Thursday, July 31, 2008

My Henderson Guitar

We had the chance to hear Willard Gayheart (right in photo) (whom you met in the July 15 entry) and his son-in-law Scott Freeman (left) in their weekly appearance at the Blue Ridge Music Center today. These appearances provide the opportunity not only to hear some of the most talented musicians in the area but also to talk with them about their work.

Kate asked them if they would sing "My Henderson Guitar," which we had heard and enjoyed at Mr. Gayheart's concert earlier this month. But first the story behind the song. Wayne Henderson is THE guitar maker in the area and Willard Gayheart has been called the "Norman Rockwell of Appalachia." Since they held each other in high regard and because Willard is a skilled guitarist and songwriter, they arranged a trade: one person's art in exchange for the other's art. And so it came to pass that Wayne has hanging in his living room the original drawing of himself in five different poses working in his workshop and Willard has a Henderson guitar that he plays everywhere.

We looked at the neck of his Henderson guitar and saw this drawing of Wayne that Willard had done and Wayne had somehow transferred to the guitar. It is somewhat worn, but that would make Wayne happy because he wants his guitars to be played not hung on a wall. Willard wrote the song "My Henderson Guitar" that expresses his joy in obtaining this gem. I don't remember the lyrics, but it basically says "you can have all the riches in the world; I have my Henderson guitar."

Scott's mandolin was also made by Wayne Henderson and also had a distinctive identification on the neck. Scott also played the guitar and the fiddle during the day's performance. With these skills, it came as no surprise to learn that Scott has 65 students that he sees for weekly lessons on these instruments.

Another Galax chamption musician who has several students is banjoist Ray Chatfield (right in photo), whom we saw in Fries earlier this month, met in Elk Creek, talked to this past Monday at the Music Center, and caught up with at the jam session in Fries this evening. Both Scott and Ray will be following their students in the youth competition Monday night at the Galax Fiddlers Convention.

I asked Ray to show me how the clawhammer playing is done. In a slow demonstration, he made it very clear. Then he made the same move at playing speed and it seemed much more involved. "Just grab your banjo and try this one example. You'll be playing very quickly." First, where did I put my banjo?

Another person we saw again and met for the first time was Mitchell. We had seen him dance at a concert at the Rex Theater in Galax and in the street during a jam session at the Smoke on the Mountain barbecue competition in Galax. Tonight we sat down next to him before we realized he was "the dancing guy" we had seen earlier. We introduced ourselves and commented on his skillful dancing. Mitchell is quite a celebrity in the area and for good reason. His flat-footin' is very good.

There were two groups playing in a large empty, stuffy store. After a brief rain storm, one of the groups moved outside which seemed a far better setting for a summer jam session. This was the biggest jam we've attended, and this outdoor group melded their considerable talents beautifully.

I wish I could play a Henderson guitar.