Typically, I get inspired by stories that I can relate to, stories that I can picture myself in. In the case of the song, “The Wood Wouldn’t Burn,” it was quite the opposite.
In 2006, I was playing at Cicada Fest, a little folk festival up in Ontario, Canada put on by my friend and fellow songwriter, Roger Marin. One evening, we were all over at Roger’s house and I spotted this old guitar leaning up against his couch. Roger has some beautiful guitars, but this one was in really bad shape. It had obviously been in a fire. The finish on it was blistered and peeling, the neck was warped and there were a couple tuning pegs that were missing.
When I asked Roger about it, he said that he used to have a fan who would come to every show, go up to Roger and say, “Roger, man, I love your music. I have this great, old Gibson guitar that you would sound awesome on!” Roger told me he thought the guy was just being gracious. Musicians often get the “my uncle has a pristine Les Paul under his bed” banter from fans and it’s just a part of the conversation that connects musicians to their audiences.
Some time went by and Roger didn’t see the man at his shows. Then one evening, a woman went up to Roger, handed him a burned-up Gibson guitar and told him, “You know, my husband was a huge fan of your music and he always wanted to hear you play this guitar. He died last year and now I’m getting his belongings where they belong.”
As I said in the beginning, I can’t imagine being this woman who was honoring her husband’s wish by letting go of the souvenirs of his life after he was gone. I know how tightly I would cling to the artifacts of a long marriage. This song is my attempt at telling a story that I almost can’t imagine. All of it is true; except I found out later that I might have gotten the year wrong on the guitar (it was 1963-66 instead of ’52). When I went back and played Cicada Fest in 2009, I got to perform this song on that very guitar.
“The Wood Wouldn’t Burn” My old man had a dying wish Bought it with his bones and flesh That you should have this old guitar We pulled it out of the fire
He always liked the way you played He knew the sacrifice you made To leave your family for the lonely road And send the money that you made back home
It was a 1952 Gibson FlatTop Blisters on the neck and ashes on the headstock Held together with some rusty wire The wood wouldn’t burn in the fire No, that wood wouldn’t burn in the fire
My old man didn’t play that much He let the strings get rusty when he lost his touch So down in the basement it went With the baby books and Christmas ornaments
The fire started on the ground floor Took my husband and my son before It crept down the basement stairs Then I guess it just ran out of air
He was a regular at all of your shows He knew your daddy and he watched you grow Into the man that you are today How I wish that he could hear you play
So sing about him in your sad, sad songs Play your hot licks and let him sing along And when the crowd wants a little more, Bring him out for an encore
by Susan Gibson
Susan, an established singer/songwriter musician, wrote the hit song "Wide Open Spaces." Check out Susan's new CD, TightRope, at susangibson.com