Off the Record Steven Digman: Putting the Funk Back in Funkstown
by Nathan Oravec
If asked, Steven Digman might describe himself as “existing within the boundless confines of poetic charm; equal measures of rhyme (artist) and reason (man) - marching - each to its own beat in the syncopation of love (life).” He might, maybe. And you’d nod your head, and smile, perhaps, and then - ever so politely - ask for your violin back. Then again, if you knew him personally, you might just stay for some Story House coffee and listen to the self-made bard carry on.
When we last left Steven in February of 2001, the author/musician/poet/patriarch - and entrepreneur - had just realized his newest invention - a glow in the dark violin rosin, aptly named Bow-Glow - and was anxiously pending patent at the former digs of Digman’s Violin & Publishing Company on South Potomac Street. Here, between violin rentals; repair and restoration jobs on classical string instruments; and guitar lessons (himself a former student of “the late, great Sophocles Papas”), the Hagerstown resident would dream up new schemes for personal-reinvention, continuously revising his manic inner-monologue to fit the day.
Much has happened in two years, not the least of which has been the relocating of the Violin & Publishing Company from the cityscape of Hagerstown to the small-town way of Funkstown, Maryland. Following a near two-month hiatus while construction of the new storefront was completed, Digman’s re-opened its doors for business in late-December at 8 East Maple Street. Why the move? “I love the name Funkstown,” he jokes, placing emphasis on funk. “We needed a good name.”
“Actually,” he amends, “the opportunity to purchase a property instead of renting presented itself. It was as simple as that.” Business as usual, he claims, will remain unaltered, with rentals, restoration and Papas-ized guitar instruction being made available by appointment. But while Digman the business-owner may stay the same, Digman the artist may just be reaching his creative peak.
He can’t decide whether he’s a “music journalist” or a “music reviewer,” only that in the two years that his trademark, trading-card sized musings on lesser knowns and up-and-comers in the field have appeared in both print and digital media, Digman has amassed a sizable collection of CDs numbering hundreds. “It all began when I wrote a review for an artist’s album that I liked. I happened to send it to Russ Elliot, the Editor of Musicaldiscoveries.com. I sent one review and became a musical correspondent.”
Soon, Digman’s rapid-fire reviews were appearing on a number of web sites, including music-reviewer.com and collectedsounds.com, as well as in print in The Picket News, where several had been published earlier. Interestingly, publicists for various musicians and bands would subsequently begin mailing CDs to his store, in hopes of receiving a few words. “I get about ten a month,” he says. “Once in a while I’ll get paid for writing a review, but I’ve certainly gotten enough CDs.” He doesn’t write for the money, however, and the albums - a collection he is quite proud of - are icing. Writing, it seems, is cathartic for Steven. That, and he enjoys assisting aspiring artists. “It’s nice to help artists out. They have a difficult enough time as it is.”
Digman would know. He’s been writing, he says, forever. Poetry, music, songs - since he was a child. “It just came naturally.” It wasn’t until a friend and former music collaborator, David Speake, dragged him into the studio that it became something more than a hobby. “He insisted that I start recording the songs that I wrote. I think he even paid for the studio time.” This was the 80s, when he would meet future collaborators, Eva Cassidy and Janine Davy.
His work with the former, the late songbird Cassidy, is something that continues to fuel his work, returning in guises spanning all mediums. Recently, three songs, written and published for Cassidy, have been printed in Warner Brothers songbooks, and the song, “Say Goodbye,” co-written by Andy Hernandez appears in the feature film “The Man From Elysian Fields,” released in October of 2002 and starring Andy Garcia and Mick Jagger.
Currently, Digman is recording with Davy, of Rockville, MD, a partnership that has proved the catalyst for his most recent project - launching his own record company, Funkstown Records, in the summer of 2003 under the mentor-ship of friend and associate Bill Straw of Blix Street Records. The company, says Digman, already has a distributor.
Small-town businessman, writer, musician, inventor, dreamer; Never uninspired, his work has graced the pages of various literary magazines and even coffee can labels - called Story House - on two separate occasions.
“We draw ideas from experiences,” he says. “And the experiences you wish you had. The experiences of other people. I don’t know,” he pauses. “My ideas come from outer space.”
The patent for Bow-Glow, the glow-in-the-dark violin rosin, arrived this year. One invention down. What’s next?
“I can’t say,” he says. “It’s a secret.”
Then again, if you know him, you know you’ll find out soon enough.
For more information, call Digman’s Violin & Publishing Company at 301-790-3099.