He’s performed for royalty, made a rock star cry and is recognized around the world for his handcrafted musical instruments — not bad for a guy who discovered his true calling out of desperation.
“Most of my classes in college were in archaeology and anthropology, which had nothing to do with guitar making. When I was in school, I could barely play guitar. After I got out and started hanging out with Wayne, that’s when I really got into it.”
Gerald’s storied career in the music business began when he met Wayne Henderson — one of the most respected lutheirs (maker of stringed instruments) and guitar players in the world. Wayne, also a Grayson County native, was honored in 1995 with a National Heritage Award by the National Endowment for the Arts and famously made Eric Clapton wait years for one of his handmade guitars.
So, how did Gerald end up working side-by-side with a living legend in the music industry?
He couldn’t get a job after college!
Gerald tells VBVA he convinced Wayne to let him work at his shop to pay the bills.
What began as a part-time gig sweeping floors led to an apprenticeship and ultimately a life-long friendship and musical partnership.
“He taught me my livelihood. He taught me how to make instruments. He taught me how to play music. My whole music career was started because of his influence.”
Wayne Henderson and Gerald Anderson – Courtesy: Ted Lehmann
Under Wayne’s guidance, Gerald designed and crafted his first guitar in 1977. His first mandolin was finished in 1981.
For more than three decades, the two craftsment created works of musical art in the same studio. In fact, it wasn’t until 2005 that Gerald moved his work materials out of Wayne’s shop and opened his own home-based studio with the help of apprentice, Spencer Strickland.
His location may have changed, but Gerald’s passion for making guitars and mandolins remains in tact.
“Last week, I sold my 158th mandolin and this week I’m finishing up my 105th guitar. Last year I made 17 guitars and 3 mandolins. My goal is to make two a month.”
Just 17 guitars and 3 mandolins in 365 days!
It’s obvious; Gerald pours a little piece of himself into each and every musical instrument he creates. It’s that attention to detail that has led to acclaim and countless friendships along the way.
“Most everybody who gets them really appreciates what they’re getting. Most of the people I get to know personally. They come to the shop and order them personally and you end up becoming friends with the person most of the time.”
Gerald says Doc Watson was a staple at he and Wayne’s workshop up until his death last year. Countless other bluegrass, country and rock musicians have also commissioned instruments and ultimately become friends.
But no one, perhaps, has been more impacted by Gerald’s talent and generosity than Marcus Mumford of “Mumford & Sons.”
Gerald was asked by the Virginia Tourism Corporation to surprise Marcus with a handmade guitar while he was in Bristol performing at the city’s annual Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion last year. According to Charlene Baker, Marketing Director for the Reunion, “It literally brought Marcus to tears!”
Making a rock star cry — just one of many unimaginable highlights in Gerald’s storied career.
“Back in 2007, we got to play for the Queen of England up in Richmond. That was really cool. I’ve got to tour over in Scotland and England. But as far as accomplishing things, the thing I am most proud of was winning the guitar competition at the Galax Fiddlers Convention in 2003. I was really proud of that.”
Despite his rocking resume, Gerald has no plans of slowing down!
He’s not only busy crafting musical instruments for others, but also making music of his own as a member of three groups — The Gerald Anderson Band, Anderson-Strickland (a duo he formed with apprentice Spencer Strickland) and The Virginia Luthiers (alongside mentor Wayne Henderson, Strickland and Jimmy Edmonds).
Gerald’s music has taken him around the world, but this weekend he will be entertaining a hometown crowd as he, Wayne and several friends perform at the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion.
“We’ve been coming to that thing for years. Wayne and I played at the very first one. It’s a well-run festival and it keeps getting bigger and bigger. It’s really cool to go around and see all the different pickers, a lot of which I have never heard of before.”
More than 150 artists will be performing on 21 different stages around Bristol during the three-day Reunion.
The Virginia Luthiers are scheduled to perform Friday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Paramount Theater in Downtown Bristol.
You can get ticket and show information HERE and get a preview of what to expect by watching the video below.
According to Gerald, “It should be fun!”