I owe my musical life to my father, who supported and nurtured my love of music, sang with me, taught me guitar, and is the center of my connection with the Pacific Northwest's most excellent and reclusive folk music group, the "Sack of Hammers." Don't bother Googling us, you won't find anything, and unless you happen to be in either Shaw Island or Tonasket Washington on the right weekend in July or August, you won't ever get to hear us play (at least, not all together). These rare gatherings are a cold spring in the desert, a breath of mountain air in the miasma of modern life. Staring at this blinking cursor for the last two hours has convinced me that no words can do justice to these other-worldly gatherings. Indeed, if it were possible to simply capture and replicate what I experience there, I doubt that I would be called to share my own music in this way, since there would truly be nothing left to say.
Over the course of his youth, my dad attracted and held onto a fantastic set of musical friends, such that by the time I was born in 1975, there was regularly a collection of players gathering in my living room in North Seattle to share songs and play together, both original material, and covers of famous tunes from the folk music craze of the late 60s and early 70s. I regularly fell asleep to soft harmonies of love songs, old spirituals, and the psychedelic existentialism of the Dylan-inspired folk-rock groups of the time. All my specific memories of that time are completely shrouded now, replaced with more grown-up stuff (however strenuously I endeavor to forget it), and colored with the anguish of losing my little eden to a much harsher world than I was prepared for, much earlier than I was ready for it.
Only decades later during reunion gatherings did I finally start to glimpse how formative the music was to my being. The songs slipped right through my defenses, reminding me of the child I was before my father was unceremoniously replaced with a loveless, barren-hearted, man-hating monster (that's another story, though). And so in my 30's, thanks to the music and love of these wonderful people, I was reunited with my soul, or whatever the atheist equivalent of that is.
The Sack of Hammers
Steven Kinzie is considered (by every one of us except himself) to be the keystone of the group. His writing, playing, and singing are utterly peerless, and just being able to play along with him is a rare and humbling privilege. It is not a stretch to say that we are largely held together as a group by Steve's magnetism - we just want to be around him. Seriously, go check his recordings out at stevekinzie.bandcamp.com
Mike Greenleaf is my dad, the person I'd most like to be, and the musician I emulate. He is a profoundly talented player, singer, and songwriter, and has given me much of what I bring to this project. I suspect that all men of any account compare themselves to their fathers, and I am no different. I'm just trying to be able to look in the mirror and imagine that I fill his shoes. His records are here.
Eric Smith is a multi-instrumentalist who travels with a whole truck-bed full of mandolins, dobros, banjos, guitars, and basses. He makes even the meanest among us sound exceptional with expert accompaniment and fills, and then turns around and fronts with equivalent facility while the rest of us (or me at least) fumble along behind trying not to make him sound bad. He has a record, but it ain't for sale anywhere at the moment, sorry. Here, however, is a youtube video of one of his tracks.
William Limbach's kindness and emotional connectivity pour through his writing and singing. He is gentle and funny, and his voice is the purest and sweetest sound. His experiential writing brings listeners right into his warmth and presence. During my upbringing, I saw more of William than of the rest of the hammers, as he and my dad were close friends, and played coffeehouse gigs together. Some of my fondest memories are of listening to them play for the Honey Bear Bakery in Tangletown. Here is one of Bill's songs from his album Being Found.
Lance and Laurie Haslund bring a peculiar blend of western swing, gypsy jazz, and folk to the mix. They play more often with each other than any of the rest of us have the opportunity to do, so their duets are very polished and practiced. Lance's original work is clever, humorous, and acerbic, and very gratifying for above-average listeners, both aesthetically and intellectually. Laurie plays sweet, jazzy ukulele and guitar interpretations of standards and folk songs, old and new. Not only are they both personally talented musicians, they are active music patrons, participating in their local music festivals, and hosting a variety of traveling acts in their own home. With Laurie's prodding, Lance is finally working on a record of his original compositions, which I will link to here when it becomes available.