Video Interview with Dr. Wayne Andrews

Kentucky Historical Society


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0:21 - Early life and Education

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Keywords: Bluegrass; East Tennessee State University; Fitchburg State University; Illinois State University; Nashville, TN; Spencer, Massachusetts; teacher; West Virginia University

3:22 - Choosing to learn the Banjo

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Subjects: Banjo; Bluegrass; Bluegrass Banjo; Claw hammer style; Jesse Wells; Morehead State University; Raymond McClain; three finger style

4:45 - Hand crafting instruments / Plays banjo

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Subjects: Appalachia; Berea KY; dulcimer; ebony; instrument building; metal working; open back banjo; purple heart; rosewood; walnut; Warren May; Wood working; Wormy chestnut

11:35 - Frank Neat

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Keywords: Curly Maple; Curly Quilted Maple; East Tennessee State University; Ebony; Florentine; Frank Neat; Gibson; Ricky Neat; Russell Springs KY; Sonny Osborne; The Chief

16:41 - Morehead State University Music Program

21:23 - Raymond Plays the Frank Neat Banjo, Sings with Dr. Andrews


JW: Interview with Wayne Andrews for the Kentucky Craft History and Education

Association. July 31st, 2012. Thanks for agreeing to do this.

WA: Jesse, it's a pleasure to be here.

JW: Can you first give us a little bit of the history of your life? Where you

were born?

WA: Well I don't know if you want to take five or six hours to do that, but I'll

give you the cliff notes version of it.

I was born in Spencer, Massachusetts, a little central Massachusetts town that

has a great history in terms of craft and those kinds of traditions and I won't

go into all that, but I grew up in a community there that really had high

regards for craftspeople. My dad was a craftsman, grandfather, uncles, that type

of thing. Went to high school there and then went to a state college in

Massachusetts, at Fitchburg State 1:00College. I majored in industrial arts

education, so I have a strong undergraduate degree in craft and related items,

and then I went on to graduate school at West Virginia University and became a

little more mainstream with my education and masters and doctoral degrees.

I taught at Illinois State University for 10 years and then at East Tennessee

State. I was a faculty member and an administrator there for 17 years before

coming to Morehead in January 2005 as President of Morehead State University.

JW: That's wonderful. What are your earliest memories of working with wood in

the craft world? Well my dad was one of these renaissance kind of guys. There

wasn't anything he wouldn't take on. He would fix anything, or figure anything

out, and as a youngster I was around tools so it wasn't uncommon to be helping

him repair something or to build something be it kitchen cabinets or toys for

the yard. So I remember having tools as a youngster and being free 2:00to build

whatever I wanted to build. We built playground equipment, toy guns, whatever it

was that kids were interested in, I was building it. I didn't build any

instruments as a youngster, but my sister is a violinist, a graduate of the New

England Conservatory of Music, so there was always music in our home as kids.

JW: And your daughter is a musician?

WA: She is. Jill is a graduate of East Tennessee State University. She took

coursework in the Bluegrass program there. She studied with Raymond McClain and

Jack Tottle, some of those folks. Jill has been very interested in music her

whole life. She has had roles in singing since she was a little child. Inspired

really in church and singing in church, but then got pretty serious about it in

the latter part of her college career. After a few years of working as a social

worker she decided to pursue that full-time and she is doing that full-time

today. So, she's been kind of an inspiration because she's now living in

Nashville. She's a singer and 3:00song-writer doing pretty well I think. She plays a

variety of instruments and so it's been fun to be around her. Although she never

invites me up on stage, Jesse.

JW: Not yet.

WA: Not yet. Right-- We gotta keep practicing.

JW: It might be the banjo too--

WA: It could be.

JW: Your instrument is that you prefer to play is the banjo. Could you tell us a

little bit about what attracted you to that sound?

WA: Yeah, it's actually a very interesting story because, as I mentioned, Jill

was a student at East Tennessee State and she decided early that she was going

to play the banjo. She took some lessons from a teacher there in Johnson City,

Elizabeth (uncertain of word) actually I think, and she was doing quite well on

the banjo but I think she decided that the guitar would be more mainstream. So

she sat the banjo aside, and she sat it in the house and it sort of sat there. I

had always liked the sound of the banjo, so I one day said something to Raymond

McClain who was the director of the program there, the 4:00Bluegrass and Old Time

program, I said, "Raymond, would you consider teaching me some banjo?" and he

was very welcoming. I started out on the Bluegrass banjo, you know, the three

finger style banjo and played and took lessons for a couple of years doing that.

When I came up here to Morehead I decided that I wanted to learn Old Time style,

Clawhammer style, which seems to fit me better for some reason. I can follow the

rhythm of it a little better or something. So I've been doing that for the past

few years and my teacher, when we get together, is Jesse Wells. A pretty fine

teacher, in fact--

JW: We'll not elaborate on that. So, learning to the play the instrument, you

then decided to build an open-back banjo?

WA: Yeah, well, you know, I've been a wood worker and a metal worker for a long,

long time. I'm a great believer in the head and the heart working 5:00together with

the hands, and I find great satisfaction in creating things. I've always done

that. So, some people like to play golf, some like to softball and all this sort

of stuff, and what I like to do when I have time is free time is come out here

to the workshop and create something.

When I came up here to Morehead I realized there's such a large community of

craftspeople I thought I ought to try to build my own instruments and actually,

you and I worked together to build a couple of banjos and then I traveled off

from that and got involved in some other instruments, dulcimers and the like,

but for me it was about applying traditional wood working skills to an area that

I was really not familiar with which was instrument building and we sort of

figured it out together. There is plenty of information in books and videos and

of course measuring other instruments and seeing what they're about. So we took

a stab at it, and that's how we got going.

JW: Well, I'm really grateful. You helped teach me a 6:00lot about wood working and

I think, I knew very little about the instrument construction, the pieces and

the way they worked together. So, let's see what you came up with.

WA: [WA moves off camera to pick-up banjo] Well, this is a traditional open-back

banjo that you would find, I suppose, in the mountains of Kentucky or Tennessee

or down South. It's pretty straight forward. What we did was buy some parts and

we modified them for our own purposes. The unique parts about this I guess is

that we selected some materials that were a little different. The finger boards

on banjos tend to be Ebony and Rosewood, those are very common. The particular

material on here is a different material that I've been hauling around for

years. Do you remember what it was, Jesse?

JW: Purple Heart.

WA: Purple Heart is the wood.

JW: It's a beautiful wood.

WA: It's a really pretty reddish color. It's unusual. It makes a good

fingerboard material because it's pretty 7:00hard. Then we did some unusual inlay in

it. Morehead State University mascot is the eagle, so I put an eagle in here,

did a little bit of inlay on the back with the star, few dots around just to

jazz it up a little bit. You know, it actually [demonstrates playing] has a fair

sound to it.

WA: Jesse doesn't like my mute, but that's a marriage saver right there!

JW: I want to hear you play!

WA: He told me that, so I built one!

JW: It was a roommate saver for me in college.

WA: Was it? Well, for me it's a marriage saver.

JW: That sounds much nicer.

WA: Yeah-- So, it was kind of a labor of love, and you and I have talked about

building more instruments because 8:00it's fun to do. I think, I don't consider

myself a luthier, I consider myself more of a wood worker, but I love the idea

of creating something that we can use. So, build it, and play it, and figure out

what works well, modify it maybe the next time, and do it better. So we'll get

back on it, but that's what got me inspired. I had basic woodworking skills and

then I think I think our relationship, yours and mine and Raymond, to create

something that had value was kind of nice.

My wife, interestingly, she had a great friend here who just passed last year, a

retired faculty member in the community who taught dulcimer for years and years

and years. She said, you know, I'm going to learn to play dulcimer, so she did

play dulcimer with Alan Lake for a number of years, so I said to Jesse and some

other folks, well shoot, why can't I build some dulcimers? You might remember

the 9:00old Foxfire books that were developed back in the 60's as I remember to

document a lot about craft in the Appalachian region, in the Highland region,

and there was a great series in there about dulcimer building. I thought heck,

that doesn't look too complicated. Went down to Berea and kind of poked around

down there in the shop of Warren May. Warren was gracious to talk to me about

dulcimers and he's build thousands of them. This was sort of my own creation. I

took those ideas and, again, from a wood working perspective I'd been hauling

around this wood that's on the top here. It's wormy Chestnut. You don't find it

anymore. Chestnut blight in 1918 killed Chestnut trees throughout America, but

there are lots of old Chestnut logs and buildings and so we cut some Chestnut

and book matched it. Walnut for the fingerboard. Book matched the Walnut on the

back just to 10:00create an instrument that's kind of pretty to look at and it has a

wonderful sound.

Now, I don't play the dulcimer, so Jesse, you've got to, if you want to make a

little noise with this so we can put this on as part of this-- Why don't you

just play a little tune?

JW: You did your research because these are the most common woods.

WA: I love the sound of the dulcimer because I think it has a really nice

mountain traditional sound and to hear it as part of a band or something to me

is really, really nice.

So I've built two of them. Sitting behind me on the bench back here are parts

for another six of them that I'll get around to one of these days. They are good

winter projects. They are not terribly 11:00complicated, but as you pointed out the

selection of the wood, the construction has a lot to do with how they sound. The

top wood on that, the wormy Chestnut, has kind of a mellow sound. I built

another one that has an Ambrosia Maple top. It's a beautiful top, but it has a

much brighter sound. I think it's under the bed upstairs in the house. Sue plays

this one, so I didn't take it out, but I'm going to experiment a little bit.

I've got some other ideas about woods I want to try and we'll see how it goes.

I'll probably build some more dulcimers.

JW: That's very exciting. We were talking about Frank Neat earlier, and you have

one of his-- that was probably your first nice banjo.

WA: Well, you know there's a story about that banjo. [Speaking to Raymond off

camera -- Raymond, would you walk over and open that case and give it to me?]

So, I was studying Bluegrass banjo with Raymond at East Tennessee State and I

had an old banjo, it was a nice banjo. In fact, I think you have it or you gave

it 12:00to somebody, but I said to Raymond, "You know, I'd really like to have a

better banjo." And Sonny Osborne had a banjo at the time, maybe he still does

called "The Chief," and it was advertised online, and it was real pretty. Frank

Neat, over at Russell Springs, KY., was building those banjos. [Thank you,

Raymond] I said to Raymond, "I'm gonna buy a Chief banjo," and he said, "Well

you know, it's a nice banjo, Frank does a nice job, but they're all kind of put

together the same and have the same look because that's what Sonny designed." He

said, "You know, if you want a nice banjo, you're only ever gonna buy one nice

banjo, why don't you have Frank build you a banjo." So I thought well, ok. I

went over to Russell Springs, I called Frank and I went over to Russell Springs,

and I talked to him. His son Ricky was there that day and we went through all

the things I could 13:00choose. So I chose the Ebony for the fingerboard, I went

through his stack of wood for the neck and picked out the prettiest curly Maple

that I could find and I believe that's about the nicest piece of hard Maple

you'll ever find. Then, if you look at the back of this sound box here that's

about as nice a piece of curly quilted Maple with a sunburst finish that you'll find.

And then, Frank said, "What kind of inlay do you want on it?" I said, I don't

know, what are the options? So he started showing me-- This is actually a Gibson

design. I don't remember precisely--

JW: I don't remember the name right now--

WA: It's an older version-- [Raymond, do you remember what that design is?]

WA: Yeah, it's Florentine. That's what it is. I think that's right, I think it's

Florentine. And then he did some interesting things with the purfling on the

side for 14:00me. So, this is a unique instrument, designed just for Wayne. But now,

I don't play Bluegrass anymore, so I was going to give this Jesse, but he told

me he was going to buy his own. So now I'm going to give it to Raymond. Raymond

can have it because Raymond liked Frank.

The wonderful thing about Frank Neat-- I want to tell you a story about that. So

I go over there to his shop, and I didn't know what to expect because I had

never met the fellow. Raymond had told me about the quality of work that he did.

Basically, his shop is in a garage next to his house. I was amazed at the way

they do their work because most of it is handwork. They have very modest

equipment, so I didn't see a lot of big machinery. The reason is they don't mass

produce anything. They produce instruments of high quality. A lot of it is very

high quality handwork. So going back to, you've got to have the brain and the

hands 15:00connected. To me, that's the most exciting part.

Once you understand that you can plan to create whatever you want to create, and

then create it. And that's Frank Neat, that's the kind of work that he does.

This is truly magnificent instrument. It is a better instrument than I deserve

because I tend to play-- You can play Clawhammer on here. It has a very

different sound of course, right? 16:00 [demonstration]

WA: It has a nice big sound.

JW: A big beautiful sound.

WA: A big sound. Different than the old-time open back banjo-- So, I'm very

proud of the instrument. In fact, I like to let students use it. We've got some

students in our program here that can really play the banjo. I like to let them

use it occasionally because they can really play it and make it sound like it

can sound. Now if we'd sat Raymond down and given him some finger picks, Raymond

could make this thing wail.

JW: I've heard it.

WA: So, part of what interests me in all this is that our program here in

traditional music has multiple parts to it. And some of this has probably been

covered, I don't want to repeat any of that, but I'm excited about preserving

the traditions 17:00of and around traditional music because this is all part of the

fabric of who we are as Appalachian people. Music is part of our lives. It

emanated from within the homes and close communities when people had to figure

out, how do we entertain ourselves because we didn't have radios and televisions

and we couldn't get to town. So people built their own instruments and designed

it so that on a Saturday night neighbors got together and played and danced and

wonderful traditions came out of that. I love that idea that we pass that on.

You [Referring to JW], head up our archives here in the Center and some of that

music you play it on Sunday afternoons on the radio for us. Some of it is really

interesting to listen to. In some ways it's almost crude but, what I remind

myself of is that there are just regular folks like me. No training. They

haven't been to music school; they haven't been to banjo school. They were just

playing on the back 18:00porch singing about life and the stuff going-- Cluck Old

Hen, you know, out there in the yard hens running around, right? And people

picking up on the plucky sound on the banjo. So it's really exciting and

interesting that we can help pass these traditions on to youngsters in school

today as you all do when you go out and visit and bring school children in, and

to our students who are studying here in a serious way because they want to

learn about the traditions and then they'll go on and build new traditions. The

music continues to evolve. It's really exciting.

JW: It's such a rich area of musicians and luthiers I think, because of the

strong musicianship we have here in this area, it's created a need for people

who build high quality instruments.

And I love that idea. One of my dreams is, as part of our Center for Traditional

Music here, at some point in time we'll be able to 19:00 incorporate--

JW: One of the dreams I have for the future is that we might incorporate some of

this work as part of what we do at the Center. I've toyed with the idea that,

you know, in retirement, maybe I could work with school children and we could

build very simple banjos and dulcimers out of kits. Help kids put them together

and then teach them how to play chords and things and then turn them loose and

let them see what they can learn. Because we want to keep those traditions

alive. It's really important for any of us to have some 20:00encouragement when we've

got some skills. So if I have any skills in woodworking, it's because along the

way people have said to me, "Gosh, you do that pretty well." And then, you know,

building an instrument when somebody would say, you know, "That actually sounds

pretty good, and it's a good looking instrument." That's the kind of motivation

that helps us go on to say, "I think I'm going to build a different one." I

mentioned to you earlier, I've looked at some really pretty ukuleles recently

and I think I want to build a ukulele. Pretty simple four stringed instrument.

Looks like the chords are pretty easy to find. Maybe we will build one of those

and try it over the winter. It's an exciting thing to be part of a Center where

we are teaching students in a traditional way about our history and our values

and the opportunities, but we're reaching back to make sure folks understand the

roots of the music, and we're providing opportunities to bring new folks in,

youngsters, who may not know a whole lot about it but like the sound. 21:00And, gosh,

people just love this kind of music. It's so fun.

JW: Absolutely, it's such a big part of our community-- Ken and Buddy Ratliff

[Camera shifts to Raymond McClain].

WA: Oh good, you're going to have Buddy--

JW: Stevie-- Steve is real sick.

WA: What's a matter with Steve?

JW: [--unable to discern words due to banjo tuning on video]

WA: Now see, Raymond tuned it before he played it. I just played it! You didn't

teach me very well.

RM: That fluid sound, that crystal clear bell-like-- [Demonstrates]

RM: That's the hard thing.

JW: That's beautiful.

RM: Isn't that 22:00beautiful? Every banjo doesn't have that--

WA: That sounds nice, doesn't it?

JW: Sounds a lot like your six string--

RM: It has something-- That low resonance too-- RM: What do you want to sing?

WA: I don't care. What do we know?

RM: Seems like we have a lot of songs!

WA: Seems like we're always singing something, 23:00 Raymond.

RM: Pick one.

WA: Let's see. I've got to think about this a little bit now-- We could sing,

"Will the circle be unbroken."

RM: Let's do that.

WA: We like that song. 24:00 [demonstration] 25:00 [demonstration] 26:00 [demonstration] 27:00 [demonstration]

WA: Doesn't get any better than that-- Thank you, Raymond.

RM: Thank you.

JW: That's it.

WA: Appreciate you playing. That sure sounded good. I think you ought to keep

that 28:00banjo because you know how to play it.

RM: Aww, you know how to play it.

JW: He needs one...

WA: Well I offered it to him, but he said he wouldn't dare fly it on the plane.

He was afraid it'd break again.

JW: What a sad story that is--

WA: But that is a pretty-- Did you buy a Frank Neat, or are you going to?

JW: I'm going to.

WA: Are you? A custom one?

JW: No, it's just his Kentucky 75.

WA: Well, let's have a look at that--

JW: That's such a pretty back--

WA: Isn't that beautiful.

JW: That's one of the prettiest banjos I've ever seen.

WA: Well I picked out the wood. He let me pick it out-- Will you hold that for a

second? [Hands banjo to RM].

Frank Neat. Got the old "Neat" right on there. Kentucky 75. Well that's Walnut.

No, Mahogany.

JW: Yeah, Mahogany.

WA: He tried to talk me into Walnut.

RM: Really?

WA: From a Walnut tree-- What's the place where the big banjo festivals used to be--?

RM: Oh, Bean Blossom?

WA: Yeah, Bean Blossom.

RM: He had some--

WA: He said there was a big Walnut tree right there on that 29:00property that came

down in a storm or something and he said, "Why don't I build that out of

Walnut?" And I said, "No, I want curly Maple."

JW: Yeah.

WA: He said, "Alright, well I've got some."

JW: You made the right choice.

RM: You know, I love the warmth of curly Maple.

JW: Yeah, that's pretty.

WA: Well, as you advised me Raymond, I was only ever really going to buy one

good banjo.

RM: Well, you really only have to buy one.

WA: Right.

RM: You can buy more, but--

WA: Jesse, he's the poster child for buying more.

RM: Yeah, I know, me too. I'll tell you-- This is a beautiful instrument.

WA: I should get back to playing a little bit on this instrument.

RM: Absolutely.

WA: I don't do it that much, but-- thank you.