Joey Carroll of Peaceful Heart Creations
By Richard DuPertuis
Blowing in the Wind
Story and Photos by Richard Dupertuis
The flute-maker closes his eyes. In his hands, he holds one of his creations, a polished pipe hewn from a fallen cedar. In his mind, he goes back to the day he found that tree, a casualty of cleanup from a Shasta County wildfire. In the opinion of Peaceful Heart Creations founder Joey Carroll, the taking of that tree had been unnecessary.
“I sat down in ceremony, sad that this tree had been cut down,” he says. “I sprinkled a mixture of tobacco, sage and cedar shavings, and I asked if I could bring it back to life. I shed a few tears, and it said, ‘OK.’ It was a calm, peaceful voice saying thank you.”
In the five years since, Carroll estimates he’s hand-crafted approximately 300 Native American-style flutes from this tree. Judging by the stacks of long cedar blocks in his garage workshop, he figures he’s got enough left for another 240.
“This is how I brought it back to life,” he says. “Through music.”
Though Carroll harvests with a chainsaw and cuts those blocks with his band saw, he prefers to detail with hand tools. He cuts the main sound chamber with a gouge, rounds a block into a pipe with a draw knife, and hand-carves each fetish, a small wood block that rests on a rise atop the instrument.
Rather than drill the finger holes, he burns them with a tool heated by a torch. He polishes each flute with coats of tung oil, orange oil and beeswax. He says, “No chemicals. If I don’t want it in my mouth, I don’t want it in someone else’s mouth.”
Normally, Carroll carves the fetish into the shape of a bird, but now he picks up a flute topped by a wooden bison, and he tells a story about why this one is special. He was prepared to play after a Center for Spiritual Living yoga class, when a student accidentally stepped on his flute, shattering it.
“She was distraught and crying,” he says. “ I thought she was going to leave the class.” He talked her down and she stayed, but after the class she told him she must do something for him. She ended up giving him a piece of wood he’d never worked with before, much lighter-hued, wider-grained Port Orford cedar.
“It just came to me. I wasn’t sure what to do with it at first,” he says. “Then the energy came to me to make a white buffalo fetish.”
He explained that 20 years ago, a white buffalo calf was born into the world, the first in many human generations. He researched a Native American legend prophesy that the return of the white buffalo would usher in an age of harmony and balance. He also found another native prediction.
“Crazy Horse prophesied that seven generations after his death, people would start recognizing that all races needed to come together,” he says. “This is the Seventh Generation. I decided it was time to bring that vibration through the white buffalo.”
Carroll says he found his place in the scheme of things when he met a Native American seer who told him his talent came from a past life. “I was told I was a natural,” he recalls. “I walked with the Shoshone Tribe and learned how to play. I was taught how to make flutes by the Blackfoot People.”
He says he believes in reincarnation, just doesn’t dwell on it. But this reading answered questions for him. “The first flute I made, it played right on key. I didn’t know why,” he says. “I found out it was already a part of me.”
Carroll didn’t find out about his artistic inclinations until late in his school years. Born in New Jersey, his California boyhood began at age 3 when his family moved to the Monterey Bay area. He remembers his father, a veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, being mostly absent, preferring to hang out on the base with other soldiers.
This gave the young man freedom to hang out with the hippies. “I identified with the direction they were going, being open to the idea of living together in peace,” he remembers. “In my last year of high school, my crafts teacher said he wanted to introduce me to an artist on Cannery Row – Gordon Newell, the sculptor. He inspired me to be an artist.”
Carroll’s first try was blacksmithing, then he found himself drawn to wood carving. “My interest in nature began while walking alone through the forest. There’s something about the trees,” he says.
There was also something about the flute, something he felt the first time he picked one up, a cheap model at a crafts fair about 20 years ago. “It just felt so right,” he recalls. “It was just something I needed to do. I could feel it in my heart.”
Today, Carroll plays at his church and from time to time other venues in the Redding area, but he says it’s not really him playing. “I’m not playing. I can’t play the flute,” he explains. “I play the vibration of the song. I allow the spirit to move through me to play the flute.”
Asked what that feels like, he replies, “A calmness moves over my entire being. And I can feel the connection between me and the earth and all humanity. And I know we’re all spiritual beings.” •