The Gazette (August 17, 2009)
By BEN BOMBERGER
Wayne C. Henderson has a festival that bears his name each fall in Grayson County, and he is known throughout the musical world as a master musician and instrument maker from the small community of Rugby.
This Thursday, Henderson will be able to add another accomplishment to his career when a documentary film showcasing him premieres at the Rex Theater in Galax.
“From Wood to Singing Guitar” is an Appalshop documentary film showing Henderson, a skilled craftsman and respected musician by his teenage years.
Filmmaker Shawn Lind has been working on the project for about two years. This spring, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded The Arts & Cultural Council of the Twin Counties a grant to finish, distribute and publicize the film in conjunction with Appalshop.
Lind is a graduate of Ohio University and began working with Appalshop in the summer of 2005.
“I worked with many films and projects at Appalshop,” he told The Gazette. “The whole time I had an interest in guitars, played guitar and was thinking about staring a hobby with building instruments.”
One afternoon, Lind was in a bookstore and stumbled upon Allen St. John’s book, “Clapton's Guitar: Watching Wayne Henderson Build the Perfect Instrument.”
Lind said he “immediately saw and heard images, stories, sounds, dust, chisels, saws and all the other pieces for making a documentary.”
Appalshop has many ties to the Appalachian Region, and Lind said the documentary about Henderson fit into the company’s mission.
“To have one of the finest acoustic guitar builders in the world, past or present, living, working and playing music in his hometown in the mountains fit right into the mission of Appalshop,” Lind said. “Also, my own interests with guitars and thinking about the idea of building [a guitar] myself, I was motivated to follow up the idea with a phone call.”
How did Henderson respond to the idea?
“Wayne generously said, ‘sure,’” Lind explained.
Lind began raising funds in late 2006 and visited Henderson at his shop once a month.
“I did some research at the Library of Congress listening to E.C. Ball, Albert Hash and some early recordings of Wayne,” Lind said. “Actually, Wayne performed at Appalshop in the 90s and I had access to those recordings, as well.”
It was May 2008 when Lind and Robert Salyer — cinematographer and Appalshop filmmaker — made the trip to Henderson’s shop and began filming.
“We filmed everything… building, playing, scenics, dust, tools and even some of Wayne’s friends,” Lind said. “We spent two weeks worth of late nights there in Rugby, that was when Wayne gets most of his work done.”
Lind began doing some rough editing after returning from Grayson County, before spending another short week at Wayne’s shop in the fall of 2008.
After continuing to edit all the “great material” down, Lind said there was one last day of filming during March 2009 to finish the actual production shooting.
He completed the editing and had DVDs made in time for the world premiere during Appalshop’s annual Seedtime on the Cumberland Festival in June.
Lind said Henderson and Jeff Little performed, along with Herb Key’s band, Elkville String Band.
“It turned into a great night,” Lind explained. “It was a long road from the very beginning, but everything seemed to fall right into place. I can’t thank Wayne enough for his generosity, openness and jokes through the whole process.”
Henderson was taught and encouraged by those around him, including the folk hero E.C. Ball and the kind and generous fiddle maker, Albert Hash. Learning much more than just guitar building and playing, Henderson continues to do the same for the younger generations.
Henderson made and sold his first guitar at age 17. Now 62, he has produced around 450 guitars. He has been awarded the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowship for his hard work both as a luthier and musician.
Henderson has put instruments in the hands of friend and old-time picker Doc Watson and superstar rocker Eric Clapton. He made and auctioned off a guitar identical to Clapton’s to support his scholarship fund for young, local traditional musicians.
That instrument fetched $31,200 – the highest price ever paid for a guitar made by a living American luthier. The wait list for a Henderson guitar is — famously — 10 years.
“To people around the Twin Counties, Wayne Henderson is a regular guy that everyone knows and loves,” says Ellen Holland of The Arts Council. “To the music world, Henderson is a respected and talented icon. The film documents the rich culture of our area and highlights one of our best-known living legends. We are delighted to be part of this project that promotes local tourism and preserves our heritage.”
After the local premier Thursday, the film will be released to public television stations.
The premier will take place at 7 p.m. and those in attendance will be among the first to see “From Wood to Singing Guitar,” and have an opportunity to buy an autographed copy of the DVD.
This music experience is sponsored, in part, by The Arts & Cultural Council of the Twin Counties, Appalshop Inc., the National Endowment for the Arts and the Virginia Commission for the Arts.
Appalshop is a non-profit arts and education center producing original films, video, theater, music and spoken-word recordings, radio, photography, multimedia and books since 1969. The Arts Council is a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the arts of the Twin Counties since 1987.
WANT TO GO?
What: “From Wood to Singing Guitar” film premiere
Where: Rex Theatre in downtown Galax
When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
Bonus: Autographed DVDs will be available for purchase
Information: (276) 238-1217