The Water Witch


…a true story stranger than fiction…

I’m sure you/ve heard of “dowsing” or “water witching” a method of finding water in rural areas using brass rods or forked sticks. The “dowser” holds his locator of choice and follows what seems to be an unnatural directional pull of their locator. People close to the land believe in such things and the educated scientist types scoff saying it is all hokum.
What I am about to relate to you is absolutely true. An impossibility. But it happened nonetheless…

It was in 1957, when I was a junior in high school, when my dad came home with a tale about a ‘Water Witch’ or Dowser. His boss at work had told him about this old man named Kon Muttrick who lived in a town called New Era who went beyond the Forked Stick method of seeking water that most so-called ‘Water Witches” used.
I told my high school buddy Harley about this guy and we found it difficult to believe that such an event could happen as described. We decided to make a Day of it and go up and see this guy….tell him we were making a science project and report on the Dowsing Phenomenon.

So, off we went. Drove to New Era, Michigan, where the guy lived and inquired (as we were told to ) at a certain small store for directions to Kon Muttrick’s farm.

We pulled into the barnyard and, sure enough, here was this old man, probably in his sixties…bib overalls…gray hair…had that look of The Land that a lifetime of hard farming brings onto a man. He looked a lot like Walter Brennan’s character “Amos McCoy” featured on an old TV program The Real McCoys.

We told him our fabrication and asked him for a demonstration of his abilities.

“Well, y’know…I know where all th’ water is on my proppity is…won’t be a real test.” he said.

“Yes, sir, we know, but our teacher says that dowsing can’t be done and we hear you have a most unusual way to do it.”

What I relate to you now is quite impossible. But I saw it with my own eyes, in broad daylight…

He gave Harley a pocketknife and told him to cut a Sassafras sapling that was about 12 feet high, about 1.5” thick at the base.. Sassafras saplings grow like weeds in western MI and tend to grow really straight. After cutting this treeling very close to the ground he was instructed to trim all the branches off it except for “the brush” at the top. It was at this point about ten feet long I’d say.

The old man then waved in the general direction that he said an underground stream ran and took the trimmed sapling in his hands. He held it vertically with the ‘brush’ touching the ground. Without any motion from his hands, the cut, sky-pointing. tip started gently whipping back and forth. but in an odd, one sided, back and forth.
When he went in the direction he’d said the water was, the whipping action started to resemble a fishing pole with a fish on it, i.e. it was starting to flex one sidedly in the direction of where he’d said the water lay…. move in the opposite direction and the bending would lessen. As he moved toward where the one sided flexing indicated it became a real chore for him to hold the sapling as it bucked.

“Now, watch this, boys” he said and he moved in the direction of the alleged underground stream and the sapling bent over into a ‘U’ until it audibly snapped above his hands!!!

We, of course, were dumbfounded.

Oh, to have had a video camera in those days.

Old Kon claimed he could tell which sparkplug was mis-firing on a car by touching them with his left hand. If he were to touch them with his right hand he’d get shocked like anyone else.

He claimed it was a Gift from God and would not charge you if you wanted him to ‘witch’ your land for water. He did require that you, as an act of faith, have a drilling rig hired and ready on the site. His hardest find he said was a place so barren that the only live wood (a necessity) he could find was a small live bit of brush less than a foot long. It worked, however.

Curiously bigoted for one claiming a ‘gift from God’ he “wouldn’t work it fer niggers or injuns…”

Strange, strange man…

Chet Atkins… Our Man on Guitar…

S4Chet Atkins (1924-2001) is arguably the finest guitarist this country ever produced. His years at RCA and Columbia resulted in a catalog of over eighty albums spanning country, jazz and classical. Taking the ‘thumb picked’ style of Merle Travis to tremendous heights, he was an inspiration to others and a mentor, as a producer, to hundreds of recording artists.

Well, one of the people he inspired was me. I had spent years trying to learn the style and had even bought a Gretsch Tennessean guitar (because I couldn’t afford a pricier model) that I had drastically rewired to the way I thought his personal Country Gentleman guitar had been modified.
In the middle sixties I was working at Gelb Music in Redwood City and I had an opportunity to meet him through the auspices of a guy named Sheldon Bennet, an older gentleman who taught guitar and played wonderful Western Swing guitar on a blonde Gibson L-5.
He knew Chet personally and he knew of my obsession with him so he offered me a deal. I did not drive in those days so his offer was that he would drive us to a Chet appearance  if I would pay for the gas. The trip was about three or four hours from our area to South Shore Tahoe in Nevada.
Needless to say I took him up on it, threw my guitar in the back of his van and had a thoroughly enjoyable ride listening to Sheldon tell stories of his younger days as a professional musician on the road.

We finally rolled in and went to the dressing room provided and suddenly
There he was.
Those of you who have met their favorite artists understand me when I say he didn’t look anything like his pictures… He did, of course, but when you see your favorite artist right in front of you, it is a contradiction, an adrenaline laced anticlimax. Seeing the person as an actual three dimensional live critter can be disorienting.
Chet was a quiet, soft spoken individual and I was all but petrified and nearly speechless, so we were at a real loss for conversation.

It suddenly hit me what an intrusion a fan can be to an artist. Even though it is the fan that pays the artist’s bills I fiound that when you finally meet them you and they are, after all, absolute and total strangers.
Chet was at a loss what to do to put me at my ease… he offered me a drink from the bar provided in his dressing room. I declined and hit on an idea. My guitar would rescue me.
“I brought my guitar. I did some modifications I’d like to ask you about.”
Aha! A common interest!
“Let’s have a look” he said and off I went to the parking lot to get my guitar.
When I got back in the casino I of course had no idea how to get back to the dressing room but I had no fear. I walked up to a security guard and, clutching my guitar, intoned in as deep a voice as I could muster, “I need to hand deliver this guitar to Mr. Atkins” and was politely ushered back to the dressing room.
Both of us loosened up talking about my guitar. I was gratified to find out that my rewiring scheme (separate individual tone switches for each pickup) was spot on with his guitar’s.

I made no move to play it for him because I was just too nervous. He picked up a classical guitar he had on hand and said “Let me show you a new thing I’ve learned” and proceeded to demonstrate the beautiful technique now called “cascading harmonics” by most guitarists.

“Y’ see, you pick this string as a harmonic and this one fretted and you alternate like so…” and he played this rippling series of what sounded like it was all harmonics. Did I see? I did not see! I was too excited to see squat! It was years before I understood how it was done and now many guitarists use the trick but looking back on it I appreciate his effort to send me away with something to learn.
I asked him if he would “run off about fifty feet” of Chopin’s Minute Waltz that he had recorded some years back and he played it perfectly as if he had just come out of the studio from recording it.
It came time to leave the room so he gave me an autographed picture and the meet/greet was over.
Sheldon and I had dinner with him later that day which put the cap on a perfect day.
I was pretty quiet on the way home…

Some years later my son and myself had occasion to meet him backstage after a show in Oakland. His ’59 Country Gentleman was laying in its case and I remarked that it had a wider fingerboard than I was used to seeing.

“Ah, that’s just and old Gentleman they’d put a wide neck on for me.” he said. That happened to be his favorite recording electric before the electric classical was made for him by Gibson and as such was the most recorded guitar in American musical history I think…

Met him twice. And now that he’s gone I can think of a thousand questions I should have asked him…

Chet Atkins
Chet Atkins

The man is THE Country Gentleman….

Straight from the Horse’s Mouth


I was never much of one for riding horses…

Oh, of course I’d had my young cowboy fantasies and the daydream of being the only kid in school to ride his horse to classes but as time went on the closest I got to that was when my folks would take us to a riding stable.

Some folks would argue that riding stable horses are not very good examples of good rides but that’s pretty much what you were stuck with if you were not in true horse country.

When you ride a horse with no instruction you find that it is not nearly as comfortable as it seems in the movies.  They manage to get your up and downness while seated way out of synch and your butt takes a beating.

As I got older I noticed that horseback riding was favored more by women than it was by men.  Generally, if a man rode a horse there was a paycheck connected to it.  He was working.  Women, on the other hand, like to ride them ‘for pleasure’ and I’ll not delve into exactly what that might mean but suffice to say, most non working horses are owned by women than by men.  I don’t have any real statistics for this but it seems to be the case from my own observation.

Other things I have observed is that like all mammals, the horse has distinct ways of showing displeasure with humans including:

Ignoring rider’s urgings and commands



Bucking or otherwise unhorsing its passenger.

I also made the observation that these animals weigh half a ton or more.

Every time I envision  riding a horse my weird imagination plays a scenario of the one horse who has figured that he will not conform.  Hay and a barn are not worth the loss of freedom and the chore of being made to do whatever the pompous, fragile, weak humans want it to do.

One day I was standing near a horse and marveling at it’s beauty.  It is truly a lovely animal and you could appreciate the name the Sioux gave it “Shunka Wakan” the ‘mystery dog’.  Domesticated or wild, they are a beautiful creature and it’s young rank as among the cutest and most entertaining animal babies to watch.

This particular horse saw me looking at him and he said, “Hey mister!”

“You can talk? I asked, “How is it you can talk?”

“I was an understudy for Mr. Ed.  How else do you think?”

“That’s amazing!” said I.
“Yeah, well, that’s all water out of the trough now.  But lissen… I have a message for you.”

“For me?  What is it?”
He took a few mouthfuls of grass while he got his phrasing in order.

“Well, first, the information isn’t free.  I’ll have an apple or carrot from you to tell it to you.”

So it was a trudge to my car to get the bribe, an apple which he lipped, chewed and swallowed before he continued.  He was so eager and quick at this he caused me to count my fingers.

“You’re on our hit list.”

“Hit list?  Horses have a hit list?  What kind of hit list could horses possibly have?”

“The word is out on you.  We have our own form of e.mail and internet and you’re on the top ten list of potential riders we deem incompetent and an embarrassment.”

“I never heard of such a thing.”

“Of course not” he said, “You don’t have log-in rights or the password but I’m here to tell you that you’re on the list”

“But what does it mean? I asked.

“It means that sooner or later you’re going to try to ride one of us horses that are in the network.”

“You mean not all of the horses are on the network?

“Not yet,” he said, “Not all of them are up to speed.  Those you don’t need to worry about.  If you’re a gambling man you can probably ride one of them and get away with it.”

“What happens if I try to ride one of you that’s on the network?

He took another mouthful of grass.

Whoever you try to ride will do the full load on you.  You will be bitten, thrown and stomped.”

“What?  For just trying to ride one of you?  Why me?

“Well, firstly, it’s strictly business so don’t get your quirt in a knot about it.  This isn’t about you.  But we are going to put a stop to all this horse riding foolishness once and for all starting with you and anyone else on the list…”

So there you have it.  That’s why I won’t ride a horse.  I might pick one that has access to the list and I’d be a fool to risk the consequences.

You may feel this narrative lacks credibility and you may be right.

That’s your prerogative…

From The Bar ~ The Mating Dance~The Little Black Dress~

The Mating Dance is a series of obvservations of human natrure in pursuits of  (more or less) romantiic endeavor   They are not in any particular order.  That would imply rationality .


She was an average looking girl, a little on the plump side but not obese…the kind of plump that, on a young woman, can seem sensuous to some men.

She was looking a little downcast and was sitting on the stool by the side door when I came in.

“Why so glum?” he asked

“I’m going to a party I really don’t feel like going to.” she sighed.

“Wellll…why are you going to it if you don’t feel like going?

“I don’t have a date. I hate it when I don’t have a date.”

“So don’t go.”

“I promised I would go.”

“Are there going to be unattached males there?” Iasked.

“Sure,” she said, “but there will be lots of competition, too…”

I pondered this for a moment….

“You got a Little Black Dress? he asked.

“Of course I do. Everyone has a Little Black Dress.”

“Okay… do this… wear the Little Black Dress and no underwear. Not a stitch of underwear!” (admonishing finger held in the air.)

“What good will that do?” she asked.

‘By itself, none,” I said. “What you need to do then is to whisper in one or two of the guy’s ears, breathy like, and tell them that you’re naked under that dress and they’ll be on you like ants on honey.”

She thought about this for a while and said “what have I got to lose?”

The next day I received flowers at the bar…

The Mating Dance ~

“How Can I Love You If You Won’t Lay Down?”

Chuck Wagon and The Wheels

Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright

Gelb Music in Redwood City is one of the finest of its kind in the country.

I worked there for several years and watched its owner, Kevin Jarvis make the store into what it is today,

In the early days Kevin was always looking for  a ‘hook’ in the ads he ran in various local publications.  Some of them were quite clever but the most memorable was the Great Tiger Shoot.

In those days, Marine World had a park nearby and he found out that you could ‘rent’ one of their more or less ‘tame’ Bengal Tigers for certain purposes that were hopefully agreeable to the tiger.

Kevin thought it would be a neat ideas to have this animal featured in a photo layout centered around our PA department so he lined up a photographer and then called  Marine World.  He made arrangements to have the tiger brought in around eight a.m.  on a nice spring day.  A small number of our friends were invited to view this wonderful event and everyone showed up on time to socialize with the tiger.  Great fun!

Here came the Marine World Van which parked in front of the store.  There was plenty of room to park because of a broad, patio area part of the sidewalk in front of the store.  The driver/handler got out and came into the store.  Upon spying Jessica, the Shepherd/Lab Superdog and store mascot,  he said “The dog has to go.”
“You don’t understand,”  Kevin said, “Jessica is very well trained and won’t bother the tiger.”

“No, you don’t understand.” the man said…”Tigers eat dogs!”
So Jessica was banished to one of the teaching rooms in the far back of the store.

The handler studied the proposed layout and had a few words with the photographer.  He then cautioned us to not make any loud sudden noises  or run in view of  the creature.
…and he went and got him from the truck.
He was magnificent.
He was gorgeous.
He struck abject fear in the hearts of all attending viewers.

The keeper only had a cane and the tiger was wearing a chain collar but it was obvious that anything that went on was purely by agreement between man and cat.  If the tiger decided it would choose to do something, do it he would and there wasn’t a whole lot the man would be able do about it.
All the nature films on TV cannot prepare one for the Sight and Presence of a full grown Bengal all reddish gold and black walking in a room where tigers are not normally found.  They Look and Are Huge!.  His shoulders were as high as our main counter as he majestically went to where we wanted the shoot.  All of the would be ‘tiger petters’ were flattened against the wall not wanting to be noticed by His Highness.  And Highness he was and he knew it.
The tiger went up to one of the huge speaker cabinets we had on display, paused, gave it a sniff as if to say “This’ll do” then backed up to it…
Don’t let him spray…oh, hell, let him do what he wants…” I said
And he did.  Marked his territory as it were…
He then laid down and the photographer started shooting film.
After a while, maybe fifteen or twenty shots there was a “Stop NOW.”  from the keeper.  Just how the tiger may have signaled his displeasure I never knew.
“Just a couple more” said the photographer.
“The Tiger wants you to stop now“. said the handler.
The photographer stopped.

By the time his trainer was to take him back to the truck the traffic noise had increased considerably and, as it turned out, made the tiger nervous.  He refused to leave.
We all took up our positions against the wall as the trainer went to the van, opened the side door and came back and swatted His Highness on his royal rump with the cane whereupon he less than regally hurried out to the van and got in (with a noticeable dip and sag to the van.)

We released Jessica and she very cautiously made a nose search of the place.
Not one of us had petted the animal…in fact we all talked in very hushed tones for a good part of the day….
            Jessica looked worried for a little while… I think she knew a Dog Eater when she smelled one…