An Under-appreciated Talent
Your comments about this column are welcome ~ e-mail Frank at
founded 2004 by ron cruger
A place for intelligent writers
by Frank Shortt
A place for intelligent readers
2017 Spectator Ron - The Spectator All Rights Reserved
The Shortt family, of the Jefferson Shortt clan, were raised and reared around Shortt Gap, Virginia.
Shortt Gap was named for Charles Shortt, or Short, and was merely a postoffice with houses scattered all around the hills and hollows
of Buchanan County, Virginia.
Most of the Jefferson Shortt descendants were natural singers and musicians,
and some were comedians. Edward Shortt, son of Jefferson, raised ten children and they all were taught to sing from an early age.
This article would not be complete unless the Addison side was mentioned. Stella, Edward’s wife, was an Addison also from the Shortt
Gap area of Buchanan County. She had a voice as clear as a mountain stream and she played guitar in accompaniment. Her father, Frank
Addison, played banjo in the claw hammer style. Curtis, her brother, played a mean guitar, and her brother, Fred, played mandolin.
The Addison clan, as far back as anyone can remember, was all musicians and singers. So by this we can conclude that Edward’s children
received musical genes from both sides. Uncle Bill Shortt’s voice was a dead ringer for Jim Reeves the country singer. He also played
a very good guitar. Uncle Curtis Shortt played guitar and sang, ending up using his talents in the local Pentecostal Church. Grandma
Eva Shortt, nee McGlothlin, could be heard singing the old mountain songs as she cooked her country fixin’s from whatever meat the
boys would bring in.
All of Edward Shortt’s children attended the local churches, local schools, and
most went on to Garden High School at Oakwood, Va., ending up in the choir. Mrs. Grace Wooldridge, musical director at Garden, once
remarked, “If there was a Shortt in the music class or choir, I just automatically placed them in the front of any musical assemblage!”
She also went on to say, “E.L. was the best singer in the Edd Shortt family!” He was also the comedian. In order of age: Raleigh,
an accomplished guitarist and the oldest boy, was a singer of many styles. He could sing the pop tunes of the day, any song in the
church hymnbook, and also country songs. He did a little recording while serving in the U.S. Army. Frances, the oldest girl, sang
like a wood thrush, and her voice never quavered or broke. Lula, according to experts, could have gone on to be an opera star. Wendell,
the subject of this article, was a great talent on the guitar and also could sing any song he ever tried in a clear, audible, voice.
Frank, the writer of this article, sang in church, later in barrooms, and was a member of the Muleskinners while in the Air Force.
The leader, Jody Katsberg, went on to be inducted into the Rock-a-Billy hall of fame. Frank made a few C.D.’s in the San Jose, California
area where he sang with a few local bands in the 1960’s. Ruthanne was a wonderful singer and could reach great heights with her falsetto
tones. E.L. was already mentioned. Carol had a chance to go on to college on a musical scholarship, but was detained because of lack
of financing to buy all the things required for college. Bobby plays guitar and sings, as does Randy, the youngest. Each, of the last
two mentioned, play mostly in church!
Wendell was the most determined would-be guitarist anyone has
probably ever seen. He began by fiddling around with an old Stella, by ‘Harmony’ guitar, teaching himself the basic chords. He could
be seen leaning back against the brick-siding wall of the old homeplace on Shack Ridge dressed in his bibbed overalls, his face contorted
in all kinds of comical positions, trying to reach a note that he was determined to learn. And learn he did even under a great handicap.
The old Stella was warped to the point that the strings were way too high and was so stiff that he wore many calluses on his poor,
overworked fingers. He probably began learning at about the age of 12 and by the age of 15 he could play with the best of them. It
was not unusual for him to entertain men at the local beer joints at Raven, Virginia even before he was old enough to buy a beer,
which would have been eighteen at the time. His reputation grew as folks would demand that he play at most any gathering. Wendell
was very unassuming and shy when it came to his guitar playing. He simply played from the heart. During the Vietnam War, Wendell joined
the USAF and became a jet mechanic and during the heat of the conflict was stationed at Kurat, Thailand. His job was to put the jets
back together that had been shot up while flying sorties over Vietnam. He continued to entertain his buddies and probably anyone who
cared to listen. He spoke little of his wartime experiences!
‘Blondie’ Calderone’s family owned Calderone’s
Café in Del Rio Texas. Blondie was born with blond hair and blue eyes not at all in accordance with his Hispanic background, thus
called ‘Blondie’ from an early age. Blondie mastered many musical instruments in his lifetime but mostly played vibes and piano. He
attended San Jose State University on a scholarship but soon dropped out because, as he said later, “they could not improve on what
I already knew!” While stationed at Laughlin, AFB close to Del Rio, Wendell often ate at Calderone’s Café during his off time from
being a jet mechanic at the base. He often said that Blondie’s mom was the best cook west of the Mississippi! Musicians drift together
as soon as they become acquainted. Blondie found out, from other airmen, that Wendell played a ‘mean guitar’! Soon Blondie invited
him to ‘sit in’ with the small ensemble that had been formed to supply music to ‘Momma’ Calderone’s customers. They hit it off from
the very beginning. Wendell continued to play there until he was shipped out to another base. Blondie went on to become the musical
director for Ray Price and the Cherokee Cowboys, one of the top Country acts in show business. Under Blondie’s direction, Ray began
moving over into the pop music field, combining his country music with songs that were suited to his excellent, innovative voice.
When Wendell was stationed at Nellis AFB, near Las Vegas, Nevada, he continued to play his guitar,
perfecting his combination Merle Travis/Chet Atkins style. Soon, as the Vietnam War waned, he was discharged and returned home to
Shack Ridge in Virginia. There, after a few bouts with alcohol, he settled down, married a beautiful lady, Patsy Goff, that he had
met through family, and became a coal miner at Consolidated Mining Corporation. He still practiced his guitar and played at family
gatherings with no aspirations of becoming a national figure in music.
Fast forward a few years! Wendell
retired from working 1300 feet straight down and miles underground to once again being a husband and father. Arthritis had ravaged
his body from all the dampness underneath the earth. He continued to play his guitar whenever asked, with still no professional aspirations.
I shall never forget the last time I asked him to play a song for me and our guest, Manuel Batlle. He picked up the guitar, with his
arthritic hands, and tried his best to play one of the old Chet Atkins tunes that he was most familiar with. After struggling for
a few minutes, he said with a look of hurt and disgust, “Frank, I just can’t play anymore!” I was immediately sorry that I had asked
him to play! I had to hide my tears from both Wendell and Manuel! I simply changed the subject to a more positive direction that,
hopefully, alleviated the tension. I have often prayed that I did not add to Wendell’s misery. I stayed in touch with him until he
finally succumbed to all the aches and pains so familiar to one who suffers crippling arthritis throughout their body! His son, Wendell,
Jr. who is an accomplished guitarist, and accompanying daughter Rachel who is singer and musician, saluted their father at his memorial
with a song that he always enjoyed entitled, ‘I gave my love a Cherry, (The Riddle Song). Brother Bobby, Nephew Rocky Butcher, and
finally the whole Shortt entourage sang their hearts out with accompaniment by all the Shortt musicians. Wendell, your tradition is
carried on in the hearts of those who loved you, and especially by those who loved hearing you play.