The way I met Kirk Richards, my great friend of many years, is a story unto itself.
When you live a more or less public life like mine, you never know who is out there watching. People can take pot shots, give undue criticism, or spew downright derision and the like—and be gone before you can even figure out who it was. It doesn’t happen too often. Maybe they’re envious, maybe they’re bored. It comes with the territory. You take it and go on.
Sometimes, however, by the same cosmic mechanism, the pendulum swings the other way, and God smiles on you and sends you a friend. An ally. Someone who actually knows what you go through because they are birds of your own feather.
I have a hard time remembering the exact year—must have been 12 or 14 years ago—I was on social media in a discussion about acoustic instruments, and someone asked me what my next guitar purchase would be. At that point I was still under the medieval impression that the instrument could make you a better player. This is marginally true, but, oh, how strict that margin is! I told the questioner that, if at all possible, my next guitar would be a Taylor Leo Kottke Signature model 6-string—the Taylor LKSM as it’s called. “I will probably have to get on a plane to actually find one, but that’s the goal, anyway,” I shared.
Sometime around then, a fellow showed up at one of my gigs and said he actually owned the object of my dreams, the elusive Taylor LKSM. He also said he was a painter and guitar player and he really enjoyed my work. I looked around to see if I was being pranked. He was dead serious. I shook hands with him and introduced myself. His name was (and still is) Kirk Richards.
I asked Kirk if he would entertain the idea of letting me play the LKSM for a few minutes sometime, as otherwise I would have to go to Dallas to find one. He generously agreed to it and we set up a time.
Kirk’s studio is comfortable, well thought-out, well-lit, and strewn with masterful paintings. We spent some time viewing some of his work, and he told me the stories of a few. He has written and co-written books on painting—his work as it relates to Christianity—and is listed as a Living Master in some impressive organizations. He is a member of the American Society of Classical Realism. His credentials, and portrait subjects, would astound you. He is a national treasure.
As I sat down to play the dream guitar, it was impossible to take my eyes off his work.
The LKSM was so sweet. It was pristine—not a scratch that I could see. I was careful to check my clothes for anything that would offend that beautiful, glossy tropical mahogany. It sang with Sitka spruce top tones, rich, clean mid-range, and throaty bass notes. It was perfect. I was afraid of it.
I jokingly said, “I have to spend more time in your studio!” Kirk replied, “Well you could come and sit for a portrait.”
In the ensuing weeks, a lot of great things happened. Kirk actually sold me the LKSM guitar at an earthly price. I played it for quite some time, but never got over the fear/reverence of that instrument. Ask any guitar player: You have to treat your “working ax” like a rented mule. I couldn’t do it. Always felt like it belonged in some kind of guitar conservancy. So I sold it back to Kirk.
Kirk actually painted my portrait. I sat for him for 36 hours, plus or minus, listening to our acoustic heroes, like Tommy Emmanuel and Leo Kottke. I heard a great album that Kirk wrote and produced with his original songs for acoustic guitar. He introduced me to the music of Michael Hedges, who was somehow under my radar (and whom I highly recommend if you are into guitar music). We took breaks and played some fine guitars, but the most enjoyable part was sharing stories about our families, our favorite places, and of course the world of the arts—the richness of our gifts, and the interaction of those with work ethic. That’s stuff you don’t get to say in passing. Real conversation.
I forgot how many hours Kirk spent on his charcoal “study” for the actual oil portrait, but the study is a work of art. I don’t say that lightly; it is amazing. The final oil portrait is something to behold.
The best of those great things is that I have gained a brother. We have probably 20 or so guitars between us and an open-door policy. Any time either of us needs one of them, they can get it. I also have learned more about art through conversation with Kirk than any upper-level university course.
I don’t think it was a cosmic pendulum, after all.
I think it was a God thing.