Harry West, longtime co-proprietor of Harry & Jeanie West Fine Musical Instruments in Statesville, NC, died on January 25. He was 87 years old.
Their store is and has been a destination for both vintage and new bluegrass instruments for several decades now, and will continue to be operated by Jeanie and their son James.
West had been buying, selling and collecting acoustic string instruments since he was 18 years old in Asheville, NC. He and Jeanie started performing together around that same time, and they toured extensively along the eastern seaboard for the next 40 some years.
When folk music took off in the ’60s, they moved their base to New York City where Harry rubbed shoulders with music royalty. He found himself jamming occasionally with Bob Dylan, and sold David Grisman his first quality mandolin during those days.
They returned home to North Carolina before long, and settled in Statesville, just north of Charlotte. The Wests were regulars at the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in Asheville, favorites of Bascom Lamar Lunsford who organized music for this prestigious event which launched in 1928, and is still running today.
Their son James tells us that Harry started playing when he was five years old. His mom was trained as a classical violinist, but young Harry was drawn to the mandolin. The music that called to him all his life was old time Gospel and mountain ballads, which is what Harry and Jeanie performed on the road.
James said that he can recall lying in the floor as a child listening to his parents play and sing every night of his childhood. In addition to managing the store, James also plays guitar.
The Wests bought and sold instruments, initially from their home by distributing a list of inventory by mail. They placed small classified ads in bluegrass publications, and were notorious horse traders. Even when competitors started moving to marketing online in the 1990s, Harry preferred to work by phone and postal mail.
As James put it,
“Dad was old school, that’s all there is to it.”
Their storefront is now located on East Broad Street in Statesville, a corner location where they maintain dozens of new and used banjos, mandolins and guitars in stock. They now also maintain an informative web site online.
James said that his dad had been ill this past 20 years, since suffering a stroke in 1992. He made an initial recovery after a rough couple years, followed by another stroke. His health had been progressively deteriorating since.
But even in his 80s, James said that Harry was in the store as much as he could be, which was most of the time. James and his mom will continue to manage the store as Harry left it, with no change in the name.
R.I.P. Harry West.