It’s a small room, but it’s well lit.
In the corner a man is hunched over something he is holding between his legs.
At first, I think he’s in pain—as if he is trying to press a throbbing hand between his knees to relieve the burden of its injury—but then he looks up at me and he smiles.
He has been inspecting the underside of what is about to become a boot sole.
“Just making sure it’s perfect,” he says behind his wide grin.
Chava Guevara has been making boots for more than 35 years this way—inspecting every centimeter of his subject before moving on to his next task, hour upon exacting hour, until finally he holds in his hand a completed, and perfect, boot.
For years he’s been making boots for the rich and for the famous.
And he still is.
But there’s something different about these new boots—something that, while he’s been making boots this way for the better part of three and a half decades, makes these boots—boots that came into being by passing through Chava’s worn, calloused hands—unlike any other boots he’s made before.
For the first time Chava is making these boots in a space that is completely his own.
Welcome to Chava’s Boot Shop.
Music plays over a tiny stereo in the opposite corner of the similarly sized room.
“I always listen to this kind of music when I’m working—nothing else,” he says. “These are your boots, so today we’re listening to your music. Letting your music help us make them. Isn’t that right Chava?”
Chava looks up again and smiles.
I met Marcus two years ago in Blaine’s Pub—a bar that I’ve played probably more than any other bar in the world—in San Angelo, Texas. I had just finished playing a show and he called me over to a table where he was sitting with three of his friends. After his offering and my accepting a bought beer, Marcus and I spent the next hour or so talking about music and talking about boots. He was working for the power company, but recently, he’d been turned on to boot stitching. Thankfully he had an uncle who knew a boot maker, and that boot maker had agreed to show him the ropes. And so, here he was, just dipping a toe through the surface of an entirely new world.
Boot making isn’t usually the kind of thing someone likes to talk to me about after a show. Usually, it’s a conversation about music or travel. If the person I’m talking to is really jazzed up, chances are it’s a conversation about the guitar that he or she just bought, and if I had any tips to help them speed up the learning process.
Marcus was jazzed up.
“Drew, listen. My buddies are going to be having a big cook-off in a few months. Do you think you might want to play it?” he asked.
I said I would… for a pair of boots.
Mostly, I said that because I wanted to support Marcus in his dream of making boots. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy, and I love seeing that kind of enthusiasm—about anything—in a person. I didn’t expect anything to come of it as far as footwear goes, but I did expect to play a cook-off in the near future.
Turns out the exact opposite ended up happening.
The cook-off never came together, and yesterday afternoon, sporting a handwritten ‘0002’ just inside of a fourteen-inch top, I was handed a pair of custom boots made by Chava Guevera and stitched by Marcus Coronado.
“It’s the second pair of boots out of the shop,” Marcus explained.
The boots were unbelievable. Perfect, pristine, and completely suiting for a guy like me.
“And you listened to my music while these were made?” I asked again.
“Yep,” said Marcus, “the whole time.”
There are songwriters all over the planet who spend hours a day listening to, and then trying to recreate the music of those who have come before them—those who have inspired them to sit down and take up the craft. Some of them will try to write a handful of songs and move on to something else. A fewer number will dabble here and there when their muse allows for the distraction as they live a lifetime made more full by the presence of music.
Fewer still end up making a living through those songs.
The Guy Clark’s and Susan Gibson’s and Walt Wilkins’ and Todd Snider’s of the world are the types of people that, once upon a time, helped put mental steel against sonic rock as a younger me discovered a passion for music as it was ignited by a spark that only they could have created. That spark—the same that burned hot for so many other thankful would-be craftsmen—was alive and burning here, in Chava’s Boot Shop in San Angelo, with the Master Boot Maker presiding over it. I watched as the results of the studying of two separate crafts—of knowledge handed down both directly and indirectly from generation to generation, from opposite sides of the art world—met face to face. Heel to heel. Soul to sole. The lowly student of Clark and Wilkins—his early attempt at reaching for their stars playing over two small and dusty speakers—falls upon the ears of the humble student of Chava Guevara as he stitches his way through the hours. The old Master sitting in the corner of a tiny room, himself working as tirelessly as his pupil, ready to guide and opine when needed…. just as my old Guy Clark records continue to do for me.
It’s the kind of thing that would make you proud if someone called you a craftsman—knowing that there are people like these in the world who share the same title. It’s a title that can’t be earned without patience and perseverance, without knowing and eventually growing from your frustrations along the way.
Perhaps one day I’ll count myself lucky enough to be in their company.
I’d imagine we’d have a secret handshake.
We craftsmen, that is.
I’d bet mine would always give me away, though.
One firm grip to the work-hardened hand of a fellow craftsman and its owner would look down at mine and probably smile.
“Soft. You of the Songwriters Guild, I reckon?”
“That’d be me,” I’d say.
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