By Chloe' Valentine
I met with Peter Head at his home which is located up at the end of a long driveway which leads to three buildings. Located in a very private and poetic setting, it is the perfect place for him to create and invent. He greeted me with his recently adopted dog named “Jamie” and escorted me through his beautiful home he calls his “summer home” to the back porch over looking mountains upon mountains. One other building is his “winter home” and the other his “studio”, part for musical endeavors, part for creating, part for inventing.
“Born of average size and weight”, Peter wrote in his bio. That’s precisely what’s so interesting about Peter Head is that he is far from being “average”. Starting at a very young age Peter would form rhymes and limericks. Always a hard worker with various occupations over the years to help facilitate time in between for his musical and other creative ventures. Beginning with his first electric guitar which he washed windows, mowed the lawn and pulled weeds to pay his Father back “every cent” for loaning him the money to purchase it.
At first uneasy with performing even at small open mic’s, Peter decided, “the more he did it, the more he would be comfortable with doing it”. This proved to be true over the years, now with a few different bands (Pitchfork Militia and Elephant Graveyard to name two) he has played many venues. But before this would all come in to place, Peter went to Art school in 1982 graduating with a BFA in ceramics in 1988. As Peter says, “I know more about clay than most folks ought to”. After graduating, Peter began travelling “in circles” around the United States for the next 12 years. Writing songs while on the road, inspired by the country and the people he met along the way.
After realizing that most towns were similar but that the Catskills were different, special, he returned “home”. One summer, Peter “found” as he said “a dog, a girlfriend and a band”, he decided to stay put. It has been 17 years since he formed Pitchfork Militia and two and a half years for Elephant Graveyard. Always wanting to sharpen his guitar skills, he utilizes his different endeavors to do so. At the same time as forming Pitchfork Militia, Peter started creating instruments, taking cue’s from third world countries where people make instruments with whatever they have on hand.
Topped with things such as trophy pieces and bodies and necks made from tin boxes or antique wood. Peter’s instruments are fun to play as well as listen to and look at. Peter volunteers time to go to various facilities and help people with disabilities make drum sticks from wood and foam, paint them and then proceed to make music together.
Peter’s favorite instrument is the electric guitar but admits “he can play most anything with strings”. Amongst his many talents are his bird drawings, ceramic busts made from a combination of anthropomorphic mythos and ancient ancestral history, animal heads out of tree roots, ceramic bonsai containers, banjos, ukuleles, cellos, violins, stand up basses and an assortment of drum and percussion instruments. In addition, Peter writes poetry, has kept a dream journal since the age of twelve and has a sketchbook filled with words, drawings and ideas on hand.
Peter Head is clearly and certainly a very talented man with capabilities to create from one genre to the next. As I said my goodbye to Peter and Jimie I made my way through his amazing summer home, filled with handmade Peter Head instruments, animal skulls, quartz crystals on the mantel, antiques, books and much more I felt at home and relaxed after our visit on the porch. Peter with a rather tough looking exterior at times while playing his guitar, is indeed a very sweet, gifted and giving person. He feels he is very prolific with his art and music and I tend to agree. Peter has accomplished his goal of getting his music recorded and he did it himself! A documentary has been made about Peter with folks that are huge fans of his music. Unfortunately the DVD of this project is now unknown. I was there for a part of the filming and Peter really relished speaking what was on his mind for the camera, ah! Shy no more!
I have had the pleasure of seeing both Pitchfork Militia and Elephant Grave Yard and his other venture Peter Head Homemade Instrument Ensemble. Impressed by all, I was particularly entertained by Peter’s solo performance in Pitchfork where he uses a children’s fire truck to wail on his guitar while the sirens are running, it’s a must see!! With Peter Head Homemade Instrument Ensemble you’ll see and hear some extraordinary handmade instruments by the man himself. I received a personal tour of his art studio and to see everything Peter has created is pretty astounding. I have seen much of his art exhibited at such places as TheVARGA Gallery in Woodstock, Planet Woodstock Music in Kingston, Woodstock Music Shop at WDST radio station, Trance-n-Dance-n-Drum in Rosendale and Circle W General Store in Palenville. His instruments are beautiful and fanciful to look at and a delight for the ears and considerably affordable.
To witness his performances in person, you can catch Peter at many different genres, in particular “Snugs” in New Paltz on September 23rd with Pitchfork Militia and then with Peter Head Homemade Instrument Ensemble at the Woodstock Inventional Luthier’s Convention at The Bearsville Complex on October 22nd in Woodstock. To contact Peter please go to either “peterheadhimself.com” or “petersmithbonsai.com”. I strongly suggest getting out and taking in all that the remarkable, gifted Mr. Head has to offer! Whether it be his visual art or music or both!
Previously printed in Van Wyck Gazette 2011 Fall Issue