Crooked Road, VA
For generations, the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwest Virginia have produced an abundance of extraordinary traditional musicians. Keepers of an historic musical legacy with roots in the meeting of the African banjo and European violin during colonial times, they have created and passed on old-time, bluegrass and mountain gospel sounds that have profoundly influenced the development of American popular music.
The Virginia Luthiers is a group of the region’s finest pickers: Wayne Henderson (guitar), Jimmy Edmonds (fiddle), Gerald Anderson (bass), and Spencer Strickland (mandolin). As their name suggests, each is also a master builder of acoustic instruments.
The group represents Southwest Virginia musicians, singers and dancers who love their homegrown music, and play it every day in family kitchens, workshops, jam sessions, community dances, festivals and musical gatherings. Today, this region’s living musical culture, not only survives, but thrives.
Some of the finest instruments in the world are being made in Southwest Virginia, where Appalachian hardwood forests provide sought-after woods rich in tone. Wayne Henderson was born, raised, and still lives in Rugby, population seven, near the North Carolina border. When his first guitar, a mail-order instrument from Sears, proved a disappointment, he set out to build his own from the bottom of a dresser drawer. Over 650 guitars later, his instruments are legendary – sought after over the years by the likes of Eric Clapton and Doc Watson. His playing is just as admired, and he’s traveled the world sharing it. He took first place 13 times at the Galax Fiddlers’ Convention guitar competition, and in 1995 was honored with the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowship.
The three musicians with Wayne are also musicians of the finest order. Jimmy Edmonds was a child prodigy who began playing at age five. Starting at age 10, he placed first in the Galax Fiddlers’ Convention’s fiddle competition eight years in a row. His grandfather, Norman Edmonds, was a fiddler who recorded with singer J.P. Nestor during the legendary 1927 Bristol Sessions. In 2001, Edmonds began making fiddles, and now crafts guitars as well.
As a young college graduate, Gerald Anderson was introduced to instrument-making by Henderson over the course of many afternoons spent observing and jamming in his tiny Rugby workshop. Wishing to pass on this valuable training, Anderson has taught his craft to the group’s youngest member, Spencer Strickland, with the support of a Virginia Folklife Program apprenticeship.