How a Crew of East End Songwriters Made Some Magic: The Story of One Guitar

Songwriters from throughout the East End got together Feb. 22 at the Lanturn Sound Recording Rig for a listening party for "One Guitar."
Songwriters from throughout the East End got together Feb. 22 at the Lanturn Sound Recording Rig for a listening party for “One Guitar.”  |  Courtesy Bryan Downey

Once upon a time, Southold songwriter Don Bracken Jr.’s guitar was sitting in a closet, cracked, unplayed and suffering from having been strung with nylon strings. But that was before he became its proud owner.

This year, that 1961 Gibson LG-45 is bound for fame: the guitar is the star of a new recording, “One Guitar,” which will be sold to benefit the Maureen’s Haven homeless shelter network.

Don Bracken with the One Gutar.
Don Bracken with the One Gutar.

The double CD will feature 29 original songs by East End songwriters, all playing that one guitar in a marathon session at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Aquebogue this past December.

Mr. Bracken has been the owner of the guitar since the 1970s, when he responded to an advertisement in the Brookhaven National Laboratory newspaper offering to sell it for $300.

The guitar, which is now worth more than $2,000, was a classic even then, and Mr. Bracken took it home, had it repaired, strung it up with steel strings, had a pickup installed and began taking it out to play.

For the past two years, he’s been leading a songwriting workshop on the second Monday of each month at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church.

One day last summer, in the middle of a thunderstorm, he and the group breezed through their material quickly and were stumped for new songs to share. Mr. Bracken decided to pass his guitar around the group. Each person who played made it sing along with their own style.

He had the birth of an idea: invite songwriters to each play the guitar in turn, recording the session to highlight local songwriting. And do it in the sanctuary at Our Redeemer, whose excellent acoustics were only marred by the occasional cracking of the roof.

Many of the songwriters in Mr. Bracken’s group also volunteer to play music for the 30-plus guests at the Maureen’s Haven homeless shelter at the First Presbyterian Church in Southold on winter Wednesday nights, and Maureen’s Haven seemed a perfect fit to be the recipient of the money raised by the project.

Our Redeemer Lutheran Church also participates in the Maureen’s Haven shelter network, and late last year, Mr. Bracken received a grant from his church’s insurance company that served as seed money to begin the One Guitar project. There was one catch. They had to spend the money by the end of 2014.

Mr. Bracken contacted Mick Hargreaves, a songwriter, bassist and guitar player who runs the Lantern Sound Recording Rig recording studio, which recently set up shop in Manorville but cut its teeth producing music in remote locations.

His plan was simple: rig up the sanctuary of the church for a live recording, and then spend the day passing the guitar from one performer to the next. Each songwriter would bring two of their own songs and each would have up to 20 minutes to record.

They put the word out just before Christmas that they’d be recording all day on Dec. 27 and asked all the songwriters they knew to stop by if they were in town. By the end of the session, nearly 30 songwriters had made their way through the church.

“It was a blessing. It was meant to be,” said Mr. Bracken. “You can’t just pitch this thing and have it come off. A lot of people had never played that guitar before, and there was no pitch correction, no effects.”

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Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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