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Published: Free Press - June 6th, 2006
This book might more appropriately be entitled, "Wayne Henderson and His Guitars: Old Martin Masterpieces, New Henderson Heirlooms", but who could blame author Allen St. John for wanting to grab more readership by evoking the Clapton name. St. John's primary mission at book's beginning, after all, is to follow what happens when Eric Clapton falls in love with a sound engineer's Henderson guitar and requests that the semi-eccentric guitar builder craft him one of his own. What just might keep Clapton from getting his guitar, however, is that everyone who has ever seen, heard or touched a Henderson guitar wants one for themself and as gifted as both Wayne Henderson the luthier and Wayne Henderson the musician are, mass-productions is definitely not his thing. Most frequently, furthermore, neither is finishing one project before starting another (hence the wild and wooly state of his workshop) and we're never quite sure how much or how little weight, in the world apart that Henderson occupies, Clapton's name carries with this master guitar builder.
As we get to know Wayne Henderson the luthier, Wayne Henderson the musician and Wayne Henderson the character we cannot help but be enlightened by his devotion to craft and his life approach. Along the way we may even learn a bit about regional musical history (Henderson lives in the remote hills of Virginia- the Carter family and Doc Watson occasionally figure in) as well as become experts ourselves on the holy grail of acoustic luthiery: pre-1950s C.F. Martin guitars. For this we are in debt not only to Henderson and his amazing classic guitar collection- which we are exposed to from time to time- but also, of course, author St. John who is quite the knowledgeable collector himself. More so, however, we find ourselves in debt to St. John not merely for bringing this warm and intriguing story and its heartwarming cast of characters to us in the first place, but for doing it in the way of all the classic narrators; he is there constantly, thinking, observing and feeling for us yet, in the end, offering himself merely as a window through which we can more clearly observe the story that he has carefully yet generously laid out before us.
A confession- I have not even completely finished reading this book. But, in my defense, this is not due to negligence on my part but rather the dread that at some time soon I will have to close this book once and for all and walk away from this very special work and the characters contained within. ~ Reviewed by Jon Fine