Maybe you’ve heard of him and maybe you haven’t, but Wayne Henderson is an extraordinary lesson in the living out of humility.
Plain. And. Simple.
Henderson lives in Rugby VA – population 7. There’s not much there save for a whole lot of Christmas trees being grown in perfectly symmetrical lines on the hills above – in fact, there’s not a whole lot of anything else for hundreds of miles in any direction.
But there is Wayne. And that’s saying a lot.
In 1994 Wayne’s life changed a bit – that’s the year Eric Clapton came across a guitar he had built and decided on the spot he HAD TO have one. Clapton’s agent finally tracked Wayne down in Rugby by phone and gave him the “good news.”
Having little idea who Eric Clapton was Wayne advised him to, “Tell ‘Mr. Chapton’ I’ll put him on the list – but it’s kind of long . . .” The agent was never able to convince him otherwise.
You can guess some of the rest – which is documented in Allen St John’s best-selling book, “Clapton’s Guitar,” published by Simon and Schuster.
If it was difficult before, now it’s next to impossible to get on Wayne’s list – much less acquire a “Henderson.”
Clapton, of course, eventually did get his guitar. In fact, he got two – one of which (as promised to Wayne) was immediately auctioned off at Christies for $31,200 to benefit a local charity.
But that’s just the beginning of the story . . .
Enter my friend Johnny Robinson. He read the book and wound up taking his son Ian down to see Wayne’s shop. Wayne welcomed him like family as he does all visitors. “Sure,” he said, “make yourself at home.”
And Johnny did.
For the next several hours the Robinson boys marveled as they watched Wayne move through the early steps of making a Henderson guitar – but what they really noticed was Wayne’s quiet and genuine approach to both the wood and to them. “It was other-worldly,” Johnny told me. “You’ve got to go back down there with me and meet him.”
So we did – and I too experienced the simple and sincere beauty of Wayne’s shop and Wayne himself. World famous? Yes. Could he care one way or the other? No.
Fast-forward 12 years. Yesterday Johnny and I returned to visit Wayne and “check” on the guitar that he had requested on his first visit with Ian. This time we arrived with some rare old growth spruce from atop Cheat Mountain in WV.
Suffice to say Wayne was intrigued. He ran his fingers over the grain, smelled it closely and then thumped the thin boards with his ear just above them.
Selecting his favorite, he went immediately to the planer and started milling – 20 minutes later the planed, sketched, joined, sanded, trimmed and glued spruce top for Johnny’s guitar was in Wayne’s press.
Progress and then some. We both smiled like Cheshire cats.
Coming back to Wayne’s shop after all those years was no less magical than the first venture. When we arrived it was apparent that nothing had changed. Wayne’s a little older, of course, but the quiet beauty and simplicity of the place remains – he looked up from his small chair as though he had been sitting there since 2007.
“How are you all,” he said in his quiet manner. “Good to see you.”
We talked briefly before the door opened behind us. It was an unannounced gentleman from Maryland. He had just driven 8 hours to watch Wayne work as Johnny had all those years ago.
“Make yourself at home,” Wayne said.
And we did.
Over the course of the next two hours we were once again mesmerized by the peaceful ease in which Wayne brought together all the various / intricate processes and pieces of a guitar.
“Number 784,” he said.
Along the way I think I figured out something of the magic.
Time stands still in that little cinder-block shop because there is no such thing as an “interruption” – Wayne takes everything as it comes – every visitor, every question, every seemingly perfect – as well as clearly imperfect – moment.
And he lets it have its way.
It is a simple and humble and holy pace.
It is – God’s time.
And I am convinced THAT is the reason his instruments come out the way they do. Each note simple and true – born of humility . . . and trust.
The genuine article – Wayne Henderson and his works.
Some of which become the world’s greatest guitars.