Although his successful Native American flute-making business, High Spirits Flutes, has earned Odell Borg a place of distinction among local musicians and far beyond, his road to success has been anything but smooth.
Born in Germany, the son of an American GI and a German woman whose romance, like many wartime affairs, failed to stand the test of time, 13-year-old Borg and his mother emigrated to California in 1959. After graduating from Hollywood High, a stint in the Marine Corps turned an undisciplined kid into an adult. “The Marines saved my life,” he claims, perhaps with good reason, but it was the gift of a flute in midlife that truly saved Borg’s life and propelled him to the lofty heights he enjoys today.
Ironically, it may have been a series of successes that led Borg into a dark period that left him not merely penniless but utterly without passion for anything in life. He’d started several successful small businesses and had become an accomplished leather worker, yet none of these pursuits provided the life of meaning and purpose for which he yearned. Over time, things fell apart until he’d lost everything. Holding his thumb and forefinger barely an inch apart, he revealed, “I was this close to pushing a shopping cart.”
With the help of friends, and perhaps that “something beyond us,” he hung on until his long winter of discontent ended in 1988. That’s when his partner gave him the gift of a wood flute, and with it, a new lease on life. With virtually no musical background and certainly no understanding of music’s life-changing potential, Borg quickly mastered it, leading him to think he was naturally gifted, a belief that eventually gave way to the reality that, as he now says, “anyone can play the flute.”
Despite this disappointing reality, the flute became Borg’s “buddy” and soon, with the guidance of a cabinet maker friend, he tried making the instruments himself. Pleased with the results and armed with a $2,000 loan from another friend, he set up a production shop in a funky old barn near San Diego where he launched what has since become perhaps the foremost Native American flute production site today.
In the early years, he sold his flutes principally at art shows and festivals. One such show in Tubac afforded Borg the opportunity to discover the allure of Patagonia. Following the show, he drove out Harshaw Road, was awed by having found this place of incredible beauty and moved to this “amazingly supportive community” in 1996.
Unlike the other “musicians of note” whose stories have been told in this series, Borg rarely performs in public. “I don’t have the personality for performing,” he notes. He plays mostly for his own enjoyment at home, content to let others do the entertaining yet gaining satisfaction from knowing he has provided the means for them to do so.
Borg oversees an operation that contributes significantly to the local economy by employing several people who bring his designs to life. Producing a flute that is both beautiful and capable of exquisite sound requires a marriage of creativity, which Borg himself supplies, and adherence to exacting production standards. The business part of the operation is now largely in the hands of Borg’s daughter, Tara, who works from Tucson where a new High Spirits retail shop can now be found at Campbell and Skyline.
The flute has been a financial success, of course, but it has brought Borg riches of another kind as well. It has allowed him to connect with and channel his inner creative spirit in the passionate pursuit of something both meaningful and priceless.