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The DIY Musician: Normal People Don’t Ask Rock Legends to Play a Washtub Bass

Shane Speal is performing a jug band tribute to the Sex Pistols this Saturday, August 22, at the MUSACK Rock n’ Roll Carnival in Los Angeles. He'll be joined on stage by Horace Panter, a.k.a. “Sir Horace Gentleman” from the Specials.

It takes balls to ask a legendary bassist like Horace Panter of the Specials to sit in with you for a cigar box guitar concert. It takes balls the size of Cleveland to demand he play a washtub bass.

Apparently, I have balls the size of Cleveland.

I had just met the ska legend hours before. He was at this concert to jam with Tim Armstrong of Rancid. I was there to do a solo cigar box guitar set. “Horace, we built this washtub bass. You want to join me on stage?”

Horace looked at me and then at the bass contraption cobbled together from a metal washtub, a stick and clothesline rope.

“Let’s do this thing!” he said and gave me a grin that had a little drop of evil.

When we took the stage, Horace hunched over the gutbucket and started choking notes out of it as if he’d been playing it all his life. At one point, he glanced at me and gave me the look that said, “It’s head-cuttin’ time.”

I was in trouble.

Since I’m a cigar box guitar guy, it’s probably obvious I’ve played with other washtub bassists before. But as we were covering R.L. Burnside’s “Long Haired Doney” on that stage, I looked over and was blindsided by an intensity and ferocity I had never heard emanating from a tub.

We were locked in a groove so deep, you could drive a car into it. The audience was ours, and it was one of those shows where high notes seemed effortless.

And then the thought hits me, “What the hell is going on here? Normal people don’t ask rock legends to play a washtub bass!”

When we got off stage, Sir Horace Gentleman slapped my back and said, “That was a good one!” We pulled it off…and it was friggin’ awesome.

Since that day last year, Horace Panter and I have remained friends and chat about our love of deep blues. We also cut a live-in-the-studio album this past January (he played a regular bass this time) that will eventually be released to benefit Musack.

This Saturday, Horace will pick up the washtub bass one more time and join me at the 5th Annual Musack Rock n’ Roll Carnival. The show organizers asked us to cover another band’s album for the event, so I chose the most unexpected one I could think of: Never Mind the Bollocks by the Sex Pistols. Joining Horace and me will be Ronn Benway on washboard and Don DiPaolo (ex-Mach 5) on drums. It might get loud.

If you’re in LA this Saturday, don’t miss this charity concert. The entire event takes place in somebody’s back yard; other acts include the Wrecking Crew, John Doe & Exene Cervenka from X, “Obey” artist Shepard Fairey doing a DJ set and Rancid performing the entire Out Come the Wolves album on its 20th anniversary. Ben Baker from C.B. Gitty Guitar Parts will be running a cigar box guitar-building booth for any attendee who wants to build a Pure & Simple cigar box guitar kit.

Let me repeat: This entire show happens in somebody’s back yard!

You can get tickets and more information right here.

Musack is a charity that puts musical instruments in to the hands of at-risk kids. For more information or to donate, visit

I almost forgot to mention one other thing that happened last year. Normal rock stars don’t ask cigar box guitarists to play Stooges covers with them. But then again, Mike Watt was never considered normal. Here’s what happened when he pulled me on stage for his set at last year’s Rock n’ Roll Carnival:

Shane Speal is the "King of the Cigar Box Guitar" and the creator of the modern cigar box guitar movement. Hear the music, see the instruments and read about his Cigar Box Guitar Museum at Speal's latest album, Holler! is on C.B. Gitty Records.