Author: Ramos, Jean

If Instruments Could Talk

Perhaps some of you have been to the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Though I have not visited this hallowed building, it is near the top of my “bucket list.” I didn’t know that it was originally called the Union Gospel Tabernacle. Thomas G. Ryman had it designed and built in order for people to hear the Gospel messages of his favorite evangelist, Sam Jones. The acoustics in the building are it’s best-known feature. After Ryman’s death in 1904, the building became known as the Ryman Auditorium.

Over the years, the Ryman became an entertainment theater of renown, hosting everything from The Metropolitan Opera to the Grand Ole Opry. A diverse collection of performers graced the stage; everyone from Hank Williams to Harry Houdini, Mae West to Minnie Pearl, Roy Rogers to Roy Acuff and Enrico Caruso to Elvis. On December 8, 1945, Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs took the stage of the Ryman for the first time. The Ryman is known as the Birthplace of Bluegrass. I imagine, the most common words uttered by visitors would be, “If these walls could talk…”

According to the Ryman website…”The beauty of a well-seasoned performance hall, like that of a fine vintage instrument, cannot be reproduced.

Speaking of “well-seasoned,” I’m sure most of you have seen images of Willie Nelson’s guitar, which he affectionately calls “Trigger.” He bought the Martin N-20 classical guitar forty-four years ago. Like Roy Roger’s horse, the guitar has been “rode hard,” and served him well through thousands of shows, recording sessions, jams, and songwriting sessions, not to mention it’s exposure to smoke, haze, beer, blood, sweat and tears. Willie says, “Trigger is like me, old and beat up.” The guitar face is covered with scars and autographs and has a gaping hole near the bridge. The frets are worn smooth, the fret board has deep grooves worn in the surface and all of these anomalies are what gives Willie’s guitar it’s signature sound. When I see images of “Trigger,” my response is, “If that guitar could talk…” In a way, the guitar does talk and has told many stories.

Many of our instruments come with a story. The five-string fiddle that was made for us by Frank Daniel came with it’s own story. Some of the wood that was used in its construction is from a tree that was planted on the state capitol grounds in Boise, ID by President Benjamin Harrison. My Martin HD-28 came with a big price tag but no story. I’m busy building stories with it though it will never develop into anything closely resembling Willie’s “Trigger,” and that’s a good thing.

I want to tell you a story of another instrument, a guitar. It was rather non-descript in its appearance, didn’t cost much when a young logger ordered it (along with an amplifier) from a Montgomery Ward catalog back around 1940. At some point, he tried to “fancy” it up by adding his initials in rhinestones on the front of the guitar. In the evenings and on week-ends, he would sit and strum that guitar and sing the old Jimmie Rodgers songs to his family and sometimes would be joined by a brother who also loved to pick and sing the old country music of that era.

Alas, as is often the case of many loggers, the young man was struck and killed by a flying tree limb, a “widow maker,” as they were aptly called. He left a young wife and five small children; the last one was born just a few weeks after his tragic death.

Somehow, in the aftermath of the accident, the guitar and amplifier that had brought so much joy to the logger and his family ended up in the possession of his younger sister. She didn’t sing or play the guitar but she kept it for it’s sentimental value.

As time passed, the logger’s five children grew, all of them had a love for music but only one became a guitar picker. She was the number four child, not the oldest, not the youngest…it seemed she had no “special” place in the family. In order to feel significant, and to help her through times of loneliness and despair, she had a second hand guitar and her music. One day, when she was in her early teens, she was told that she would someday inherit her father’s guitar and amplifier. This was music to her ears.

Many years passed and the guitar changed hands many times but never came into her possession. She had a couple opportunities to tune it up and play it at family gatherings but there was always someone else that took it home. Sadly, it was never owned by anyone that could play it. The number four child always knew the whereabouts of her father’s guitar but finally gave up the idea of ever owning it.

The last person to own the guitar fell into some hard times and borrowed money, using it as collateral. He no sooner took it to the “lender” and his house burned to the ground. Through divine intervention, the guitar and amplifier were spared. He never returned for the guitar…

I recently made a trip north to help a family member. On my way home, I stopped to visit another relative, the one who now had possession of the guitar. Before I left, she told me, “I think it’s time for you to take your father’s guitar home.” Number four child has a birthday today and is very thankful for this surprise “gift.”

Have a blessed Thanksgiving.
Posted:  11/24/2013

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