Rose and the Guitar

Rose is both a person and a guitar. Rose the person is Rose Kirby, a cousin of mine. She lived in the community of Helton, NC most of her life, having moved down from Whitetop, VA. You can read more about her life on page 69 of this document. She and I knew each other well enough through family connections, and sometime around the year 2002, I went to visit her. Her late husband, Brian Kirby, had collected a lot of wood by chopping up fallen trees for neighbors. He used it to build furniture. Unfortunately, Brian passed away before he’d used up all the wood that was out in their chicken house.

I knew of this wood and was hoping to have Wayne Henderson use some of it to build a guitar. Wayne’s a regional legend and a National Endowment for the Arts grant recipient. When I mentioned this idea to my cousin Rose, she smiled and told me a story. My grandfather, Hunter Jones, was an attorney in Charlotte. Turns out that Granddaddy did all of Rose and Brian’s legal work but would never take any payment for it.

“I believe Wayne C. makes a fine guitar and I’d be delighted if you took some of that wood for a guitar.”
So I went out into the chicken house and found a bunch of old boards. I don’t know much about hardwood, so I found the most likely pieces, loaded them into the pick-up that I’d borrowed from my cousin Richard Roe, and drove over to Rugby, VA where Wayne’s house and shop are.

There’s no quicker way to get Wayne Henderon’s attention than to show him a pile of hardwood, even if it’s covered in chicken poop.

“This is a nice piece of walnut, but it’s quarter-sawn…” I had to go look it up later to discover that means that it’s cut across the grain. Doesn’t matter for furniture, but for musical instruments, which need to resonate, the wood must be cut along the grain.

But then, “I like this piece of cherry. I’ve never made a cherry guitar, but the Martin fellows do…”

And I knew I had him.

The first pencil marks on the piece of wood that would become the backs and sides of Rose

He dropped whatever he was doing and started working on the hunk of cherry wood. An hour later, that ugly old cherrywood board had been turned into the back and sides of my guitar (“Just start with a piece of wood and carve away everything that doesn’t look like a guitar.”).

It took two more years for that guitar to be finished. That seems like a long time, but anybody who knows Wayne Henderson guitars can tell you that it’s a world speed record. That’s because every time I got into the region, I’d bring brownies or a meatloaf over to Wayne’s house. Wayne would remember that he was working on an instrument for me and presumably sometime shortly thereafter he’d put some time into it.

Finally in 2004, the guitar was finished. It’s by far my most treasured personal possession and there’s going to be a fight between my sons for it when I’m gone. Not my problem.

Full transparency: I’ve kept in touch with Wayne via mail and bringing food by, long since the guitar got into my hands. Wayne’s one of the finest, kindest humans you’ll ever meet and I didn’t want my visits to be transactional. Indeed, I’m proud and humbled to be part of Wayne’s community of music pickers and lovers.

Rose, she passed away not long after Wayne finished the guitar, but you can see I got a picture of her holding it.
Rose Kirby and Wayne Henderson – two people who have been extraordinary blessings in my life.

Wayne playing Rose shortly after she was finished.

P.S. I need to mention one other person. This is me sitting next to Wayne. On my right is a fellow named Gerald Anderson. Gerald passed away in 2019, and I miss him keenly. In fact, I wrote about him in this article. I hope you’ll read it, just so you’ll learn a little more about my friend Gerald.

Gerald Anderson, me, and Wayne Henderson. Two finer men I’ve never known.