Monday, August 8, 2016
I'd heard Henderson play while living in North Carolina, and at the most recent MerleFest at the "Mando Mania" session, as the artists discussed their mandolins, one was a Wayne Henderson model.
What readers never learn is whether St. John eventually got a coveted guitar for himself from the master builder. In the book, though, he describes the process and the workshop in such detail I felt as if I had been there with the men--and yes, he realizes, this is almost exclusively a boys' club. The people who come in and out of the workshop by Henderson's home are the jokers and story tellers, the neighbors and festival planners.
Along the way, St. John also clearly distinguishes old time music from bluegrass, and both from anything else. I found myself building a playlist as I read, since he refers not only to the tunes I know best, "Blackberry Blossom" or "Deep River Blues," but other tunes one would be more likely to hear at a fiddler's convention than at Carnegie Hall--both of which Henderson plays.
Through the book, I developed a new respect for luthiers and a broader knowledge of the history of Martin guitars. The footnotes were interesting too. For example, I learned that Nazareth, mentioned in the Band's best known song, "The Weight," refers not to the town where Jesus was born, but the Pennsylvania town where the Martin factory is located.
I read the electronic version of the book, but I'd recommend the paper copy for anyone who wants easier access to the extensive glossary. I also kept flipping back to the opening pages, where he includes a clearly labeled graphic of a guitar.
The book, though technical in many ways, is infinitely readable, developing a wide cast of characters set in a unique setting. For good measure, he includes a buzzard and possum story one won't forget soon.