Mac Arnold enjoys working on his Pelzer farm and speaking to school groups about music. But he is best known for his music.
He's also known for making music from reconditioned gas cans. His present trademark creation, the red gas-can guitar, is a result of his ingenuity and nostalgia.
His first one was a creative invention of necessity. That first hand-made musical instrument was made by older brother Leroy, from a handful of scrap materials that could be found by resourceful youngsters on a Pelzer farm in the late 1940s.
“Leroy wanted a guitar but Dad said, 'no,' so he decided to make one. We thought the can would be best for the body. We took some pieces of wood that were around the barn. We used strips of screen from the screen door as strings,” Arnold recalls.
Arnold learned to play that crude instrument at age 10, and it set the stage for a musical career that has carried him around the country. He learned to play a six-string guitar and later switched to an electric bass, which he used to create backup music to now-legendary blues singers. By age 24, he was in the middle of an electric blues movement, playing regularly with Muddy Waters and occasionally with artists such as John Lee Hooker and Eric Clapton. As the producer of TV's “Soul Train” from 1971 to 1975, Arnold partnered with some of America's most talented artists.
By the time he came home to his Upstate South Carolina roots in 1990, Arnold had long forgotten his brother's homemade gas-can guitar -- until some family reminiscing gave him a new idea.
“One of the older brothers said, 'Remember when you guys used to play that gas-can guitar?' I didn't, but it later came back to me,” Arnold says. “That's when I started looking for things to build a new one.”
It took 18 months for Arnold to find the right ingredients. It took another six months for Arnold, a left-hander who had reversed the strings of his bass guitar, to re-learn the process of making music with the can.
He's been having fun with it ever since. For the past three years, the 66-year-old Arnold has teamed with his Upstate band to continue a music career while enjoying the comforts of the Pelzer farm that framed his youth. That band includes Danny Keylon on bass; Austin Brashier on guitar; Max Hightower on keyboards, harmonica and guitar; and Mike Whitt on drums. All are Upstate residents with the exception of Whitt, who drives from his Mars Hill, N.C., home for each practice session.