There’s been anecdotal evidence that, for some, the guitar has become a newfound friend during the pandemic, an instrument to bond with in uncertain times. Jeff Bridges is well-versed in the companionship a guitar can bring. “It’s been a wonderful friend throughout the years, when I’ve been making movies,” the Oscar-winning actor and musician tells American Songwriter, over the phone from Montana. “When you’re all alone, holed up in your hotel room, and you’ve got your guitar there, you can spend hours hanging out with the guitar.”
Part of the anecdotal evidence of the guitar’s popularity during this time comes from Chris Pelonis, longtime friend of Bridges, music director of their band, Jeff Bridges and the Abiders, and owner of Lost Chord Guitars in Solvang, California. Pelonis’ store, which had to move to an online business as a result of the pandemic, started selling — and selling out of — a special Jeff Bridges signature acoustic guitar, created by Tom Bedell, of Breedlove Guitar, sourced from sustainable wood.
Designed by Bridges, together with Bedell and Pelonis, the custom Oregon Concerto Bourbon CE instrument, bearing Bridges’s motto “All in This Together” on the fretboard, uses myrtlewood harvested from already fallen trees. The first model was such a hit, Breedlove is releasing another two models in its “Organic Collection.”
“One of the things I’m excited about this is that this other line is a lot more affordable than the flagship model,” says Bridges. The Concerto Bourbon guitar goes for $2500, while the new models, which will be available from October 6th, are under $1000. The Jeff Bridges Amazon Concert Sunburst CE Torrefied European-Granadillo retails for $999, while the Jeff Bridges Signature Concert Copper E Torrefied European-African Mahogany is $699. Both, like the first one, carry the words “We’re All in This Together” on their fretboards too. “We’re hoping for people who are just starting out, who can’t afford a $2500 guitar, one that costs 700 bucks makes it a lot more affordable. Especially for people, in these pandemic times, who are being held up, being sequestered and all. That that’s a great choice guitar for them,” says Bridges.
Breedlove owner Tom Bedell traveled to each forest — in Suriname, the Republic of Congoand the Swiss Alps — to personally verify the harvest, chain of custody and sound ecological practices of the wood for the instruments. No clear-cut wood is used in any of the Bridges collection, an aspect that appealed very much to the actor, who narrated and produced the 2018 environmental documentary, Living in the Future’s Past.
“One of my contributions to the guitar was introducing Tom to my dear friend, Mark Plotkin, who is the head of an organization called Amazon Conservation Team, and he has been very involved in making sure, these woods, where the company says they’re from, they are. He can actually track that and he puts his stamp of validation on it that these are truly sustainable trees that the guitars are made out of,” says Bridges. “If we keep our trees healthy, they’re going to keep us healthy.” In turn, the Breedlove Jeff Bridges signature “All in this Together” project benefits the Amazon Conservation Team, which works in partnership with indigenous colleagues to protect rain forests and traditional culture.
He says Bedell shared with him his greater aim, to influence the rest of the music industry, and then furniture and floor-builders, to use sustainable wood too. For Bridges, who’s been concerned with how to shape a better future for much of his nearly 5 decade-long career, the sustainable guitars are something he was glad to endorse. “It’s like when you’re interested in something, somehow the world reflects that back at you, and you find different ways to go farther along on that path,” he says. “This pandemic and the fires that we’re getting here in America, they really are great examples of, if you’ve ever doubted that we’re all in this together, those things bring that to the fore. It’s a time to really realize we are all in this together. It’s time to acknowledge our differences, and celebrate them, and work together to make this beautiful world for ourselves and our kids and our grandkids,” he says.
“It’s always frustrating that what you think needs urgent attention is not getting it as urgently as you’d like, and hopefully the good side of this pandemic and the fires is that it gets our damn attention to deal with this. Because the pandemic, all of it, it’s all environmental, it’s all related,” continues Bridges. His own understanding of personal responsibility was seeded a long time ago by his eco-minded parents, Dorothy and Lloyd Bridges.
“I remember my Dad bringing home a book called the Family of Man and it was showing what life was like all around the world, and my Dad would say, ‘Look, this is what it’s all about, we’re a family.’ He probably even said, ‘We’re all in this together,’ I wouldn’t be surprised,” Bridges chuckles. He adds that his father also was involved in ocean conservation as a result of being on the TV show, Sea Hunt — the same TV show that gave 9-year-old Bridges his first big acting break.
The 70-year-old actor was about to return to TV in the FX series The Old Man, when the pandemic forced production to halt, but he’s still been busy. For one, he’s released a comic book with his daughter. For another, he’s been working on new songs for the Abiders — “with my dear friend, John Goodwin, who provides probably most of the songs the Abiders play,” he says. “We go back to the 4th Grade, we’re constantly working on new tunes together. John Goodwin.” He reiterates, John Goodwin, not John Goodman, in case you were to confuse him with the Dude’s other dear John friend. “It’s such a wonderful movie,” he says, of The Big Lebowski’s abiding popularity. “Every scene is just so well-made and it’s still so damn entertaining!”
Among the tunes he and the Abiders have been working on is My Welcome Mat, which the band just released the music video for. “It also has that ‘We’re All in This Together’ flavor, that message,” says Bridges. “When I think of those words, connection comes to mind. I want people to feel connected, with that guitar in their hands, with their own talent, yes, but also with others around the world.”