J. R. Reuter-The Noodles

I lived with a roommate who was a guitar player, and he always tried to get me to play guitar, and I always told him, you know, there are two things in this life I will never be; I will never be a musician and I will never be a teacher. And now I run this guitar building school teaching kids from all over the world how to build guitars, and I played in a Grateful Dead band starting in 1986, and I’m the two things I always said I would never be. 

I got turned on to the Grateful Dead in 1980. Before that, I always listened to fusion and jazz and, you know, things with technical stuff going on, you know, not necessarily comfortable and/or relaxing. And I met a friend in the park and we started playing frisbee together and we would go to his house and smoke a bowl; and after doing this every day for a month, I looked at him and I said, hey, you know, you’ve been playing me the same guitar player every day for a month and I’ve never heard the same thing twice. Who is this guy? 

Oh, this is Jerry Garcia. This is Grateful Dead. My roommate came home one day and I had looked into some music and I’m like, you know what, that sounds pretty simple right there. Why don’t you show me that. And so within a week, I had an acoustic guitar. Within another week, I had an electric guitar and I just dug in. And what was in my head was Jerry Garcia, and so that’s what started coming out as I was learning. You know, you draw from what’s in your head and that’s what started happening. 

And so a friend of mine came back from Missouri and found out that I was playing Grateful Dead music with a friend and we decided to start doing that together and so we started a Grateful Dead theme band here in Arizona, and that kind of we were playing every Thursday night doing this Grateful Dead cover band thing. 

And then in 1988 I had an accident with my guitar making. Because right after I started playing guitar, I found an opportunity to go to the guitar building school that now I own with my partner, and I decided to start learning how to build guitars. And in 1988 I lost some fingers on my left hand. Steve Parish always told me that if you and Jerry would have gotten together, you’d have taken that picture together, you know, his hand and mine, because mine looks almost exactly like his right hand did, only I’m missing my pinky as well. Except it’s my left hand, my fretting hand. Basically, I have one good finger, which is my ring finger. 

And when my fingers got hacked off I, sort of, at that point had to leave the band and it sort of fell apart. Eventually, Evan Jones took on my lead guitarist, Don Young, and they started Xtra Ticket, which became the band that Dave Hebert eventually took over for Don Young. Dave Hebert was the guitar player in the Jerry Garcia Band a few years back. 

Photograph © Hal Masonberg

After the accident I tried a left-handed guitar, and then pedal steel, and even bottleneck slide. And after about six years, I got so angry. I was playing with my exwife at the time and, you know, she was doing Joni Mitchell and Bonnie Raitt kind of stuff and I would play slide with her. And one day she asked me not to come to the gig. And I was like, well, what’s up with that. She says, you’re just so angry all the time. Every time you play guitar you, just, you’re pissed off. And it was about what I couldn’t do and what had been taken away. And so I quit playing guitar for two year. Then I met up with a Dead Head friend of mine, Kim Ladd, who is our rhythm guitar player, and you know, we were sittin’ around talkin’ about the Grateful Dead and about music. And he said, you know  he said, I used to play rhythm guitar in a bluegrass band and I said well, I used to play lead guitar in a Grateful Dead band. I live right around the corner. Why don’t we just go home and noodle. And now you know how we got our name. 

We got my electric guitar instructor to play bass with us and I remember at our first practice we were trying to figure out “Brokedown Palace” or something and he stopped right in the middle of the song and Kim and I were looking at each other and trying to figure out why Kriis had stopped. We were like, what’s going on? And he said, ‘I thought these guys were a bunch of stoned hippies. This shit’s hard.’

Well, Kim and I started playing together in the summer of ’96, and at some point we had gotten a bass player and a drummer together and they said, hey, you know, we should probably try and find a gig and play out somewhere and I told them, ‘Look, I’m not playing in public with this hand like this. It’s just embarrassing. I don’t feel comfortable doing that.’ They said, ‘Look, why don’t we do a private party in your backyard? Invite all of our deadhead friends and we’ll see how it goes’. That was March of 1997, and 75 people were in my backyard and they loved it and we had a great time. 

So I approached the lady up the street who had a bar and asked her about playing in her club on Sunday afternoon. She wasn’t enthusiastic, but I told her we’d play from 3:00 to 7:00 and we’ll be long gone before your evening band shows up and she says well, okay. And it was a hit. And then that bar got bought out because of the redevelopment of Tempe and she bought into another bar and we moved in over there at Cactus Jack’s and we’re their resident Sunday since March of ’97. 

My first show, I was amazed at the sound, how clear it was. You know, because anybody else that I saw live, you could never hear the vocals. The clarity of the music was so much better. I had been listening to technical jazz, you know, Mahavishnu and all of these guys and I found out that the Dead played what sounded like simple music, but if you tried to play it, there was there was hidden complexity to it. As far as being a Dead Head, for me it’s about community. It’s about family. It’s the camaraderie. You know, and it’s the one place where if you’re if you’re in that environment, if you needed help or you fell over or tripped or whatever, you got twenty people to pick you up. Any other concert you went to, you’d get trampled to death. And Skull and Roses is the essence of it. At first, I was skeptical about three days  come on, how can anybody withstand that. And, you know, after being there and interacting with everybody, it was awesome. Everybody’s perspective on the music, on the scene, you know, the networking—I mean, I’m a luthier. I got to see my buddies Craig and Nate from Cubensis. I got to, you know, meet Jared Garrett and Jerry’s Middle Finger. And all the rest. Sorta perfect.

Photograph © Hal Masonberg

Pandemic Update

Well, it has dramatically affected our guitar building school because, you know, trying to get people in a group environment working in a close shop environment, building instruments was a little difficult for a while, until vaccines showed up. And between YouTube and the young mentality of not going to trade schools anymore, everybody’s mentality is well, I will just watch the video. How are you going to learn the nuances of guitar making on a video? So, yeah, we’re having to learn how to participate in YouTube and… It’s been crazy. Enrollment is down significantly.

We had to stop playing at Cactus Jacks for like 19 months, which of course sucked. We just sort of worked on our own things. And you know, kind of took a break, learned new stuff. I got to get to some guitar making that I hadn’t done in a while and I just got one of my Wolf guitars in the hands of Dave Abear that Andy (Logan of Grateful Guitars) was so nice to take care of. And I have gotten three or four guitars done that I really didn’t have time to work on before. 

But also, I was one of the breakthrough cases after getting vaccinated. I got it. And I bowed out of playing after we went back to playing again. I got COVID and took a couple weeks off until I tested negative again. I’m assuming that it would have been much more severe if I hadn’t been vaccinated. For me having been vaccinated it felt I just felt a little fatigued for a couple of days, which is why I thought, ahh, I better go get tested. And sure enough I had picked it up and my fiancee tested negative the whole time. So… finally we have gotten our boosters, but, you know. 

It’s the same with The Noodles as with the school—trying to get people out in a closed environment is a little challenging. People are still a little wigged out about this whole thing, and there are some people that just have not returned to the live music thing, as long as it’s indoors, they are just not involved… but here at Cactus Jack’s, everything’s as it was before the pandemic in terms of everybody who, you know, the attitude is now that if people aren’t vaccinated, don’t come, because nobody is wearing masks where we are playing. And we still are wearing masks every day at the shop. You walk in the shop you have got to have a mask on, but not at the gigs. So… 

I really am looking forward to Ventura, not just for the playing and for listening to who I can, but this year there’s a bonus. Andy Logan and Jason Scheuner, who between them own some of the iconic GD guitars and bass, and they’re going to have like a guitar museum there. Every time I’m in the Bay Area, I end up spending a day down in Andy’s basement. I don’t know if I don’t have been in Andy’s basement. It’s a sight. And now I’m in it – or at least my work is. 

Years ago I sent Jerry a letter saying that, hey, I am making instruments that are a different voice and you are not using that voice. And would you be interested. And, apparently, he had seen the resonator that I made for Jorma, who was my first guitar customer and once I sent that letter, you (Dennis) apparently showed it to Jerry. And he said, yeah, call that guy. I have seen those, I want one. Call him.

And so you called me at the shop and, basically, we were trying to figure out when to hook up. And our hookup date —I don’t know if you remember this—was February of ’94, the Jerry Garcia band was coming to Phoenix — and Jerry came out and did five songs, put his guitar down and walked. (He was quite ill). And that was that. I had the guitar in my car and we were ready to go. Didn’t happen. 

And I, you know, it’s funny because every time I run into Steve Parish, and he looks at my hand, he said you know, you and Jerry would have taken that picture. So that instrument that I made for Garcia, I made another one alongside of it. The one that I made for Jerry I sold to a winemaker in Sonoma, but the other one I made for my school founder’s wife, and when she passed away, I got the guitar back. And because I made it alongside of Jerry’s guitar, Andy was interested in it, and so now he’s got it.