Overalls and Jackets...........
The world according to Charlie may be a strange one to most, but to me it was my world too. I don’t know, or if I did know it’s long since been deleted from my memory, how Charlie’s hire at Gibson happened. I’m thankful he guided me through those first few months at Gibson like an older brother would have. I didn’t arrive in Nashville with a lot of clothes, only what I could fit in my little yellow Nissan pick-up. After Christmas, Gibson helped out with moving expenses and my family moved the majority of our belongings to Nashville in a 24 foot Ryder truck. Needless to say at first my clothes were mostly T-shirts and jeans, clothes that I would wear to work in.
My first morning in the Custom Shop Charlie spent a lot of time with me, helping me get to know the lay of the land so to speak. I distinctly recall a conversation we had about jackets.
“Jimmy, you need to get yourself some jackets,” Charlie said.
I noticed Charlie was wearing one. “Really Charlie? I’m not working in the front office like you are.”
“Bub, listen to me. I’ve worked here a while and you got to trust me on this one. You’ll get brownie points with Henry and Dave if you wear a jacket to work. You got to remember these guys are Harvard graduates.”
I’m sure I was laughing at this point of his advice.
Charlie continued, “You don’t have to spend a lot of money, just do what I do, go to the Goodwill. They’ve got some good ones over there for a couple a bucks.”
I had already marked Charlie as a practical joker and blurted out, “good one Charlie.”
“Jimmy, listen to me, look at all these other luthiers around here, they’re a bunch a rock guys, we’re both bluegrassers, I really think it would be in your best interest. You need to get off on the right foot with Henry.”
At some point in our conversation I realized Charlie wasn’t kidding this time and maybe he did have a good idea. He gave me directions to the Goodwill on Lebanon road. It was only about a mile and a half from the factory. I bought two or three jackets for less than ten dollars and started to wear them in. The jackets were sport jackets and I tried to pick out unusual ones that had a little flare to them.
My second day at Gibson, I was walking down the hallway up in the front offices and I walked by Henry. I happened to be wearing a jacket over a T shirt. The rest of my outfit was Levi jeans and cowboy boots. Henry gave me a thumbs up sign and a smile as he passed me in the hall. I couldn’t believe he remembered me as it had been several weeks since I first met him in his office for my pre-hire interview.
That same day at lunch Charlie told me Henry mentioned to him that I was wearing a jacket and that I looked professional. “See Jimmy, I was right, you gotta listen to me from now on.”
I’ve taken plenty of advice over the years from Charlie and most of it has helped me. I still have all the jackets that I wore “back in the day.” I guess it became a look or a style for me. Whether I was going to the Station Inn, The Grand ole Opry, IBMA, a NAMM show, a bluegrass festival or the Classic Cat, I always had one of my Goodwill jackets on. Many of them were unique and seemed to be a topic for discussion among the many music artist that I dealt with. “Where did you get that jacket?” was a question I heard over and over. Fred Newell, the Nashville Now guitar player tried to buy a couple of them from me at one point. I didn’t relent. I still have them all. Marty Stuart ended up being a good friend of mine and he noticed I liked wearing “unusual” clothes. He offered me several of his rhinestone jackets and they were on permanent loan for several years to me. Once I remember I went to the Opry to see Ranger Doug with Riders in the Sky, so I wore a short cut jacket with rhinestones. I had a big white hat on and cowboy boots. Doug, Woody and Too Slim got a big kick out of my get up. I was walking with the boys toward the stage and Roy Acuff stepped out of his dressing room. He wanted to take a picture with me. I’m sure he thought I was one of the guys in the band and I knew his eyesight wasn’t that good. I don’t know who took that picture but I have a copy of it and it is truly one of my prized possessions.
To bring an end to this story about something dumb like jackets, all things always come full circle and I guess I have to end this little diddy with another Charlie story. Yes, it includes a jacket.
We were at a NAMM show in Anaheim, California. And the hierarchy at Gibson decided everyone there in the booth had to wear a suit or at least have a jacket on. This was a new rule and had never been implimented before. Prior to this new dress code men usually wore shirt and tie in the booth. Most of the Gibson employees at the show were either with sales on some level, office management or the purchasing department. Typically the few luthiers that were there had always been able to get away with just wearing t-shirts. The “Jacket” rule was now in place. I don’t know if Henry liked the look of me wearing a jacket into work or if Charlie had something to do with it. The longer I was at Gibson I began to realize that Charlie had a lot to do with everything.
The grumblings didn’t matter and the rule was in place. You can just about guess what happened. All the men in the booth that day either had on a suit or jacket, except one. Charlie showed up in overalls.
Charlie was the brunt of many sour looks from many sour hung over Gibson salesmen. Us luthiers that were there weren’t happy either. I never minded wearing a jacket but having to wear one seemed to make a difference in my thinking. Benny Springer (head of sales) approched Henry about Charlie’s dress. His sales force wanted to go with shirts and ties. Henry seemed amused at Charlie’s outfit and even almost went along with it by saying Charlie was a bluegrass guy and his overalls fit the image. Benny and the sales crew complained enough that Henry finally relented and told Charlie to go back to the room and get a jacket on.
Charlie didn’t take this demand well and decided to make a twenty minute round trip into a two hour break from the show. When he finally showed up he had a jacket on over the overalls. He was wearing tennis shoes and I thought he looked really good. Henry and Dave both had grins on their faces when he showed up. Benny was pissed and so were all the sales guys. The luthiers there thought it was funny. Charlie was always good at bending the rules and that’s something that I learned quickly from him while being his understudy. The complaints went nowhere and ultimately Henry had to make the executive decision. “Charlie’s wearing a jacket. We didn’t outlaw overalls in the booth!”
Charlie got his way and somehow I think Henry was in on it all along.