Who is the most important in music? The singer, the songwriter or the luthier? All are equally so in this day and age, are they not?
Perhaps in terms of books the last group isn’t as well represented as the others.
Well, with the release, on June 23, 2020, of Randy Wood: The Lore of the Luthier there is recognition for one stringed instrument builder.
Publisher, the University of Tennessee Press (Knoxville), has posted this summary on its website
In the 1960s and 1970s, Randy Wood was a forerunner in the vintage instrument industry. Known as the instrument repairman to the stars, the list of Wood’s clients reads like a Hall of Fame roster: Elvis Presley, Eric Clapton, Johnny Cash, Chet Atkins, Emmylou Harris, Billy Gibbons, Bill Monroe, Keith Richards, Roy Acuff, Ricky Skaggs, and Hank Williams Jr. . . . to name a few. In Randy Wood: The Lore of the Luthier, Daniel Wile traces the life and work of a man who quietly influenced a hidden history of bluegrass and country music.
In his twenties, Wood vowed to avoid complacency in his work. What started simply as a quest to find fulfilment turned into a career that has shaped a generation of musicians, professional and amateur alike. Through his incredible gift for lutherie, Wood brought cherished pre-WWII instruments back to life, many of which were considered beyond repair. He crafted his own instruments as well, based on what he learned from vintage instruments, and these instruments found their way into the hands of some of the most renowned musicians, thanks in part to Wood’s strategic location in Nashville during the resurgence of country music in the 1970s. Humble, unassuming, and unfazed by the presence of celebrities, Wood has spent his life devoted to building and repairing stringed instruments.
Wood also built community. After tiring of big-city Nashville, he retreated to the Georgia coast, where his home shop became a hub of bluegrass activity. He eventually opened a new shop near Savannah, where a new generation of friends and strangers can come in, visit, and pick a little. Randy’s stories, complemented with those of his friends and family, create a compelling picture of a modest man with a talent for his craft, a genuine care for people, and the courage to follow his passion.
In May we spoke to Daniel Wile, who told us of his early appreciation of Randy Wood ….
“I met Randy not long after I moved to Savannah, Georgia, after college. I was working as an engineer in the aerospace industry, but in my free time I took an interest in the Dobro after hearing Jerry Douglas on an Alison Krauss album. I wanted to learn to play it, so I looked for one in some local guitar shops. Most of the shops didn’t have Dobros, but one store owner suggested I try Randy’s shop just west of town. I went out there and found Dobros, but I also found people jamming, and (to my surprise) a photo on the wall of Jerry Douglas standing with Randy! I figured something special must be going on at that place, so I kept going back for the weekend jams. That belief was confirmed as I nurtured a love of playing and an appreciation of acoustic music, thanks to the environment Randy provided.
Over time, I got to know Randy well. It occurred to me that he had all these great stories and connections to people all over the music map, but nobody was documenting this stuff. I was no writer, but after sitting on the idea long enough, I finally decided in late 2010 that I would give it a shot. Over the last 10 years, this project has moved with fits and starts as it has occupied more or less of my available free time. I ended up moving from Savannah back to my hometown of Meridian, Mississippi in 2011 to work in a family business when my dad was diagnosed with leukaemia (he’s doing very well now). But, a few years ago, I finally got my draft manuscript to a point that I was ready to shop it around to publishers, and luckily, the UT Press took it on. So, here we are, ten years later!”
This TV report, Luthier Randy Wood on State of The Arts (Georgia Public Television), may pique your interest …
University of Tennessee Press (Charles K. Wolfe Music Series)
Paperback: 215 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1621905530 (Paperback) $29.95
Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.7 x 9 inches
Daniel Wile has written for Bluegrass Unlimited, Vintage Guitar, and The Bluegrass Standard. He is president of Southern Cast Products, a steel foundry in Meridian, Mississippi.