Freeman Vines’ lifelong search for a tone was driven by the music and sounds that surrounded him. The guitar playing from a rural church service, a staticky radio station, and even the wind blowing through the trees propelled Mr. Vines on his enduring sonic journey.

Since the early 1990s, Timothy Duffy has been recording musicians from the deepest parts of the Southern US. This musical accompaniment for Hanging Tree Guitars features songs from Duffy’s archive along with three songs performed by the Vines family. The compilation provides a glimpse into the music that inspired Freeman Vines’ lifelong search for a tone.

Freeman Vines made his first guitars because he was searching for a sound. Assembly line Fenders and Gibsons were too conventional to give voice to the music he imagined. He has worked with all kinds of materials: the steps of an old tobacco barn, the soundboard of a dissembled Steinway piano, wood from a hanging tree. In every case, he carves away until he reveals an essence inherent in the material itself.

In this way, Vines’ work continues creative traditions that stretch back to the early days of colonial slavery. Stolen from their homes, Africans found themselves strangers in a strange land having to refashion their culture with whatever materials came their way. They took the religion foisted upon them by their enslavers and musically carved it down to its spiritual essence, creating a body of songs that spoke their truth; what pioneering social scientist W.E.B. DuBois called, “the most beautiful expression of human experience born this side the seas.” This beauty, however, was born of “death and suffering and unvoiced longing toward a truer world, of misty wanderings and hidden ways.”

So many musical traditions created by African Americans—the blues, rock-n-roll, and hip-hop, for example—are arts of stripping away, removing what is unnecessary in order to get down the essences, the places where opposites coexist: dark and light; earth and heaven; life and death. These musical forms are the artistic brethren of Freeman Vines’ work.

— Dr. Will Boone
, Lecturer of Music, NC State University