DETROIT — Globe-trotting acoustic guitars have been passing through the hands of songwriters from Helsinki to Haiti, Bogota to the Big Apple. Now, Detroit — home to the Motown Sound, modern techno and the Queen of Soul — has its own ax circulating among unsung musicians.
There’s a different guitar in each city, but the premise of The Acoustic Guitar Project is the same: Give the guitar to a songwriter for a week, in which he must compose and record a song, and upload the recording and a photo with the guitar. The instrument then is signed and delivered to another artist.
The project’s creator, Dave Adams, originally intended for one guitar to “travel everywhere,” but the first one never left New York, where he lives.
So the project evolved, incorporating multiple guitars crisscrossing continents, and led Adams to Detroit, the place he was born and raised.
Now, Adams is discovering that each collection provides a soundtrack for the cities, especially this one, which is trying to get its groove back.
“It just feels like I’m getting a little piece of Detroit with every musician, like going to a Detroit smorgasbord and tasting all the flavors,” said Adams, who works in advertising when he isn’t traveling the world with guitars.
The fifth town on the project’s itinerary is more than a pit stop. It’s also the site of another Adams’ project: a crowd-funded TV pilot about the guitars. Donors contributed $20,000 and picked Detroit as the destination.
For Adams’ homecoming, he selected the dozen musicians and had a guitar custom-built for the city.
Detroit resident Britney Stoney said once the instrument was in hand, she was inspired to write her song, “My Own Rules.” “I was sitting right here, and I just came up with the melody for it,” Stoney said from her loft apartment near downtown.
The song is personal but speaks to the city’s struggles. In a lilting, soulful voice, she sings: “I’ve been down a long, long road, still got much longer to go. I knew my role from the start, to live from my heart, and nothing can change that, nothing at all.”
Another songwriter, Greater Alexander, embraced the city and its creative ethos. He took the guitar wherever he went, shared it with musicians and “connected with the project in a way that no other musician has,” Adams said.
Sean Blackman crafted an instrumental love song that incorporates his passion for global sounds. That, too, reflects the music of a city that’s long been a mash-up of cultures, from Appalachia to Armenia, Blackman’s ancestral homeland.
For Adams, the ride began with a New Year’s resolution at a party about two years ago. The host distributed little notebooks and told everyone to write down their plans for the coming year. He wrote, “I’m going to be an artist this year.”
A few months later, he was relaxing in his living room with a friend, who Adams said would often “write a song on the spot” but “spend two years producing it.” Adams grabbed a recorder, put it in front of his friend, and posted the new song on YouTube.
“I wanted to hear more of what is real in music — with its flaws,” Adams said.
Adams envisions the project developing into a “creative platform” with a music channel and multiple, simultaneous projects worldwide.
He hopes he’s helping songwriters everywhere, but he’s especially excited about the sonic embers it’s stoking in Motown.
“Things truly are changing in Detroit. When I go home and see it, it’s exciting. ... There’s a real sense that something great is happening,” he said.
The Acoustic Guitar Project: www.theacousticguitar project.com