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Jay Meehan: The luthier

Jay Meehan, Park Record columnist

There are many moving parts that serve to make Denny a magnet to those who have fallen under his spell throughout the years. His voice, for instance, has this relaxed, always on-pitch, musical quality that can flat-out mesmerize.

There is this quietness about it that causes you to lean in so as not to miss the nuances in his narrative, not unlike when he would pick up a guitar back in the day and switch on that classic tube amp and we would all attempt, kinetically, to adjust the volume knob upward just a couple of clicks.

That has never been Denny’s way, however, and, to this day, it’s as a contributing member of the conversational or musical ensemble where he seems to find the most peace. Not that he ever wavers from taking his solo when his turn comes around. It’s just that, no matter how high the level of virtuosity, his riffs seem to always have a way of being clothed in understatement.

And so, once word began to filter through the grapevine that Denny had arrived in town on a personal errand from his longtime home on the left coast of Mexico, a murmur of excitement began to circulate among our small-in-size-but-big-otherwise community of 1960s Compton, California, expatriates.

Most of us don’t make it down his way to that quaint seaside village nestled comfortably between Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta as much as we once did, so whenever he finds a reason to journey northward, it’s a pretty big deal. Almost as one, we vowed to touch bases with our old friend before his weeklong stay had expired and he headed back south.

Denny and his surfing buddies had been among the earliest of our tribe to venture to Park City back in the day to try their hand at skiing and it wasn’t long before most of us had followed suit. And it would be in the Heber living room of just such a brother-in-arms that we pilgrims would gather Sunday evening past to once again dig his vibe.

What brought Denny north this time, other than the opportunity to catch up with old friends, was to pick up a band-saw he bought online to aid in his ever-growing hobby as a guitar maker, a "luthier," as it were.

He could have had it shipped down to Mexico, of course, but then he would have missed reliving the epic camaraderie of bygone days with his old running mates.

I reminded Denny of the Renault van that had been abandoned in front of his house that I used as temporary digs whenever I returned to town from "the ranch" we had out at Lake Elsinore. I’m sure his dad, the "Kahuna," thought that was pretty much par for the course.

With talk turning to old friends and the old neighborhood, wide grins and belly laughs punctuated the dialogue. We had owned L.A. in the sixties the same way Phillip Marlow had owned it in the forties — without reservation.

A warmth totally unrelated to temperature soon began to settle upon the room. The sense was of an extended family with roots that reached back to special places and singular times and, as the yarns were spun one after the other, not one of us emerged unscathed.

Naturally, with Denny present, our long-ago adventures along the west coast of Mexico were dissected and, in a few cases, edited for public consumption. Those of us who hadn’t journeyed to the region for a spell also learned of the effects that Hurricane Kenna with its 140-mph winds and 16-foot storm surge had on San Blas when it came ashore back in ’02.

Our early years as interlopers when we all lived in miner’s shacks and Park City was morphing into a ski town also received its just due, as did a few of our more hilarious on-mountain skiing escapades. Our equipment and dress codes didn’t have to pass very strict scrutiny, that’s for sure.

Denny had this wonderfully singular pickin’ style when he’d grab his Martin 000-18 acoustic guitar which, as a southpaw, just like Jimi Hendrix, Elizabeth Cotten, and Jay "Lightnin’" Williams, he had strung upside down and backwards. As with the others, he was self-taught.

He now plays a guitar of his own making, a "Boyce" as it were. He didn’t happen to toss it in the van when he came north this time so if we desire to hear one of his signature riffs, understated as they no doubt still are, on an axe he built himself, we’ll just have to be patient.

No doubt, after he gets his new band-saw set up and running, he’ll be knocking ’em out right and, especially, left. He is a left-handed luthier, after all.

Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.


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