Art imitated life at the Grand Ole Opry last weekend when longtime Opry member “Whisperin’ Bill” Anderson and Jamey Johnson performed their duet “The Guitar Song” — a tune about a guitar that hangs on the wall of a pawn shop, far away from the barroom stages where it once “helped to heal some heartaches. . .and sell some beer.” Prior to the performance, Anderson was reunited with his old Grammer guitar after a 50-year absence, manifesting the lyrics of the song.
Anderson — who co-wrote the tune with Johnson and Vicky McGehee in 2007; it’s the title track of Johnson’s 2010 double album— told a story about receiving an acoustic guitar from Billy Grammer in the 1960s, back when both country singers were relatively new recruits to the Opry family. Grammer began manufacturing his line of high-end acoustic guitars in 1965, even giving a few freebies to his Grand Ole Opry co-stars in an attempt to increase the guitars’ visibility and popularity in Nashville. It worked. “Whisperin’ Bill,” who received one of the first Grammer guitars ever made, played the instrument for five years, using it during live tapings of The Johnny Carson Show and at the Opry.
“Somehow, I lost track of that guitar,” Anderson told the Opry audience last Saturday night. “I wonder sometimes if I donated it to a museum or something. I don’t remember, actually, what happened to it. For nearly 50 years, I did not know where that guitar was.”
That changed last month, when Anderson’s secretary received an e-mail from Mike Grauer, the owner of Bell Road Pawn in Phoenix, Arizona. Someone had apparently visited the store to resell an old beat-up, watermarked guitar with an inscription — “This guitar belongs to Bill Anderson” — scrawled inside the soundhole. A longtime country fan, Grauer wanted to know if he’d stumbled across one of his idols’ instruments. Anderson was able to confirm that the guitar did indeed belong to him nearly a half-century ago, and Grauer offered to personally return it to Anderson for the price of two backstage passes to the Grand Old Opry.
Four weeks later, Grauer and his wife walked onto the Opry stage to a standing ovation, with Anderson leading the applause. Grader returned the guitar to its original owner, who strummed a few chords — his first time playing the instrument in decades — before thanking the Grauer family, introducing Johnson and marveling at the way “The Guitar Song” had eerily predicted the future of one of its writers.
“I want you to listen to the words of this,” Anderson told the audience. “This was written eight years ago, and here we are tonight, almost living this story of ‘The Guitar Song.'”