Interview: Claude Sawyer, Photographer and Philanthropist
ROTTERDAM – Claude Sawyer loves country music.
Sawyer is one of our most prolific photographers at Nippertown, and not surprisingly, he photographs a lot of country concerts for our online magazine. He covers other genres, too, as he simply loves shooting from the pit. Over the years, he’s covered a litany of exceptional national and local musicians and photographs for WGNA, a local country radio station.
He even plays guitar and sings, which brought him to purchase a guitar a while back for his personal use. What he didn’t anticipate was that guitar ended up not being a good fit for his playing style. The beautiful instrument sat in his house waiting for its mission to be envisioned and actualized by Sawyer.
Sawyer re-imagined the guitar covered in signatures by country artists who visit the Capital Region and auction it off to benefit St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.
“The idea just came to me that I could really help St. Jude. The WGNA radio-a-thon raffles off a guitar an hour signed by one artist for St. Jude, and it sparked the idea,” Sawyer mused.
St. Jude is often on Sawyer’s mind and heart. A dear friend and colleague, Don DeMarco, lost his then 12-year-old son to cancer. “I got to watch Tyler DeMarco grow, play little league, and then battle cancer,” he shared. “St. Jude did a lot to support them, and I wanted to give back.”
DeMarco’s son Tyler was a fixture in Rotterdam on the baseball field, so much so that the local Little League retired his number after his passing. His family and our community continue to celebrate his spirit and life to this day through work at the Tyler DeMarco Foundation.
St. Jude is world known for its advances in cancer treatment for children – and its policy that no one is turned away due to inability to pay. Sawyer was so impressed by them; he was inspired to find a way to help them further their goals.
“When I bought this guitar, I really wanted it. The instrument is beautiful. But when I started to play it, something didn’t feel right,” he recalled. He soon recognized that the guitar’s true mission was outside his hands.
The guitar’s purpose was instead in the hands of dozens of musicians who have come to sign it. When Sawyer covers a concert, he requests the artist to sign the guitar. Often this involves Sawyer dropping the guitar off to a publicist with a Sharpie, but sometimes he also gets to meet the artists. That was never the goal, as Sawyer was simply hoping for a donated signature to benefit the cause.
“So far, I have 16 artists’ signatures, and I’m hopeful about this summer adding more to it, especially as the artists roll through SPAC,” Sawyer remarked. Hardy signed it, as has Cody Johnson, Dalton Dover, Morgan Wade, and others.
“I like all kinds of music, but I love country, so it’s a real kick to do this themed guitar,” Sawyer noted. He’s also considering similar projects themed around other genres in the future.
Sawyer’s music photography is just one of many hobbies that keep him busy. He also photographs sports and provides professional headshots, runs a DJ business, and closest to his heart is his role as father to his boys.
“I love going to their baseball games,” he admits. While his own kids have been blessed with good health, Sawyer has a big heart for children and an appreciation for St. Jude.
“I get to shoot so many shows and realized I have an opportunity to do some good here. I love concert photography, and I do it for fun. I don’t need it to put food on the table, so that frees me up a bit,” Sawyer reflected. “Jim (Gilbert) was the first and only concert photographer to respond to me a few years back when I reached out to a bunch of people to learn the ropes. I love Jim for his honest and non-competitive response.”
“It’s fun. I’m building a portfolio, and I attend concerts with Blythe, my partner.” Sawyer and his partner have attended over 80 concerts, and he’s exceeded 250. As for photography, Sawyer reports, “I’m also finding it visually interesting.” Sawyer’s photographs are getting him some attention, too, as others experience the visual interest. He was recently asked by Boz Scaggs to photograph the band for the day.
Sawyer’s guitar project will keep him busy through the fall, and he hopes to have added many more signatures by national acts through the summer and turning weather.
He teased, “Stay tuned for the auction process. I’m aiming for December.” The guitar without signatures is worth $500, so with signatures, he is hoping to raise quite a bit more than that for St. Jude.
Until then, fans can enjoy Sawyer’s photos on Nippertown — and anticipate the final collection of signatures on guitar. We plan to follow Sawyer’s progress, so keep in touch with Nippertown to learn how you can bid on the guitar and support St. Jude as well.