Thursday, October 28, 2010

Strung Out: The Story of Bob Benedetto

CH2, November 2010

Tucked into a non-descript warehouse, on the south side of Savannah, sits Benedetto Guitars. Wood dust, the scent of varnish, and the strains of string guitar waft into the air. Artisans work diligently on the next masterpiece. And Benedetto President Howard Paul is just wrapping up a more than two hour tour (and a phenomenal education on the history of the jazz guitar) when he nonchalantly quips, “Hey Bob, we’re coming through …”

After a collective gasp and sideways glances, among the C2 team, we realized that we were standing in the same room as master luthier Bob Benedetto. The legend to whom Paul had been referring for hours.

Admittedly, I didn’t ask the question, “Is Bob here?” I wrongly assumed he wouldn’t be toiling in the factory with the rest of his team. But, there he was, head tucked, hands in motion as he slowly sculpted a small body acoustic archtop from a piece of Sitka spruce, salvaged from a salt water bay, where a mollusk had his way with the wood, creating a stunning gift from nature.

But the story begins long before that. Decades before, in fact.

Born into a family of artists, cabinet makers and musicians (his grandfather made the legs on Steinway pianos), Benedetto made his first archtop guitar in 1968, with tools passed down from his grandfather and others that he made himself.

His reputation grew as he crafted guitars for noted players Bucky Pizzarelli, Chuck Wayne, Joe Diorio and Cal Collins. Later he added Johnny Smith, Jack Wilkins, Ron Eschete, Martin Taylor, Howard Alden, John Pizzarelli, Andy Summers, Jimmy Bruno and Kenny Burrell to the list of “The Benedetto Players. ” Pictures of all of them line the walls of the Savannah factory, many with a handwritten note documenting the day and place the moment was captured. The photographic history of Benedetto has been captured over decades by Bob’s wife Cindy, a photographer. (They met at a wedding, she the photographer and Bob in the band.)

As his name grew, so did the demand. From 1999-2006, Benedetto had a licensing agreement with Fender Musical Instruments to produce his models in a small, controlled manufacturing environment. But, for a man who nurtures a love affair with his craft, Benedetto was anxious to be back on his own.

In 2006, he joined forces with Howard Paul to take the Benedetto Guitar brand worldwide. The two have been making music and some rather stunning works of art ever since.

The process of crafting a Benedetto Guitar is long, and tedious, and requires the skilled hands of masters. The precision and personal attention to each instrument is what makes each Benedetto guitar special. The perfect piece of wood is selected from the 103 degree “wood room,” where Benedetto stores unique finds from all over the world (and where we spent 10 minutes sweating along with the story). Once the piece of wood is selected, it is carved diligently by hand to create the top and back of this hollow-bodied instrument. Every tree is different hence, every Benedetto guitar is unique. Master finisher Matt Eady hand sands and applies the color stain to each perfectly crafted body, in painstaking, repetitious manner. Such care is taken that only one instrument a day gets Eady’s attention. Master luthier Damon Mailand works on the final elements, adding the strings and finger plate, which “floats” magically above the body.

Don’t be mistaken – even though Benedetto receives worldwide acclaim, Bob personally signs and packs every instrument. Nothing leaves the factory without his approval. That is probably why Bob Benedetto is acknowledged as today’s foremost maker of archtop guitars. Over a prolific four-decade career, he has personally handcrafted nearly 800 instruments, including 500 archtops.

Today, Benedetto guitars appear on countless recordings, TV and film soundtracks, in videos, books, magazines, concerts, and museums, including the Smithsonian Institution who said, “I can think of no two people in the history of lutherie who have done more to increase appreciation for the archtop guitar than Bob and Cindy Benedetto.”

While the artists are at work, President Howard Paul oversees the day to day operations and handles 100% of sales for the company. While describing his crazy schedule, his phone rang and he rolled his eyes with an exaggerated smirk. “I’m also the secretary,” he chuckled as he covered the receiver with his hand.

Paul is a busy man and a talented jazz musician in his own right. When we sat down he had just played a dozen gigs, in ten days, while also moonlighting as one of the chief volunteers responsible for organizing the Savannah Jazz Festival. This year’s Festival poster features a portrait of him. And as the Festival had just wrapped its week-long schedule of performances, Paul looked exhausted, yet proud.

No rest for the weary, but at Benedetto, Paul is able to combine all of his loves since he admittedly has a hard time saying, “No.”

Paul has always been surrounded by music. He started playing guitar at four, jazz guitar at 10, and was playing professionally by the time he became a teenager. At 21, he was teaching guitar at the college level. Living in Atlantic City, NJ, there were plenty of gigs available for Paul, but he soon learned that the bar scene – “booze, drugs, and loose women,” he says – was a bad environment. So he went to college, graduated from the University of North Carolina and was soon back in Atlantic City. Again with the booze, the drugs, and those darn women.

So, his next escape was the Army, where he spent 10 years as a logistics officer. After the Army, Paul spent 10 years as a logistics executive for Chatham Steel. But, he “gigged the whole time. I never stopped playing,” he says.

Finally, in 1996 he was ready for his first Benedetto guitar. With a 3 ½ year wait on his hands (as if you needed anymore proof that these are truly custom works of art), Paul had plenty of time to become friends with the Bob Benedetto. Their friendship grew and a decade later their partnership was sealed.

Now four years into the journey, the duet crosses paths each day in the Savannah factory, where a tireless crew works to ensure that the artistry of jazz is as present in the instrument as it is the musician.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Voter Apathy and the Missing Blufftonians

Bluffton Today column
October 20, 2010

With Election Day just a couple weeks away, I thought it only appropriate that we brace ourselves for that mysterious time of year when 75% of Bluffton residents disappear. And by disappear, I mean sit on their behinds and choose not to vote. Voter apathy in Bluffton is an epidemic. I’ve written about it before. No one ever listens to me. Alas, I will give it one more try …

I get that you are busy, and that your time is valuable, but it will only take 15 minutes to vote. I promise. So, omit one little part of your daily routine and you’ll have made up the time … don’t shave your legs, or skip the trip to Starbucks, or eliminate one Facebook login, maybe even trade in your daily workout and walk to your polling place instead.

With our Gubernatorial and US Senate seats up for grabs, I hope you will move to action (you can find those ballots at And, if nothing else, direct your attention locally ( Don’t just sit back and watch the world go by, and let other people make decisions for you. When you do, you eliminate your voice, literally and figuratively. Meaning, if you aren’t going to vote, then for crying out loud, don’t complain. You haven’t earned that right. (I have earned that right, by the way, which is why I am going to continue down this path, just in case you were wondering.)

Now comes the twist. Locally, with the exception of the County Treasurer, every other seat that Blufftonians have the opportunity to decide, is an unopposed race. So, what is worse – folks not voting, or folks not running for office?

Whilst we are talking about the County Treasurer’s race, allow me to say this to the incumbent, Joy Logan. You ma’am, have some balls. I applaud your bravado (commence eye rolling) as you forge ahead in an attempt to continue to serve as an elected office, despite the public flogging that you have received, of late. I mean, the County Council has passed a resolution asking for your resignation. (Pay no attention to the fact that it is actually the voters who should be doing that, since we elected her.) And who cares that one of her former employees, the Clerk of Court, was indicted on federal charges of conversion of public funds. (Everyone makes a mistake now and then, right?)

Let me just point out that this time around, Joy Logan has an opponent.

His name is Douglas Henderson.

Now, I’m not going to tell you how to vote, but for the love of Pete (or Doug), would you do me the favor and at least do some research? If nothing else, could we ensure that Mr. Henderson has never let $200,000 of public funds disappear under his leadership? That’s all I ask.

Ok, now you’ve gotten me all riled up.

Since we are talking about the Treasurer’s Office, might this be the appropriate time to ask why in the world we are instructed to make the check out to Joy Logan when we pay our personal property taxes (car, boat, etc.)? Let’s ignore the obvious, and focus solely on the fact that my tax check shouldn’t be made out to a person. If these are county taxes, I’d prefer to pay the county. So, this begs the question, when I pay my property taxes online (I refuse to write a check to Logan) is it deposited into an account in Logan’s name (and, in essence funding her retirement, or legal bills for that matter)?

Now, my dear friends, if you decide to take my advice, and walk, jog, or bike to your polling place (doing good for your health and the health of our community, bonus!) then maybe you will be able to answer one more question for me. Why, oh why, when we have miles and miles of bike paths in Bluffton do the bikers insist on riding in the road? When they do this they put themselves and the rest of us in harm’s way. I mean, if I am driving in the right lane, and have to avoid a biker riding down the shoulder, but there is car in the left lane, whose life do I decide to save?

Now I am all worked up, and out of breathe, from agitation. I might ride my bike on Buckwalter Parkway this afternoon, just because I can. Or, maybe I should run for town council next time around. Just sayin’ …

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

There's A Hole in my Bucket

Bluffton Today column
October 6, 2010

Last weekend, I was preparing to spend the afternoon on the boat when I remembered that I threw out my “beer bucket” after my last outing on the high seas. “Beer bucket” is the nickname (yes, even buckets have nicknames in my life) for the garbage can on the boat. After three years of extensive use, “beer bucket” needed to meet his maker. So, to the landfill he went.

I called my co-captain for the day, let’s call him Lanky, and asked him to grab a bucket on his way. As we piled all of our gear – including new beer bucket - into the car, Lanky told me about the great deal he got on the bucket saying, “They gave me a discount because it has a hole in it.”

(If you’re not laughing now, you should never read my column again. Seriously, throw away the paper and never read another word of Courtney again.)

I was consumed by laughter.

Shoulders shaking.

Chest heaving.

Pee-your-pants laughter.

So much so that I couldn’t even eek out a reply.

When I finally composed myself, I had to ask, “So Lanky, who do you think really made out in this situation? I mean, the sole purpose of a bucket is to hold things. A bucket with a hole is no longer able to serve his purpose. So, did you really get a deal? Or is the guy at the store laughing all the way to the bank with the two bucks that you spent on an item that was no longer sell-able?”

Lanky was less than amused. I may have even hurt his feelings a little bit. Hey, maybe I’m crazy. Maybe the joy in receiving a good bargain far outweighs the fact that said bargain may suffer an early demise.
But nonetheless, we installed new beer bucket, who we’ll call “busted bottom,” and enjoyed the day on the boat.

Perception being everything, this bucket blunder made me wonder … if the bucket salesman was telling the story, what would his perspective be? And that got me thinking even more – when two people witness the same thing – how likely is it that both will recap the event in the same way?

I ask because, well, the bucket blunder didn’t end there.

After docking on Saturday, we cleaned the boat and brought “busted bottom” off the boat to dump his contents. Then, we threw him in the back of the car with the rest of the boating paraphernalia. So, on Sunday, when I was at Target and opened the back door of my SUV, “busted bottom” took a tumble. He rolled right under the car. I couldn’t grab him in time and he was soon safely stuck beneath my vehicle.

What to do? What to do?

I looked around to see who was watching before I determined my next move. And, as luck would have it the cart guy was in my parking aisle, and stopped to watch the show.

Now, I had to think quick.

My gut reaction was to just drive away. “Busted bottom” wasn’t worth the struggle, I mean he was already injured so why not just put him out of his misery? Honestly, what I wanted to do was utter a phrase that rhymes with bucket. However, upon further reflection I realized that based on how he was positioned under the car, it was more likely that I would back up and end up dragging him all the way home.

Another quick look over my shoulder revealed that cart guy was still watching so I really had no choice but to rescue “busted bottom.”

So there I was, lying on my side, in the Target parking lot, head beneath my car, arm outstretched, trying to fish “busted bottom” out from under the car with an umbrella. And, wouldn’t you know it … if it wasn’t for that hole, I never would have been able to capture the bucket.

I can only image that when cart guy got home that night he told the story of the crazy lady, lying down in the parking lot, with her head under her car, trying to grab a bucket. I wonder how his version ended?

Now, according to Lanky, his $2 was well spent because Bluffton - if not the world - got at least four stories out of it.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Interview With A Vampire

C2 EXCLUSIVE: Candice Accola - Interview With A Vampire

“No doesn’t mean never, it just means not yet.” Wise words uttered by Candice Accola’s father, and the inspiration she needed to continue auditioning, hoping for the perfect role. It worked.

In grade school, scary movies were an essential element of any slumber party for Accola. She grew up shrieking to the “Scream” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer” thrillogies. So, it is only natural that once she determined that acting was her career path, she would land her breakout role on the hit television series “Vampire Diaries.”

For Accola, her role is proof that dreams do come true. For the rest of us, it is the realization that at some point over the last few years the vampire genre has become a pop-culture phenomenon. It’s saucy, sexy, and fraught with innuendo. Oh, and there’s blood (corn syrup and Jello) and fangs if you’re into that kind of thing.

On the Vampire Diaries, Accola plays “Caroline Forbes,” who in the first season was of the non-vampire persuasion (we thought!), yet a selfish, bitchy, "frenemy" who was always out to win the popularity contest. According to Accola, “As the season progressed, I think the writers gave the character the opportunity to be so much more than any stereotype. The audience got to see that all of her external characteristics were really just a front for her insecurities and her constant need to just feel loved.” The writers may have also seen the spark in Accola, who has made this role her own.

At the end of season one “Caroline” was in a car crash and her fate was unknown. However, just days after the premier of season two – fans where in a tizzy and the internet was all a buzz with the revelation that Caroline survived the crash and in a dramatic twist is indeed a vampire. The plot thickens.

As a fan of the genre, it is clear that Accola isn’t spooked easily. She admits to an adventurous spirit, but very little scares her. “I’m pretty adventurous person but I've never ridden on a motorcycle,” she says. “The thought of not controlling the situation is what scares me more than being on a motorcycle. For instance, I love driving jet skis but if I have to ride on the back of one, I'm a pain in the ass for whoever's driving it!”

Ah, so it is control she seeks.

She has it. At a mere 23 years of age she is on her own in Atlanta, where the series films, and completely in control of her future. Raised in Orlando by her surgeon father and engineer mother, Accola remarks that it was “quite a curve ball” to her parents when she decided to pursue acting. Yet, her parents are her biggest fans and together with her brother Kree, they tune in each week to watch Vampire Diaries. And, Accola admits that it warms her heart when she sees Kree’s Facebook updates telling all of his friends to tune it and watch his big sister on TV.

While she is not one to get ahead of herself, and appreciates all that she has today, Accola continues to dream big. Her dream role? “A biopic seems like it would present the kind of role that would scare me the most and create the most challenges. When things are uncomfortable and scary, that's when you find out how capable and strong you really are,” she says.

And, she thinks a lot about the kind of career she wants to have. When asked if there is an actor’s career that she wants to emulate, Accola hesitates and says, “I think about this question a lot. Then I feel overwhelmed by this pressure to live up to somebody else's achievements according to their timeline. I respect so many actors’ paths and choices. But if I keep paying attention to what they're doing, I lose focus on where I'm at in my own journey. I'm focused on where I want my own career to go. Anything is possible in this business.”

When she isn’t dodging vampires on set in Atlanta, you’ll find Accola at the DeKalb Farmers Market, taking guitar lessons, riding her bike, seeing a movie or reading. (Specifically, she’s just convinced the other ladies on set to start a book club in their down time, and they’ll be tackling the Stieg Larsson “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series first.) Luckily, Accola also set aside some time to indulge CH2 in a little Inside the Actor’s Studio- like Q&A.

Here, we get a little more insight into her persona, a la Proust and James Lipton. I think you’ll agree - she has her head and her heart in the right place.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A hammock, on a beach, with the one I love, after a Sunday BBQ with family and friends.

What is your greatest fear?
Fear itself. That quote's an oldie but goodie.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
My inner monologue when it becomes plagued by fear.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Close mindedness.

What is your greatest extravagance?
Dinners and dinner parties. And vintage jackets that are ridiculous to wear in L.A. or Georgia.

What is your current state of mind?

What do you dislike most about your appearance?
Everyone has insecurities about their appearance. Rather than single those out I’d rather embrace mine in a positive way. They're what make me, me.

Which living person do you most despise?
It takes a lot of time and energy to despise someone. I focus my energy on the people I love.

What is it that you most dislike?
Questions that ask you to pinpoint negative things in your life. (Touché! Love this girl.)

What do you most value in your friends?
An unconditional love without judgment, a willingness to agree to disagree, an ability to go with the flow.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Life itself.

When and where were you happiest?
Whenever I’m laughing with friends, loves or family. A glass of wine in hand is the cherry on top!

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I'm in my twenties. I change constantly as it is.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Thus far, my greatest achievements have been signing a record deal, being a part of the record breaking Miley Cyrus “Best of Both Worlds” tour and booking the job of Caroline on “The Vampire Diaries.”

Where would you like to live?

What is your favorite word?
“Oh-my-goodness.” When I say it, it's one word.

What is your most treasured possession?
A purple trunk of my childhood memories at my parents’ house.

What is your most marked characteristic?
My ability to find true excitement in life's mundane things.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Benjamin Franklin.

On what occasion do you lie?
When I'm asked, "which historical figure I most Identify with?"

What is your motto?
It always works out.

Puppy Love

C2 October issue
Gimme Shelter - Pal's New Home Provides Hope For Adoptable Pets

Four to five thousand unwanted and homeless cats and dogs are euthanized each year in Beaufort County. That is not a typo. Four to five thousand every year. It is a heartbreaking statistic.

Amy Campanini, Executive Director of Palmetto Animal League (PAL) witnesses that heartbreak every day. It is the reason she has dedicated the better half of this decade to being a part of the solution.

Palmetto Animal League (formerly Beaufort Humane Association) is a thirty-year young non-profit organization dedicated to being the voice for animals in need in the Lowcountry. PAL works tirelessly promoting pet adoptions, providing rescue, educating people about the humane treatment of all animals and ending pet overpopulation through low cost spay/neuter services.

In 2002, PAL launched a foster care program and in the eight years since they have helped over 5,000 animals through rescue, foster care and adoption. What is most remarkable is that they did all of this with no place to call home. PAL has no physical building, simply an extensive foster care network and a dedicate corps of volunteers.

However, this is all about to change.

On October 30th, PAL will open their new Adoption Center in Riverwalk Business Park. There, they are creating a home-like atmosphere for the cats and dogs that need a home away from their forever home. “It is a halfway house,” says Campanini with a chuckle, “they are halfway home.”

And what a home it will be. Cage-less kitty condos will be available for the feline population. Puppies will room with their littermates and in some cases with Mom too. A dozen kennels will allow dogs to live communally according to their pack profile – their personality types and dispositions will determine who their roommate is. The Lifestyle Room will feel like your family room at home - featuring couches and TV – and offering a spot for the animals, and their human volunteers to horse around or simply relax. Socialization is key for the animals, to prepare them for their new families. The dual benefit for humans isn’t to be ignored either … in fact, Campanini mused about singles’ activities at PAL. Hmmm, she may be on to something here.

Campanini’s goal is to make the Adoption Center people-friendly too, “We want people to come in, feel comfortable and spend time here. And more importantly, we want them to return.”

After all, the success of PAL has been built on the backs of their volunteers. PAL has more than 100 active volunteers who bathe, groom, socialize, and train the animals. Campanini also encourages volunteers to have a doggie date. Take a road trip to Petco or Petsmart. Walk on the beach. Visit an outdoor cafĂ©. Play fetch at the dog park. (A date who doesn’t talk your ear off. Or pick his teeth during dinner. Or belch the alphabet. Score!)

“The mantra at PAL is that we work hard, but we also have fun,” says Campanini. Her warm and engaging personality supports that theory. Her eyes smiled as she reminisced about a woman visiting the PAL booth at Mayfest this past spring. There, she happened upon two dogs humping and commented, “Wow. PAL really does have fun!”

The work is fun. But, their goals are lofty. The Adoption Center has room for 120 adoption-ready cats and dogs and Campanini hopes to adopt out 500 pets in the first year. They can’t do it alone.

And sadly she says, “We won’t adopt our way out of the problem that exists.” But we can change the perception of this problem, which Campanini indicates is the underlying cause. The negative stigma of shelter cats and dogs prevents many from making a shelter animal a member of their family. People hear “shelter” and they picture hundreds of skinny dogs, behind bars, with sad eyes. And then they are reluctant to pick just one, they feel guilt over leaving the other animals behind. So, folks avoid shelters. And, as a result six to eight million cats and dogs will die this year in the United States.

But the bottom line is these animals are not damaged goods. They are sweet, innocent, unique personalities … each hoping for a place to call home. And we – YOU – should give them a chance.

Visit the new PAL Adoption Center. Volunteer. Laugh. Learn. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll meet the four-legged love of your life.

Palmetto Animal League Adoption Center Grand Opening
Saturday, October 30th
Come dressed to celebrate “Howl-o-ween” and bring a treat for our furry friends. The Center appreciates donations of dog and cat food and treats, toys, and cat litter. Visit for more details. Woof!