it back as soon as I could. Less than a year later, I called to tell him I had the cash. At some point he needed cash so he had sold it to the famous musician Tom Waits, whom he had built a swimming pool for in a remote area of Sonoma County. As you can imagine, I was just a wee bit miffed.

Word has it that Tom Waits gave it a month or less and felt it wasn’t worth the effort to learn so he sent my Stick to the upper level of his barn along with lots of other equipment and instruments he had no immediate use for. And there it sat for 5 years, collecting dust. For years I begged my friend to contact Waits with an offer to buy it back. According to my friend, Waits is highly eccentric and not easy to deal with. My friend was too scared to even ask. In late 2003, he finally got up the nerve to pass along my offer. Waits accepted but had “conditions”: in no way would I be allowed to meet him nor would I be allowed to speak to him. Period.

I was instructed to be at the phone booth in front of the Whole Foods Market in Guerneville, CA at exactly 10:00 am on a certain date and I would receive a call with further instructions. I drove from Sacramento and arrived with minutes to spare. Sure enough, the payphone rang at precisely 10:00 am and I was given driving instructions to an old-time General Store in the middle of nowhere. Just as I arrived, an older Volvo station wagon pulled up and a 20-something female got out and handed me the instrument and I handed her an envelope with the cash. Few, if any, words were spoken. It felt like a bad spy movie but I had my beloved instrument back.

Five years in a barn and the foam in the case had turned into a crumbly mess but the instrument was in great shape. I took it home, blew off the foam particles, slapped on a new set of strings and made a few adjustments to the truss rod and ~viola~ it was as Good As New. I still play that instrument to this day… and… I never met nor spoke to Tom Waits. Exactly as he wanted. Definitely, one of the most *interesting* transactions I’ve ever been a party to. Thanks for reading…

I recently lowered the prices of 20 of my CDs and I’m also offering a 15% discount off of anything in my store. Take a look and see if there’s something you’d like. Use the coupon 15OFF when you check out and it will be automatically deducted. Plus, shipping is only one cent! Thanks, as always, for your support of my peaceful music on The Chapman Stick.

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