To say Charlie Derrington was a prankster, would be an understatement. He loved delivering practical jokes to his friends. Danny Roberts, a life long friend of Charlie’s, and I recently had a conversation and much of the talk was of “Charlie stories.” There are so many, and they are all priceless.
As we all know, Charlie was a man of many talents. He was a great mandolin player and tenor singer. He also was an excellent instrument repairman. He played a major part in the resurgence and the quality of new Gibson mandolins in the past twenty years. Many of you may know of these talents, but he had many more. Charlie was a great people person and he would do anything for his friends. Another thing he loved doing was making people laugh. His practical jokes came in many ways. He was a master at disguising his voice over the phone. Normally Charlie’s voice was high. He was good at talking in a low voice over the phone and fooling even the best of his friends. He could go on for several minutes with an elaborate hoax without giving it away.
Danny reminded me of the time in the mid 1980’s when he was running the warehouse while working for Gibson. Charlie was working in the repair department in the main plant on Massman drive in Nashville, Tennessee. At that time Gibson’s warehouse was a small one compared to what they have today. It was so small that they could only handle one semi-trailer load at a time. The Epiphone shipment always came near the end of the month and it took a lot of work to get ready for it. Nearly all the guitars from the previous shipment would’ve had to have been sent out to dealers to make room for the next one.
Charlie knew how Gibson operated. He was good friends with Danny Roberts and he knew of the situation in the warehouse regarding the Epiphone deliveries. One day toward the end of the month it was late in the afternoon and the warehouse employees were scrambling to get ready for the Epiphone shipment. Danny got a telephone call and it was the dispatcher from the trucking company that handled the Epiphone deliveries. The gentleman from the trucking company told Danny that his shipment was on it’s way. Danny and his crew had done their job well and were ready for the semi-trailer load. Danny told the dispatcher they were ready for it. This is when things took a turn for the worse.
Danny was told that there would be four semi-trailers this month. “What?” He said. “We don’t have room for four trailers. We only got room for one. That’s all we get every month is one.”
“Well, the mix up must be coming from your end cause our paperwork shows four this month Mr. Roberts.”
Danny didn’t know what to do. Finally he spoke, “Well you’ll just have to send three of them back. We don’t have the room.”
“We can’t Mr. Roberts,” the gentleman said, “They’re all on their way over there right now.”
Danny was getting frustrated. It was the end of the day and many of the employees had already gone home. The dispatcher sensing Danny’s demeanor decided to end the charade. The next thing Danny heard over the phone was that high pitch, “Hee, hee, hee,” that he recognized as Charlie. He knew that he had been had. Their conversation was more elaborate than what I have written in these few paragraphs. Generally after Charlie let you know that he’d got you, he would laugh and cackle until you hung up the phone on him. This occasion was no different. Danny’s recollection was that he slammed the phone down cause he was so pissed off. Charlie had waisted another ten minutes of his time.