- Associated Press - Sunday, August 9, 2015

BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) - Box fans churned up a breeze as the buzzing of saws mingled with the sound of blues legend Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor” playing on a radio.

And seated in the middle of the Island Sea Design warehouse, among countless antiques, pieces of wood and furniture, was Hondo Ritchie, his practiced hands working a piece of white birch. At his feet, an orange cat playfully batted pieces of excess wood as they fell to the floor.

“Someone just dropped him off on the side of the road,” Ritchie said, gesturing to the feline. “I gave him some chicken … so he’s my cat now. His name is Hot Shot. I was going to be a vet … a long time ago.”

But fate had other plans for him, though he has managed to make animals a large part of his fascinating life. Born in Kentucky but growing up in Oklahoma, Ritchie spent three years in the Army, including being stationed in Hawaii during the 1950s. When he left the service, he hoped to pursue a veterinary career.

“I was a pre-vet major in college at the University of Kentucky. I finished all of that and got accepted to vet school at Auburn, but I had just gotten a divorce and thought I’d do some traveling before I started veterinary school,” he said. “I’m still traveling.”

That path took him across the country, where he met dozens of interesting and often famous people. One of his most interesting stories involves a certain rock band, based in Macon.

“I came to Macon with a couple of women friends and we were meeting up with a guy that we all knew and he lived on the Allman Brothers farm,” Ritchie said.

The Southern rock band started by real life brothers, Gregg and Duane Allman, was based in a large house, called the Big House, in the Georgia town. Many other members of the band lived in the house together during the 1960s. The band and its members also owned a 500-acre farm in Juliette, roughly 30 minutes from Macon, near the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge.

“When we got there, I started talking to (the band’s drummer) Butch Trucks,” he said.

“He was telling me that he didn’t have anyone to take care of the horses and I used to break horses growing up on the farm in Oklahoma, so I got hired on to take care of them. I wasn’t making a lot of money but a free place to live with utilities. It was a great job.”

Not to mention, Ritchie got to rub elbows with some of the biggest rock stars in the business. Through that gig, Ritchie met and became friends with several members of the Allman Brothers Band.

“I was close with (drummers) Jaimoe and Butch. Of course, Duane and Barry were already dead (from motorcycle accidents),” he said. “I didn’t spend a lot of time with Gregg.”

Ritchie also met one of his lifelong best friends, Bonnie Bramlett of Delaney and Bonnie, while working with the Allman Brothers.

“I still talk to her about once a month. She’s an amazing lady. She’s writing a book right now,” he said. “I actually built her the desk she’s writing the book on. She also painted a picture for charity and I made her the frame for the picture.”

His handmade wooden furniture is clearly high quality enough for celebrities, even if they weren’t his friends. But he came about the skill entirely naturally, even a bit accidentally.

“My stepfather didn’t have a lot of education but he could make anything. I’ve worked with antiques for a long time, and I would make pieces to repair them. Then I realized that you could make more money just making the whole thing,” Ritchie said.

He’s worked with Fran Antczak, whom he met through the antiques business, at Island Sea Designs crafting one of a kind furniture from various types of wood, even ancient reclaimed wood often infused with materials like turquoise.

While he has no formal training, Rithcie says it’s come very easily to him.

“You read the wood. You look at a piece of wood and see what it wants to be,” he said.


Information from: The Brunswick News, https://www.thebrunswicknews.com

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