We all know that Christmas is a time for giving, and here is a lovely seasonal story of two individuals’ multi-generational friendship, passion for music, appreciation for old instruments, and love for one another demonstrated on so many levels.
Tennessee Bluegrass Band’s banjoist, Lincoln Hensley, began this gift-giving story with some history.
“I first met Edison Wallin at a local bluegrass jam near Flag Pond, TN. It was held at Farnor Store. He was playing up on stage with the band, and when he came down I asked him if he gave lessons. He first said no, then he handed me his banjo and said play me something. I played a little for him, and he said he’d help me all he could. We never had a ‘sit down’ lesson. For the first year or so, it was all over a land-line phone. I’d call him, he’d play stuff, explain how he was doing it, and then I’d have to play it back for him. My mom called us ‘Pete and Repeat.'”
Wallin, now 83, elaborated, “Lincoln was 13 or 14. I had retired and never given banjo lessons. I said, ‘I’ll teach you all that I know.’ He called me every day when he got home from school. He hears it and plays it!”
After mastering the five-string, Lincoln wanted to learn the six-string.
His mentor recalled, “He asked me to teach him to play the guitar. I play Merle Travis style. I said it’s like patting your head and rubbing your belly. You play the melody with your forefinger and the timing (rhythm) with your thumb.”
“Lincoln wanted to learn Cannon Ball Rag. He learned it over the phone in 30 minutes.”
This leads us to the gift, and the story of a special old Gibson guitar…
Wallin continued, “A friend found it in Erwin, TN, in an attic of an old house. It was in rough shape. He kept it for years and gifted it to another friend, Tom Horton. Tom had it for a good while and gifted it to me in the ’70s.”
Lincoln interjected here…
“Edison kept it for a long while, saw that I was coming along and taking an interest in guitar, specifically Gibsons (thanks to him), and he gave it to me. Edison gave me this guitar for Christmas almost 10 years ago, around 2013 or 2014.
It’s a 1941 Gibson L-0. It has been through several wars and a few bad winters. I don’t think this guitar ever had a case, and because of that it had suffered some structural damage throughout the years, making it really hard to play. With the help of Jim Lloyd, I was able to get Herb Key and Wayne Henderson to do some restoration work on the guitar and get it back in great playing condition while keeping all of its mojo. It gave the guitar a new lease on life and it’s ready for another 80 years of music.”
Wallin noted, “Lincoln told me that he took it to get it fixed. It had some braces loose and such. He called me to say that he had picked it up and was stopping by my house to show me the guitar.”
“I played it. It sounded good. He sat it down and leaned it against the couch. He said, ‘that’s your guitar. I wanted to do that for you.’ What a special Christmas present!
Lincoln had given me a 1938 Recording King banjo. He said that they (the guitar and banjo) needed to be together. He wouldn’t have no part in me paying him for having it fixed. I said, ‘Pass it along to your child.’ It’s the guitar that keeps on giving.”
Lincoln stressed, “There really aren’t enough adjectives to accurately encapsulate what a mentor truly is for a young musician, but if there were, Edison Wallin would qualify for all of them. He has been a great friend and source of knowledge for me since week two of my banjo journey. He’s probably the most humble and selfless person I have ever met. He’s given me multiple instruments throughout the years. He’s given me a lifetime of music to learn from, and he’s loaned me money to buy bigger investment instruments until I could get the funds together because in his words, ‘it’ll be gone if you wait around and don’t buy it now!’ Edison even let me take his 1937 Chrysler Royal to prom!
“This guitar, in my mind, is a big piece of my local musical heritage because it’s belonged to several of my early influences, Bill Harris, Tom Horton, and Edison. When Edison gifted me the guitar years ago, it was the first vintage instrument I had ever owned and sparked my fire for collecting. Once I found out that it could be restored back to being a great playable instrument and make the music we both love again, it was a no brainer to give it back to Edison.”
“I continued the tradition and gifted it back for Christmas. Edison has given me so much both through our friendship and our musical relationship, and never asked for a penny in return. I’m glad he’ll get to enjoy the guitar at its full potential! Love you, Edison! Merry Christmas!”
Edison Wallin appears in Tennessee Bluegrass Band’s 2022 music video, Tall Weeds and Rust.
Hensley thought Edison was the perfect man for the job.
“My grandpa had passed away and we shot all those scenes on my grandpa’s farm. I called Edison to come in and ‘act’ as the grandpa figure. Though there wasn’t any acting needed because that’s what he is to me. They just turned on the cameras and we just picked and laughed and did what we normally do.”
“I consider Lincoln as the grandson I never had,” Edison concluded.
May we all experience this special bond with someone in our lives. Merry Christmas and God bless us everyone!