The Guitar In The Window: How One Instrument Steered Sir Richard Bishop's Life Bishop's new album, Tangier Sessions, springs from a love affair with a mysterious and temperamental guitar, found in a secondhand store in Switzerland and inscribed with indecipherable writing.
NPR logo

The Guitar In The Window: How One Instrument Steered Sir Richard Bishop's Life

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/425662680/426434715" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
The Guitar In The Window: How One Instrument Steered Sir Richard Bishop's Life

The Guitar In The Window: How One Instrument Steered Sir Richard Bishop's Life

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/425662680/426434715" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Some musicians insist that instruments have souls. Guitarist Richard Bishop saw an acoustic guitar in a secondhand shop in Switzerland, and he says he felt a relationship forming the moment he saw it. Bishop is actually known for playing electric guitar in the improvisational rock trio Sun City Girls, but as Rick Karr reports, something told Bishop he had to buy the instrument.

RICK KARR, BYLINE: Here's what the guitar sounds like.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR)

KARR: Richard Bishop was in Geneva last year, going from shop to shop looking for a secondhand acoustic guitar that was small, light and easy to travel with. A shopkeeper led him to a back room, handed him a guitar with no name on it and walked away. Bishop started to play, and the earth moved.

RICHARD BISHOP: It was instant. It was like, there's something about this guitar. You know, it had a power. It's like you have to get this guitar because this is your one and only chance.

KARR: But it was way too expensive, and rationality prevailed for a while. He couldn't stop thinking about the guitar. He kept going back to look at it and deciding he couldn't afford it. The instrument showed up in his dreams.

BISHOP: (Laughter) Yeah, sounds like a "Twilight Zone" episode waiting to happen.

KARR: It was like a jealous lover was sending him messages through his subconscious.

BISHOP: You know, somebody else is going to get it if you don't. I mean, I literally had those thoughts. You don't question that. You just do it.

KARR: Bishop raided his savings and bought the guitar. And when he played it again, the earth did not move.

BISHOP: I played a lot of guitars in my life. I've been playing for almost 40 years. But this guitar - because it was so small and it was so old and somewhat fragile - at first, the results that came out of it were just crazy. They just - you know, it just wasn't really that great.

KARR: For example, when he played high notes up the neck, which he does a lot, they were out of tune. Ted Drozdowski has been there. He's a guitarist who just released an album of his own and a journalist who interviewed Bishop for a guitar magazine. He says an unfamiliar instrument can make a musician learn new things.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR)

TED DROZDOWSKI: He had to learn how to fingerstyle pick for a number of these songs, which he hadn't done before. So I think the guitar forced Richard to grow in certain ways.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR)

KARR: Bishop and the guitar were getting along better a few months into their relationship when he was preparing for a trip to Morocco. But he was going to leave the acoustic at home in Portland, Ore. and take an electric with him.

BISHOP: And I decided at the very last minute, I'm going to take this new acoustic guitar because, why not? You know, it's easier to travel with. I'll do the show with it just to see what happens.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR)

KARR: The guitar didn't do so well. Bishop decided that was because he tried to play his older material on it, so he spent some time fooling around with the instrument. He went into a room with tiled walls in the building where he was staying and started to improvise with a digital audio recorder rolling. What it captured became his latest album, "Tangier Sessions."

(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR)

KARR: Bishop has been listening to music from the Middle East and North Africa since he was a child. One of his grandfathers was an immigrant from Lebanon, and Bishop and his brother would beg him to play them Arabic pop from his collection of cassette tapes. When the brothers later formed their band, Sun City Girls, they incorporated some of those sounds into its music. Bishop says he doesn't know the theory behind it; he just knows where to put his fingers. Guitarist and journalist Ted Drozdowski says "Tangier Sessions" proves that Bishop doesn't need to know much else.

DROZDOWSKI: The notes are so beautifully carved and so distinct and so rich, and so evocative of the place they were recorded, as well. That command is something that he innately possesses without having all those other, you know, intellectual processes to filter it through.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR)

KARR: Bishop says his intense reaction to the guitar isn't a mystery anymore. It got him the guitar and the guitar led to the album. And now that he knows how to play the instrument, he's in love again.

BISHOP: I think our little relationship together is just beginning, so who knows what kind of mysteries it still has and who knows what kind of power it will have over me next year or the year after? Can't wait.

KARR: The identity of Bishop's new love is still a mystery. Experts who've examined it believe it was built in the 1850s but have no idea where or who built it. A luthier put a tiny camera inside and found writing but nobody's been able to make out what it says or even what the language is. For NPR News, I'm Rick Karr.

MARTIN: BJ Leiderman composed our theme music. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.