Well-known Comox Valley musician Doug Cox lost a dear friend last week, although he has since received some justice.
Returning Sept. 3 from a guitar camp in Alaska with fellow Comox Valley player Anela Kahiamoe, Cox travelled by boat, plane and automobile for almost 24 hours, including a United Airlines flight via Seattle.
After catching up on some sleep, he took his favourite dobro out to practice, and was horrified to discover his beloved instrument had been damaged beyond repair.
The body was seriously cracked and, since the case was not damaged, Cox concluded his precious instrument had been removed from its protective case, smashed and placed back in the case.
Contacting United Airlines was initially fruitless.
“So, I thought, ‘I’m going to go viral right now,’ ” Cox said in an interview.
Besides using his media contacts through his role as MusicFest’s artistic director – and being interviewed last week by Joanne Roberts on CBC Radio — Cox described the situation on his Facebook page.
That resulted in overwhelming support, including empathy from many fellow musicians, who are also forced to entrust their instruments to airline baggage handlers. Cox then sent his Facebook page to every e-mail address he could find on the airline’s website.
He said he got a sympathetic e-mail from a United Airlines senior baggage handler with a request for photos showing the damage and an estimated replacement cost.
It’s not as if he can just buy one off the shelf because it’s a $5,000 instrument custom-made by Rayco Resophonics in Smithers.
“It’s my voice,” Cox said. “The equivalent would be kicking a singer in the throat.”
Cox, an in-demand session player on other people’s recordings, said when musicians book him to play, they expect the sound he produces with this specific dobro.
A dobro is an Appalachian-style guitar that a musician typically plays on his lap. It produces a bright, warm, twangy sound that is distinctive from a regular guitar.
Cox, acknowledged as perhaps the best dobro player in Canada, said musicians are tired of how airlines treat them.
“When you try to carry your instrument on, nine times out of 10 you’re treated like it’s a real inconvenience and like you’re a second-class citizen, which drives me crazy because … of the millions of dollars the music industry spends on flights, it’s just stupid.
“I’ve had lots of friends whose instruments have been ruined or at least damaged by the airlines. It’s frustrating.”
However, he posted the following message Monday on his Facebook page:
“I am very happy to report that thanks largely to Mr. Keith Freeman, senior manager – Baggage Resolution Centre at United Airlines, we have come to an agreement that completely satisfies me in resolving what happened to my instrument. The fact that he took this situation seriously enough to deal with it immediately means everything.
”I am now going to be able to continue my work as a session and touring musician in a relatively uninterrupted manner, all things considered,” added Cox, saying an agreement he signed with United prevents him from saying more about their settlement.
United might have dodged a bullet.
Cox is going to Nashville this week, and some of his musician friends had offered to help him record a We Are the World-style version of a 2009 video by Nova Scotia musician Dave Carroll called United Kills Guitars.
That video went viral on YouTube, a phenomenon Cox was prepared to replicate if the airline didn’t do the right thing.