Sugar Maple is an eight-episode dramatic fiction podcast from Osiris Media. Each episode centers around one owner of a semi-mythical Fender Telecaster electric guitar. The story stretches across several decades and musical styles, over which the Telecaster, „Sugar Maple“ is played by a series of musicians. To each, the guitar brings both (ephemereal) success and failure.

Episode 1 begins with the mysterious killing of a huge tree – „bigger than you could ever imagine“. It then introduces a narrator, Terrance Woodridge, who from 1995 narrates a story that goes back to 1951.

Young orphan boy Bobby Lindley is obsessed with playing guitar. With his brand-new 1951 Telecaster guitar, he enters a musical contest, only to have his guitar broken by his competitors. His aunt Buggy repairs the guitar for him using would from a pulpit that belonged to her late preacher husband.

The wood has some special qualities, first of all its striking looks. The repair of the broken neck doesn’t extend to the neck, but grows into the body of the guitar as well.

When Becky, Bobby’s girlfriend, picks up the guitar after the repair and plays seven notes, Bobby steps in to resume his place as its rightful owner. They go on to form a band and write a song – or rather, the song mysteriously writes itself through the guitar.

From there on, the guitar begins to inspire its players with musical powers beyond their grasp, producing songs that cause natural catastrophes when they are played, as well as envy and jealousy around its players. Also, each time it is played by a new owner, eventually a branch appears on its body from the original tree from which the pulpit was made.

Bobby Lindro leaves his wife and child to become a studio musician in California, after throwing Sugar Maple on a freight train on which it disappears. In Episode 2, it turns up at the hands of Memphis Blues guitarist Louis „Hambone“ Butler, whom his bandleader cheats both out of the instrument and his songwriter’s credits. In Episode 3, the guitar is found at a murder site, catapults the new owner Ornate Williams to the top of the charts, as well as exposes her as a trans woman.

Episode 4 reveals the secret around Sugar Maple. The wood used to repair the guitar’s body was taken from the mythical Thread Tree, a tree of cosmic dimensions that was eventually cut down – the murder narrated at the very start of Episode 1. The story is told by this episode’s central character and fourth Sugar Maple owner, Stella „Doc“ Osprey, a New Orleans drug dealer.

Players 5 and 6, coutry singer Belinda Rose and gospel musician Quentin Gladstone, only serve to reinforce the notion that Sugar Maple returns every seven years, grows another branch every time it is used by a new owner, propels them to brief fame, and ultimate shame.

It is Episode 7 that completes the first ring, only to destroy the notion that was set up by the narrative. The seventh owner, London punk musician and heroin addict Fiona Blitzkrieg, plays Sugar Maple at her New Year’s Eve show. Terrance and his friend arrive too late to stop her.

In Episode 8, all former Sugar Maple owners as well as Terrance are magically propelled to one moment in time (around 2020) to a big concert, at which Terrance is reunited with his mother and father. At the concert, Terrance himself becomes the last player. The power of the combined musicians and audence, instead of finally ending the world, rejuvenate it and make the story end on a final note of hope for the future that is now exorcised from the wrath of Thread Tree.

A formal description of the podcast’s structure, the songs and their players reveals the basic structure of the Ring.

  1. A Rebecca – one sevennote lick
  2. B Bobby Lindro, country boy turned studio musician – Brimstone Lampfire, Rock’n’Roll – 1951
  3. C Louis Hambone Butler, railway porter and blues musician – Lonesome Train, Electric Blues – 1958
  4. D Ornate Williams, Soul and Disco queen – Knock Knock, Motown Soul; Sugar Fly Soul, Disco – 1965
  5. E Stella „Doc“ Osprey, drug dealer, all-around shady person – Loop-O, Circle Loop Pool Electric, Jazz Rock – 1972
  6. D‘ Belinda Rose, country singer – Two Arms to Hold On To; Country – 1979
  7. C‘ Quentin Gladstone, young man turned Gospel musician – Singing On The Mountain; Gospel – 1986
  8. B‘ Fiona Blitzkrieg, punk musician – Leviticus; Punk – 1992/93
  9. A‘ Terrance Woodbridge, journalist and Rebecca’s son – Revolover, Rock anthem

Click for a deeper dive into how Sugar Maple shapes the listeners‘ expectations through its circular structure.

(c) Stephan Küpper