At the roots of his music

Ashland resident Travis Naughton plays a homemade cigar box guitar at his house last week. Naughton makes primitive instruments from recycled items as an ode to simpler times when you used what you had in order to make music. Inset below. Naughton plays his washtub bass.

Ashland resident Travis Naughton plays a homemade cigar box guitar at his house last week. Naughton makes primitive instruments from recycled items as an ode to simpler times when you used what you had in order to make music. Inset below. Naughton plays his washtub bass.

With his knack for turning old trash into musical treasure, Travis Naughton is having way too much fun for a man who’s trying to sing the blues.

Naughton has channeled his creative energies into creating new musical instruments from objects mostly culled from the junk pile. He often uses I-bolts for tuners and the bent tines of a fork as makeshift bridge-pins. Fishing line and weed-eater string gives his instruments a nice vibe. A spark-plug socket makes a slide.

“Everything I make is stuff you could have literally in your garage,” he said.

Naughton doesn’t keep his love of music to himself; you can frequently find him substitute teaching at Southern Boone County Primary School, where his youngest son attends class. He’s there two or three days a week and it’s common for him to work a little music into the day’s lesson plan.

A father of three, he picked up the hobby, in part, to pique his own children’s interest.

“They have started picking them up and playing some music,” he said. “I want them to come to (a love of music) naturally.”

The 42-year-old Boone County resident was a budding musician in high school — he played the trombone and baritone — but lost interest in college, despite being offered a few music scholarships.

“This has brought me back to the ‘real me’ … a musical person. I’m not a professional, but I have a natural love of music and a little talent,” he said. “I used to be worried about embarrassing myself. I just don’t care anymore.”

So far, he’s built about five instruments: a washtub bass, cigar box guitar, canjo, diddley bow and a single-string guitar. He’s electrified several of them. His biggest expense has been the $115 he spent on an amplifier and some electronic transducers, gadgets that detect the vibrations and turn it into noise.

“The Diddley Bow is the oldest homemade instrument there is,” he said. “Slaves used to take an old clothesline or wire and pluck it. That’s where it all started.”

After hunting around for days, he finally found the perfect body for his canjo after stumbling across and old metal herbicide can in the trunk of an old car. It amuses Naughton that it’s clearly labeled “do not reuse empty container.”

With five strings, the canjo has a “plunkety-plunk” banjo sound that works well for bluegrass music.

He’s especially pleased with his washtub bass, a thumping, jiving, beat-keeping powerhouse. Although some inventors turn washtubs into very rudimentary instruments — typically a pole and single vibrating string form a triangle on top of the tub — Naughton took the time to create an instrument that replicates the deep, mellow sound of a bass by angling the neck.

It sounds surprisingly …. good.

But Naughton downplays his success.

“I was at a jam session with a few friends two or three weeks ago, and we were playing and we thought we were doing great. My wife heard us and said: ‘When are you going to play a song?’” he joked.

To the delight of the kids he teaches, Naughton frequently brings with him other homespun instruments: a jug for blowing, a washboard for percussion, measuring spoons for tapping.

He and his wife, Bethany Naughton, have lived in southern Boone County since 1999. Although they grew up in northeast Missouri towns that aren’t too far apart — Hannibal and New London — they met at the University of Missouri. Bethany works as an occupational therapist at Capital Region Medical Center; Naughton was a meat cutter — albeit one with a philosophy degree — prior to his decision to be a stay-at-home dad to the couple’s three children.

“Luckily I don’t have to have a full-time job,” he said. “I have the opportunity to find something I love.”

And, luckily, he loves substitute teaching. The job brings him more joy than he ever anticipated.

“There’s something so magical about the primary school,” he said. “It’s so good there, you can’t really imagine it.

“I got it made … it was meant to be.”

Although he comes from a long line of teachers, he doesn’t seem himself in the profession. Although the philosophy degree he earned at Missouri isn’t terribly practical, he admits, it taught him other skills — such as rational thinking.

Music isn’t his only creative outlet; Naughton is also a weekly columnist for the Boone County Journal.

When he first approached Editor Bruce Wallace for a spot, Wallace turned him down cold. But Wallace softened when Naughton told him he wanted to write about his experiences adopting his son from China.

“He (Wallace) totally loved the idea,” Naughton said.

When the column came out and the feedback was positive, Wallace asked for more regular contributions on Naughton’s offbeat parenting experiences.

“It’s good therapy for me,” Naughton said. “I got a lot of stuff in here and I’ll explode if I don’t get it out.”

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