I am one who loves acoustic music and since I was old enough to know anything about instruments; guitars, banjos, mandolins and fiddles have been held a special interest. I first began to play guitar when my dad bought me a cheap acoustic one for Christmas. We had a neighbor, Mrs Lucille Tankersley who taught me several chords. She and her husband had also bought their son, Troy a guitar which was a Stella and both Troy and I had an interest in learning to play the instrument.
I would go across the hill in the mill village to their house and she was very patient with me and Troy as we each learned the G, C, and D chords. Our first tune she taught and we learned to strum was Little Brown Jug and then Chewing, Chawing Gum. We laughed because back then chewing gum in school and church carried a certain stigma especially for youngsters and we were not allowed to chew gum particularly bubblegum in church. It seems seems many who did chew gum managed to stick it under the church pew or under a school desk top after chewing out the sweetness. Woe be unto your young hide if you ever got caught in the act!
Lucille soon had taught me a popular tune made famous by the Carter Family, The Wildwood Flower. It seemed any and every guitar picker in our local area knew this tune and was always the one folks ask me if I knew how to play. It became my number one tune and I still play it when we have a group of pickers come sit in for a jam. Once when I was in Alaska a fellow had a guitar and I ask if I could play it. I played the Wildwood Flower and he commented “Pretty good Carter lick there sarge.”
Later in life I purchased a nicer guitar and developed a better style of picking. A friend of mine and I were in Brevard, NC in 1968 and we were in a music store where Martin guitars were sold. We picked up two and it was love at first sight. Those instruments had a ring and tone that captured my ear and my heart.It wasn’t until I had reached my 50th birthday that I actually could afford one and I bought myself one as a personal birthday present to myself.
It is a Herringbone, HD-28 and it is the best guitar I have ever owned. Most Martins sound good from the storeroom shelf but many pickers will have their instrument set up by a qualified luthier. I had mine set up with fossilized ivory at the nut and saddle and short Vintage Waverly tuning machines. I also added fossil Ivory bridge pins. The tuning machines on my guitar are from one of Lester Flatt’s vintage D-18’s. My guitar originally sold for around $1800 but the man who set it up swears the instrument is now worth three times that amount but to me it is priceless
I have found D’Adario EJ 17’s, a medium string gives me the best sound for my guitar. When I was younger I always used the Black Diamond strings. A very old company which manufactured steel strings and back in the day, about the only strings available for musicians who played the guitar and they were very economical. Often just a single string could be purchased if that was all one might need to replace a broken one. Seemed I was always breaking the high E and having the option of purchasing just one string that I needed was nice.
We had a mom and pop store in Hendersonville, Henderson’s Grocery and they stocked any and everything. One night I had broken a string and needed to get some and dropped by the store to see if they had any. Would you believe it, Mr Woodrow Henderson the store proprietor, told me, “Yep, we got em, just have to find them amongst the stuff.” In a little while he found them and I had my strings and was out the door and soon had them installed on y guitar. The Henderson’s were a legendary couple in our parts and I and many others miss seeing this happy couple and going into their fabulous store.
Over the years I have tried to encourage other young musicians to develop their skills. Today with strings programs offered in many of our public schools, the opportunites are much greater. The skills learned in music classes only add to the range of education and it has been proven students who play instruments and learn to read music focus on other subjects with a greater intensity.