First time Charlie.
It’s easy to split my entire life in half. There is my time before Gibson and then there is my time after I started working for Gibson which would include the years I worked there up until the present. Officially I would include the Gibson years starting in september of 1986. Sometime that month I met Charlie Derrington for the first time.
My wife Mary Ann, son Ryan and I were living in Riverside California. Mary Ann worked for the Taco Bell corp. at their corporate offices in Irvine. I was building mandolins out of our garage. Steve Baker, a friend of mine approached me about a festival he was promoting at the Orange County fairgrounds. He wanted to include me in the event and offered me a booth for $400.00. I was mandolin rich at the time and money poor and I ended up trading him my Gibson RB-250 banjo. I had it for over ten years and hated parting with it but it may have been the wisest decision I ever made.
Byron Berline was a great friend of mine. I had met him in the mid seventies at the Winfield festival and got to know him through the years. I built him an F-5 soon after we moved to California and he welcomed me to the state and introduced me to the bluegrass family located on the left coast. Byron was playing at the Orange County Bluegrass festival that September in 1986.
I had a small booth that included three mandolins. One F-5 and two A-5 copies. I also had a photo album that had several pictures of other instruments I had made and mandolins in various stages of completion. A guy I had never met before stopped by and picked up the F-5. He quickly made a few chops and gave it a short work out. After a minute he laid the mandolin on the table and asked me if I wanted to move to Nashville and work for Gibson. I’m sure I must have looked funny with my jaw hitting the floor. He said, “no really, I’m the guy that fixed Bill Monroe’s mandolin, Hey I’m Charlie Derrington.” He offered me his hand and I shook it. I wanted to except the job right then and there but I told Charlie I would have to talk to my wife first. He then mentioned the company would have to fly me back to Nashville and I’d have to meet with the owners.
Charlie really liked my binding work and fit and finish. He told me with the right molds and artwork I could easily make Gibson F-5’s in the custom shop. Charlie had already seen Byron before we met. Byron showed Charlie the F-5 I had made him as well as giving Charlie a vote of confidence for me personally. Charlie was attending the festival on Gibson’s behalf. At that time he was the mandolin player and tenor singer in the Gibson sponsored bluegrass band. As I recall Brian Fessler was the banjo player in the band. Bryan worked in the Gibson warehouse at the time. I think the band was Charlie’s idea. I got to see them playing a few songs in between manning my booth and I liked what I saw.
For me it was love at first sight with Charlie. We hit it off from the first moment we met. He was all business that first weekend I met him (no funny stuff). He told me he was looking for his replacement in the custom shop as he was being moved up into the marketing department to help promote the bluegrass instrument line at Gibson. As I recall two weeks later I flew back to Nashville to get a lay of the land. I met Tim Shaw, who was running the custom shop at the time, and ultimately met Henry who at that time was president of Gibson. Henry and I seemed to hit it off and they offered me the job. A few weeks after that I drove back to Nashville in my Nissan pickup with as much gear and clothes I could pile in it. Soon I was the custom shops only “acoustic design engineer”. That was the title on my business card anyway.
Those weeks went so fast, between first meeting Charlie and my hire at Gibson. Some might call it fate. It’s kind of funny but I had always had a dream ever since my high school days, hoping someday that I could work for Gibson. I have often wondered who was more responsible for me getting that position. Was it the chance meeting with Charlie at a festival I almost couldn’t afford to attend? Or was it because of my good friend Byron Berline, was all this his doing? Somehow it’s probably a little bit of both. Sometimes coincidence is hard to explain.