CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Matt Ali doesn't expect to be invited on stage to play with some of his favorite country music stars.
Yet in a way, he gets to be there nonetheless.
The 35-year-old Moundsville resident works by day as a union laborer for Local 1149. After work and on weekends, he likes playing guitar with friends.
But it's Ali's other hobby that's getting him access to country stars such as Brad Paisley, Tim McGraw, Hank Williams Jr., George Strait and Buck Owens. And it's earning him kudos from some up-and-comers, too, including West Virginia's own Davisson Brothers Band and Chris Janson, a singer-songwriter who has penned a piece performed by McGraw.
Ali, a leatherworker, has created custom guitar straps for all kinds of musicians, often giving the first one as a gift and then being asked to create more.
It all started after a Davisson Brothers gig in Pittsburgh.
"I saw them at a county fair and we met afterward. I said, 'By the way, I do leatherwork,' " Ali recalled. "And that was the start of our friendship."
Ali has made straps for brothers Chris and Donnie Davisson and their cousin, Sammy.
Bolstered by their enthusiasm, Ali decided to go big with his next strap.
"Brad Paisley was the very next one. I knew a guy who builds his guitars - he's from Moundsville. So I kind of piggybacked on that. And it kind of went from there," Ali said.
Paisley liked the gift, a black strap with his name stamped into it.
"I saw it on stage and on TV," Ali said. "It's tough to beat that."
Ali first became interested in leatherwork back in the late 1990s.
"When I was in college, I got a gun and I needed a gun belt. My dad had a couple of tools lying around, and he said we could make one."
Ali enjoyed the process so much that he decided to try his hand at it. And when his mother's uncle, an avid leatherworker from Pittsburgh, died, Ali inherited his equipment.