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14 December 2012

Don't Take Life 2 Serious (2012)

Not long ago I joined Cigar Box Nation. For the uninitiated: CBN is a worldwide network of people who specialise in building their own musical instruments. As the name suggests, there’s a heavy focus on instruments made from old cigar boxes, but as I've discovered, there is actually a lot more going on than just this. It’s just as well really, because I haven’t actually built a cigar box uke myself!

When life gives you blind lemons... play, play the Blues...

To be honest, I still feel like a bit of an impostor, but in my defence: Daniel Hulbert said it would be okay to join. Would it help if I said that I am considering building a "KingBoxer?"

It's early days, but I've already met some very talented and knowledgeable people on Cigar Box. One of these fine individuals is a gentleman who goes by the name 407Bug. We hooked up pretty early on in my CBN career and little by little I've been getting to know what makes Bug tick.

Bug's take on the Sharkfin Ukulele design

There have been a couple of happy coincidences since I ran into Bug. Having shown him my Sharkfin ukulele build, he was quick to reveal his own fantastic travel uke which he's nicknamed the “Bugweisser”. Get this... the Bugweisser has a built-in horn! (picture below) Yes I know... What a crazy idea! A week or so after seeing the Bugweisser, I came across a strange picture on the internet of what looked like a guitar with a horn and I shared it with Bug. Well, lo and behold if he hasn't made a three-stringed one of these too! Ha ha! Having tracked back through Bug's extensive photo collection I think I have discovered his inspiration... the “Stroh”...

Anyone else got the Horn?

Stroh instruments had their heyday in the early 1900s. They were the brainchild of John Matthias Augustus Stroh, an Austrian electrical engineer, and all featured a distinctive phonograph horn. There were Stroh cellos, mandolins and guitars, but it all started with the Stroh violin. Of course this was also the heyday of the Phonograph so it’s perhaps not that surprising to learn that someone put the two together. I think I'm right in saying that they were a popular choice in recording studios due to their louder, directable sound. The advent of electric microphones was most likely their death knell. According to the Stroll marketeers... "Its use in large and small orchestras has been attended with complete success". But they were bound to say that weren't they ;-)

Dr Death and a handful of guitars...

One of the first things that caught my eye with Bug was his distinctive rough, colourful artistic style. It is obvious that he enjoys blurring the edges and being unconventional. It is also obvious that he loves instruments and building them. When he combines the two, the result is quite special. Check out the snatch of prototype doodles below. You know that this is exactly the sort of thing I love! I've got my beady eye on that Flying Teapot Guitar...

Top Secret! Bug's Prototype Designs

As if designing and building instruments wasn't enough, Bug also plays them. The first song I heard by Bug was a tune called "I need a faster way to earn a living baby". It's an original song with crunching stan blues tambourine banjo and over-driven vocals. To my mind it's a musical version of the artwork you can see dotted about this post. I was instantly hooked. Here's the video...

Bug's back catalogue is huge. He has videos aplenty... and an album is available for you to download. It's called "Don't Take Life 2 Serious" and comprises 41 songs. I won't try to review each song, but I will give you a general overview of what you can expect to find inside this little bundle.

First off, I'll say that 99% of this album sits firmly in the Blues camp. Bug calls it "Flying Bugman Nuevo Bluezzz." I'd go along with that. I wouldn't say that I listen to a lot of Blues, or that I'm an expert, but I do know that Cliff Richard invented it... or at least that's what Rik Mayall said in the early 80s. :-)

Cliff Richard & The Young Ones - Living Doll

There are various flavours of Blues from the Delta-like "Tell Me, Tell Me" to grungier R&B numbers like "I am a Pilgrim" and "Russian Pisspot Blues". For the most part what you get to hear is Bug playing over a drum track on one or more of his various homegrown instruments. I'm a big fan of the slide and there are a couple of collaborations too which add a new twist to proceedings. I liked the mix of heavy over-driven numbers interspersed with more acoustic spells of tranquility. My favourite tune of the whole album is the haunting "Six Gun" which has a drifting almost spiritual lilt. Here we have Bug and partner in crime Silent Jim reworking "I Fought the Law", a song that was given a new life in the late 70s by the Clash. This version is every bit as good for completely different reasons.

Don't Take Life 2 Serious - 407Bug

I asked Bug what music he listens to and he told me: "anything with guitars and people who can sing..." You've got to love his no-nonsense attitude. His favourite song on the album is "Don't Take Life 2 Serious". "written in 10 mins... and kinda says it all.." Ha ha...

I don't know if Bug will agree with me on this, but I think he has the sound of Eric Clapton to his voice. Fantastic! And that's all I'm going to tell you on the music. Go and download it and listen for yourself! What I will say is that there is a very strong possibility of a King Uke/Bug collaboration in the near future. Watch this space!


  1. Many thanks for your kind words
    and very well written piece.

    Its also my first ever review!

    Many Thanks

  2. Great post King...I'll be back to listen to "Don't Take Life 2 Serious".
    What I've heard sounds pretty good to me.

  3. After reading the book "Babylon" and hearing the author of the book Stephen Sewell is going to turn it into a movie,I couldn't help thinking what a great song
    "I Need a Faster Way to Earn a Living Baby"
    would be for the opening shots of a movie like this.