Photo by Adam Finkle
When you meet Bad Brad Wheeler on the rooftop of a downtown bar and hear him play his harmonica and cigar-box guitar, you think, maybe, just maybe, Salt Lake City’s got some soul.
Wheeler, a one-time bartender with a degree in anthropology, is best known as the host of KRCL’s drive-time music show, but that’s just his day job. Wheeler’s true passion is performing the blues. He jams with a few bands, including the Legendary Porch Pounders, Pink Lightnin’ and, on this chilly Monday night, the West Temple Taildraggers.
“It doesn’t matter how many people are there—10 or 1,000—I’m there to play the gig,” the tall, good-humored Ogdenite says between harmonica riffs.
His obsession for this wellspring of American music led Wheeler to cigar-box electric guitars. “I saw a couple at a Jazz festival in Clarksdale, Miss.,” he says. “I figured, if that’s how old bluesmen did it in the South in the ‘20s, a kid in Weber County could do it now [with electricity, of course].” He’s built more than 30 of the electrified “Diddley Bos,” from cigar boxes that friends give him, ax handles he buys at Home Depot and minor electrical parts. Wheeler has built guitars for Buddy Guy and, yes, for Bo Diddley, himself. He also has used the guitars to teach basic blues to elementary students. (He’s introduced about 12,000 kids to the harmonica.)
“Building a guitar is liberating,” Wheeler says of the box on his lap. “You think about how much the electric guitar has influenced culture around the world. When you build your own guitar you pull the curtain back on the whole thing.”
Catch the West Temple Traildiggers most Monday nights at The Green Pig, 31 E. 400 South, SLC, and listen to Bad Brad's radio show weekdays, 2–6 p.m. on KRCL 90.9.