It’s Chicago in the 1950s. Cadillacs are cruising down Maxwell Street with their windows down, letting in the Sunday afternoon breeze. On the sidewalk, street musicians line the curb, sharing their talents with passersby and hoping to be signed by one of the many record labels just doors away.
There’s one musician in particular that draws people in. Every day, he props himself onto a trash can on the sidewalk and plays his guitar for Chicagoans. Slipped onto the pinky of his left hand is an emerald green glass cylinder, which he slides up and down the fretboard. With each slide of his hand rings a new sound of urban blues that will make him into the guitar legend that is Muddy Waters.
Except this time, we’re not actually watching Muddy Waters. We’re watching actor Jeffrey Wright, playing Muddy Waters, on the set of Cadillac Records. Though the star-studded film boasted such names as Beyoncé Knowles, Adrien Brody, Cedric the Entertainer and Mos Def, it was the tie back to Columbia, S.C. that made the movie significant to a local artist.
Brenton Sadreameli was only 19 years old when made his first bottleneck guitar slide. It began as a hobby. As a sophomore at the Citadel, Sadreameli just needed something to fill the time he wasn’t spending fighting his way through the ranks to avoid getting in trouble. A lover of blues guitar, it just seemed logical to try making his own slide. His buddies were immediately impressed and encouraged him to make more.
Known as “Mr. B” to the Columbia arts community and beyond, Sadreameli has come a long way since his Citadel days and now runs a full-scale sustainable glassworks business off of State Street in Columbia, S.C.
An open-aired garage is home to crates of empty bottles, glass-transforming machines and hand-built wooden shelves overstuffed with Mr. B original designs. When starting Mr.B’s Sustainable Glassworks, Sadreameli had no idea his once-hobby would spark a business that would become his life.
It’s the passion for the music, as well as the art, that fueled Sadreameli to experiment with different types of glass that produce their own unique sounds. The glass he uses comes from wine and liquor bottles and Sadreameli relies on donations to continue growing. Slides made out of wine bottle necks from local restaurants, such as State Street neighbor Terra, make for a true, localized Columbia sound.
Even though he recycled the bottles for their necks, Sadreameli realized there was still a lot of the glass going to waste. He decided to see what else he could make, instead of throwing out perfectly good glass. “I’m always experimenting, always finding new ways to make recyclable glass into something new.” He pulls out his newest creation from one of the many shelves - coasters made from the bottom of wine bottles. He kept the bottle’s original texture from the bottom and smoothed and cut the edges to make it into a square. “I know it still needs something to polish it off, I’m just not sure what, yet.” Sadreameli’s wheels never stop turning when it comes to improving his pieces to make them the most original.
From his experimentation, he created what is now one of his most popular items. Sadreameli started cutting the bottles straight across the body to make highball-sized or tumbler-sized glasses. Mr. B also learned to sand-etch monograms and logos into the glass to make them more personalized. “People call to order them for wedding favors all the time,” says Sadreameli. “We get a lot of corporate gift requests, too.” The Oak Table in Columbia and Husk restaurant in Charleston serve signature cocktails in some of Mr. B’s original pieces.
The glass comes from donations - bottles that would otherwise be dropped off at recycling facilities. “It’s expensive for restaurants and businesses to get recycling pick-up, so I make it easier for them.” Local restaurants bring wine, champagne and liquor bottles in truckloads to the Mr. B workshop to turn their waste into a piece of recycled art.
Blue glass, however, is difficult to recycle. Blue glass has to be recycled with like colors and because it’s a rare commodity and Sadreameli says, “many recycling plants just throw them away.” The glass, because of its rarity and vibrancy, makes for beautiful pieces in high demand.
Now, his company has expanded to making almost anything out of glass - cheese plates, coasters, carafes, bottle-serving tray, spoon rests and more. And, if any indication by the overwhelming amount of wine bottles piling at the entrance of his workshop, Sadreameli has more ideas and resources than he knows what to do with.
Sadreameli picked up the phone one afternoon, not expecting to speak with the property master for the upcoming film Cadillac Records. “She’d found my slides in Rudy’s Music Store in New York and bought [the store] out,” Sadreameli says proudly. “She was calling to get more for the actors.”
Sadreameli never anticipated he’d see one of his slides on the big screen. “They were looking for the slide that would look most authentic on Muddy Waters’ hand, and mine did the trick.” This was a big push for the company and fueled his passion to continue making more.
“I was really hoping the ‘Mr. B’ signature would have been visible in the shots,” says Sadreameli with a chuckle. “But their crew does a great job making sure there are no brand affiliations.” But, not many people can say they’ve been featured in a star-studded film - or, at least by affiliation. “It’s still cool to see what I made on the finger of the actor playing blues legend Muddy Waters.”
From Nashville to Southern California, you can find a Mr. B original across the nation. Independent music shops in more than 25 states nationwide - and, even in Japan - stock a set of the signature slides in their own glass cabinets. Sadreameli’s transition to start moving his glasses in stores nationwide is just beginning. The catalyst? A signed agreement to be an official Whole Foods vendor. This is a whole new playing field for Sadreameli, and he’ll have to test his skills as an entrepreneur and much as a glassmaker to make his art a success. The market for glasses is, as you might guess, a somewhat different target than those who play blues guitar.
Rooted in his open-aired garage and industrial workshop on State Street, Sadreameli has established his workshop in Columbia, S.C. and doesn’t have any plans to leave. “I always tell my friends how jealous I am that they can just apply for a job and move to another city,” says Sadreameli. “But they say they’re jealous of what I have going for me here.”
His break into the entertainment industry hasn’t stopped him from staying humble. The potential for artists to flourish in Columbia still exists. “The main problem with Columbia is that we cultivate a lot of awesome, talented people - then, they move elsewhere.”
So, if you see any blue glass lying around, make a trip to State Street and say hello to friendly artist, Mr. B.
-- Meredith Almond
(photos courtesy of Brenton Sadreameli)