Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Gerald Anderson of Troutdale, VA

After hearing the accomplishments of some of the skilled caftsmen of the Crooked Road, we contacted Chuck Riedhammer, director of the Galax Department of Tourism, to ask if we could meet an area luthier in his workshop. The title of "luthier" has been expanded from referring to someone who made lutes to someone who makes any stringed instrument. Mr. Riedhammer referred us to Gerald Anderson of Troutdale. I asked if it would be appropriate to bring something for Mr. Anderson, maybe a homemade pie. He laughed and said, "I don't know about appropriate, but it certainly would be appreciated."

We left a message for Gerald on Friday, and on Saturday I met him after he finished playing in the Grayson County Old-Time and Bluegrass Music Convention (Elk Creek) competition. He graciously agreed to have us stop by Wednesday afternoon.

On Monday, we began our search for a baker. Conversations with another customer at Skeeter's led to meeting another local merchant, Bill Kirk, of The Paper Clip (office supplies). He said there really wasn't a bakery for pastries in town, but he referred us to Jerry Yonce, the chef at The Log House restaurant.

When I explained our upcoming meeting with the luthier, chef Yonce, seemed a bit amused by my request, but he suggested either a pecan pie or a Kentucky Derby pie. The description of the Kentucky Derby pie (chocolate chips, coconut, and the words "it's like candy") sealed the deal. We made plans to pick up the pie around 1:00 on Wednesday. (We then made plans to have lunch at The Log House on Wednesday.)

So, we called Gerald today to get directions to Gerald's workshop, and, not to our surprise, they included the words "winding," "uphill," and, finally, "a very narrow, uphill, winding driveway" to the workshop.

We had lunch at the Log House, picked up the pie, and were off to Troutdale, about 22miles south of Wytheville on Route 16.

We were met at the door by Spencer Strickland, Gerald's apprentice. He then showed us into the workshop. There was sawdust in the air--not merely the smell of sawdust, but sawdust. We stepped outdoors to present the pie to Gerald, who was both surprised and appreciative of the gift

Gerald Anderson is probably in his mid forties, but looks younger. Both men are two of the most respected luthiers in the region, but both are very humble. We were warmly welcomed to their "office." One local resident and his friend were already talking with Gerald when we arrived.

As we were shown around the two work areas, I felt like Jimmy who would come over to Mr. Wizard's workshop (1950's TV) and say things like, "Gosh, Mr. Wizard, how did you do that--bend the sides?" Both craftsmen answered questions in detail, often reforming the question somewhat to provide a more complete answer to the questions that I asked and to those that I could have asked if I had more knowledge about the art of making guitars and mandolins.

We walked around the workshop, talking about the red spruce grown nearby that is used for the front of the guitar, the mahogany used on the curved sides and back of one guitar, the forms used for the mandolins, and the device (shown above) used to form the curve in the wood providing the sides of the guitar.
Gerald then showed us some of the finished products.

Finally, Gerald showed us a guitar, parts of which four outstanding luthiers (Wayne Henderson, Jimmy Edmonds, Gerald, and Spencer) had made. It is going to be raffled off to pay for their concert trip to Baltimore, the Gibson guitar factory near Allentown, PA, and New York City this fall. It had the words "Crooked Road" in an inlay in the neck of the guitar. We bought some tickets, but I hope someone who can already play well wins the drawing.

After about an hour of conversation and demonstration of the steps involved in creating an instrument, Gerald and Spencer played three songs. To my untrained ear, the sounds from both the guitar and mandolin were both richer and fuller than those of many other guitars.

We then headed for Independence, VA, to listen to a jam session on the lawn of the 100-year-old courthouse.

With every jam session we attend, we understand a little more about the role that these sessions play in the life of the community. The benefits of performing for an appreciative audience is a distant second to the joy of connecting with other people of similar interests. The interplay, both musical and conversational, is all-important.

We were fortunate to see and hear 11 musicians enjoying each other's company. As a bonus, we heard the full complement of the instruments in a band playing old-time music: fiddle (2), banjo (2), guitar (5), string bass (1), and mandolin (1). (The mandolin player arrived late and occupied the empty chair in the photo.)

I have forgotten to mention in earlier entries a noticeable characteristic of the climate of the region. The effect of the sun can be intense, but when the sun goes behind the mountains, the temperature can drop by what seems to be 15=20 degrees. You go from sweltering to feeling cool/cold enough to need a sweatshirt within 20 minutes.

No comments: