Listening to David Strong’s music is like traveling the back roads of Scotland on the way to a good pub. His expert knowledge of musical instruments travels from building fiddles to repairing guitars, woodwinds and brass. Strong’s talent is like bangers and mash; his nasal lilt connects to his banjo and guitar playing as his knowledge of the construction of instruments meshes with his mentoring of younger craftsmen.
For years, Strong plied his trade of building fiddles and repairing instruments while playing in traditional Celtic music groups in and around his home town of Sunderland, England. Twenty years ago, he moved with his wife Pauline and sons Kelvin and Andrew to Chester, continuing to build on his creative talent.
“I was a conservator of instruments for Colonial Williamsburg,” Strong said. “When I first came over, I worked for Colonial Williamsburg. I ended up doing harpsichords and everything else.”
Diagnosed with MS about 10 years ago, he felt he should pass along his talents. He took on apprentice Mark Martin, who has become his hands over the years.
“He’s been my hands and he’s a fantastic craftsman,” Strong said, pointing out the latest project that he and Martin have been working on: The restoration of a depression era Carson J. Robison guitar. The guitar, built in the mid 1930s, is a signature piece built by Gibson.
“My stepfather bought it at the flea market. It was sold as a 1930s Gibson and doing the research, low and behold, it was,” Strong said incredulously. “And because it was in such a terrible state, I had to rebuild it. I didn’t want to take any of the authenticity from it, but the back was so beaten up, cracked and broken, and one of the struts was broken, so I had to repair all the strutting on it, as well. But the front and everything is original.”
Strong said Martin did the work on the guitar. “I am exceptionally proud of him,” he said.
According to Vintage Guitar Magazine, Carson J. Robison was one of the early country crooners to adopt full cowboy regalia as part of his act: The 10-gallon hat, fancy shirt and fancy boots. Among Robison’s better-known compositions is the song Carry Me Back to the Lone Prairie.
Robison became enormously popular, and got his own guitar model when Gibson built a scaled down model for Montgomery Ward, clearly needing business during the Great Depression.
Strong was last heard from in the Village News in 2004, when he located and restored a “golden fiddle.” The fiddle had been constructed by local craftsman H.W. Wooldridge. Strong’s stepfather, David Harrison, had found it at a flea market. Strong restored the fiddle and relatives of the builder bought the Stradivarius reproduction to keep it in the family. “It made me feel good that it was able to go back to the family,” Strong said.
But bangers (sausages) and mash (potatoes) go together like Strong’s instrument construction knowledge and his musical abilities. He plays banjo, both Celtic and bluegrass, fiddle and guitar, all self taught. He was also a Virginia Tech champion banjo picker.
Strong’s band, Traditional, was the headlining group at the Richmond Highland Games. “We were the top act for the first three years,” Strong said. “I finally said, ‘We’re not playing there anymore.’ [I said] ‘it’s not fair, there are so many other talented musicians who deserve to be on the stage.’”
Strong’s voice is the epitome of the Celtic voice, no plodding, no heavy-handedness, no overwrought quality. “I will talk while I’m singing,” Strong said. His most recent recording is convincingly traditional Celtic and shows a connection to a family history of performing. His mother performs locally and his son Kelvin plays bass in the band Against Grace, which has toured Japan and the Armed Forces network and just released its new EP Shout it Out.Strong’s son Andrew has inherited the artistic talent and plies his ability in print making.
“I have such a wonderful family, they accept me and don’t expect me to do any more than I can do,” Strong said.
The Carson J. Robison is almost complete, only lacking the tuners and strings. It now awaits a new home, someone who will appreciate its original quality and call it their own.
WEB ONLY INFORMATION FOLLOWS:
David Strong will sell the vintage Gibson guitar when the restoration is compete. If you are interested in purchasing the instrument call Stong at 526-6210. There is quite a bit of information about the Carson j. Robison / Gibson acoustic guitar available online. Google the name or click here for addtional info.